April 8, 2019
St. Philips Episcopal Church, Marysville, WA
2nd Sunday of Easter
Divine Mercy Sunday, in the Roman Catholic Church
Readings for the Episcopal Church
First reading Acts 4:32-35
Second reading 1 John 1:1-2:2
Gospel John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Sermon – by Fr. Dan Duval
In the Roman Church today is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Gospel reading is the same but the rest of the readings are not, although their messages are very similar. In the Roman Church Divine Mercy Sunday is a day devoted to spiritual practices based on the Polish Saint, Faustina Kowalska who in the 1930’s had a vision of Jesus. What her vision was and what those spiritual practices are, are not of great importance for us here today, but what I find interesting about the convergence of Divine Mercy Sunday and a vision of Jesus on the 2nd Sunday of Easter is the Gospel in common to both churches. We listen to the familiar story of Thomas, who has been known through the centuries as “The Doubter.” In this Easter season we have heard about those who also had visions of the Risen Christ and who came to believe.
But in todays gospel we have Thomas, a person who was told about the resurrection of Jesus and had not yet had his own vision. Those who had had their vision were excited and wanting to share and wanting Thomas to hear and share in their vision. “Hey Thomas, let me tell you what happened to me. You won’t believe it.” And he didn’t. Thomas was clear that he was not about to believe in anyone else’s vision or story of Jesus. Did that make him a bad person? Did that mean he did not have faith? Faith in what? What did this vision of a man raised from the dead mean?
Thomas had been with the rag tag caravan that followed Jesus around the countryside for many months and although we don’t have an exact timeline we can infer that he had been with Jesus most of his three years ministry. What was he holding out for? What did he still need?
What was the harm in wanting to know things for himself? What was the harm in wanting to know what he was being asked to believe in or commit himself to? What was wrong with Thomas wanting or needing to see the Christ himself?
Through the years we have all come to know Thomas as the one we want to be less like. Blessed are those who have not seen and believed. We all want to be blessed, don’t we? Are those with blind faith actually more blessed than those who struggle for theirs? Those who need to probe their own depths to understand what is pertinent to them?
What was it that the women at the tomb and the apostles in the upper room were finding in their own visions of Jesus, The Christ? Was it Jesus that had risen or Christ that had risen? What is the difference and what difference does it make?
Theologians have debated those two questions through the ages and the first debate seems to have happened in that locked upper room we have just heard about. The question of who and what are we being asked to believe in.
What is this debate really about? Is it about a dead body coming back to life after physical death or is it about the deadness inside of people coming to life when they meet the Christ that is inside of them? In our time, we will most likely not witness a dead body getting up and walking around, unless we are talking about some rather bad Zombie movie or possibly the 1980s movie (Weekend at Bernie’s). And sif we did see one what would believing in that actually prove? Would believing in a walking corpse change the way we live? Would it change the way we think or feel or treat other people?
Thomas, like many of us I suspect, waited to find a personal vision or meaning of what Christ resurrected meant to him. Don’t we all do that? Don’t we all search for something that is meaningful to us? Don’t we all look for a way to understand Christ in our own lives? Who is this Christ within me? Within you? Who is asking something of me and what is that something that we are moved to respond to?
Thomas sought his vision in searching the wounds of Jesus. Something in him needed to ponder those wounds, to examine them in relation to himself. What did those wounds mean to Thomas personally? How many times are we asked to examine the wounds of the crucified one, to look upon the one who hangs on the cross. All last week leading up to Easter, starting with the passion on Palm Sunday we contemplated Jesus’s pain. Were we uncomfortable? Did it make us sad? Did we become angry at the treatment of Jesus? Did we feel the pain of the crucifixion? Did we turn our heads away so as not to see him suffer? Block our ears so as not to hear him scream? Did our hearts go out to his mother as she stood watching as her son was maligned and mistreated? What were your reactions?
How many times are we asked to look upon the suffering of another in some form? How does another’s suffering affect us? Do we turn away when we approach the street cornier with the homeless person, averting our eyes so as not to feel uncomfortable or struggle with ourselves about whether this person on this corner t this time should receive our money? Or do we, as Thomas did, examine the wounds in order to find our own vision of life? Just as the polish Saint mentioned above had her own vision of Jesus over a thousand years after he died, do we look for our own vision?
So I ask you was Thomas a doubter or did he need time to ponder the personal meaning of Jesus’s resurrection? Did he want just someone else story of Christ’s resurrection or was he wanting something deeper, something more personal and meaningful? Something more than another person’s story?
What about you?