Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Burdens of Thomas

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 3, 2016

Year C: The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

The Burdens of Thomas
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            The Church calls today the “Second Sunday of Easter” – out in the world they’ve already moved on to whatever the next thing is, but here in church it’s still Easter!
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            And, in today’s gospel lesson, not only is it still Easter, but it’s still Easter Day.
            We pick up right where we left off last Sunday.
            In the morning Mary Magdalene had encountered her risen Lord in the garden and then ran off to tell the other disciples this good news, this best news ever.
            And now it’s evening on this same Easter Day.
            The disciples are hiding behind locked doors, understandably frightened of the same authorities who had gotten Jesus executed just a couple of days earlier and who now might be coming for them.
            They were frightened and they must have also been puzzling over Mary Magdalene’s most amazing news. Could it really be true? Is it possible that Jesus really had risen from the dead?
            We’re told the Risen Jesus answers that question by suddenly appearing – still his old wounded self but also mysteriously transformed, not stopped by locked doors.
            It’s Easter! And, the way John tells the story, it’s also Pentecost.
            Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples, giving them the power of forgiveness.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            But, of course, at least one of the disciples was absent: Thomas.
            Now, since we hear the story of “Doubting Thomas” every year on this day – and, yes, since I carry his name, this is a passage that I’ve thought about a lot.
            And, one thing I always wonder: why wasn’t Thomas there? Why was he absent? Why was Thomas apart from the others?
            There are lots of possibilities, right?
            Thomas could have been off doing an ordinary task. Based on the little we know about him, he seems to have been bold and courageous. So, maybe Thomas was sent or volunteered to risk his life by going out into the city and try to find food for the other disciples.
            But, I suspect there’s more going on here than just a food run.
            Maybe Thomas was angry at Jesus for not fighting back against the leaders and the soldiers, for not using the power that Thomas had seen him use many times – the power to cast out evil spirits, the power to heal, the power to multiply loaves and fishes, the power to raise the dead.
            Why didn’t Jesus resist?
            Why didn’t Jesus just step up and be the kind of king that the people expected, the new David to run the Romans out of the land and make Israel great again?
            So, maybe Thomas was mad at himself for even following Jesus, this seemingly failed messiah, who died the death of a common criminal. We don’t know anything about his personal life, but maybe Thomas had left behind a wife and children, had left behind his livelihood, all because he believed Jesus was the long-awaited messiah.
            And, now, maybe Thomas felt like a fool.
            Or, maybe Thomas was disgusted by his own behavior and the behavior of the other disciples – Jesus’ closest friends who had proven so unfaithful, who had denied even knowing Jesus, who had abandoned Jesus in his greatest moment of need.
            Maybe Thomas was horrified by guilt at what he had done - and what he had not done – guilt that was made even worse by the unsettling news that Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Lord.
            Or, maybe Thomas was furious at God for allowing all of this horror to take place in the first place. I often imagine Thomas out in the desert somewhere, shaking his fist and yelling up at the sky, angrily demanding answers of God:
            “How could you let this happen? How could you just let Jesus die on the cross? Why didn’t you do anything? Why don’t you do something? Where are you?”
            Maybe you can think of other possibilities explaining why Thomas wasn’t with the others in the locked room on that first Easter Day.
            But, while on the one hand it’s frustrating not to know, it’s also right that we don’t know the burdens of Thomas.
            We don’t know the burdens of Thomas just like we don’t really know the burdens of our family members, friends, neighbors, the burdens carried by the people sitting with us I church right now, the burdens carried by the people we passed on the way here and those we’ll see on our way home.
            Oh, we may have some ideas – just like we have some ideas about Thomas – but we don’t know really know all the particular burdens that we each carry – the burdens deep in our hearts – the burdens of fear and regret and shame, the burdens of feeling untalented, unimportant, and unlovable.
            We don’t really know the burdens of Thomas – and we don’t really know the burdens of one another.
            Later, Thomas returns to the others – or, maybe the disciples find Thomas wherever he was – the text doesn’t say.
            But, however they were reunited, the disciples tell Thomas the good news, the best news ever, the news that he won’t let himself believe until he sees for himself: “We have seen the Lord.”
            “We have seen the Lord.”
            We have seen the Lord.”
            Yes, we have – especially lately.
            We have seen the Lord on Good Friday as we made our way up and down some forlorn Jersey City streets, places of despair and bloodshed, places where we prayed and sang and splashed Holy Water.
            We have seen the Lord last Saturday night when we gathered in darkness and suddenly the light of Christ shined out of that darkness, lighting this old room, and lighting our hearts.
            We have seen the Lord when little Leah and Jayce stood at the font and answered on their own that, yes, they wanted to baptized!
            We have seen the Lord when not so little Mike and Jay stood at the same font on Sunday morning and both took the plunge into the waters of baptism, dying and rising again, bonded with God forever and ever.
            We have seen the Lord here at St. Paul’s as new people have joined us and some old friends have returned, as new ministries are sprouting up all over the place, as people lined up to give blood and as we’ve given nearly 2,000 diapers.
            We have seen the Lord as we have become more involved in our community, working for safer streets, better schools, and decent housing.
            We have seen - and will see again in a few minutes – the Lord in the breaking of the bread.
            We have seen the Lord.
            Jesus has breathed the Holy Spirit on us and sent us out.
            So, it seems to me, that our Easter task is to be like the disciples and share this good news – to share it through our words but more importantly to share it by how we live our lives.
            Our Easter task is to share this best news ever with all of the Thomases in here and all the Thomases out there – to share this best news ever with all of the people who are burdened in ways that we know about and burdened in the many more ways that we can’t even begin to imagine.
            Our task is to share the news that we have seen the Lord – to share this news, whether they believe us or not.
            You and I, here at St. Paul’s, we have seen the Lord.
            So, let’s get busy sharing the news:
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!