Good morning everyone. First of all I want to say that I am truly delighted to be here today; thank you for having me. I’m sure that many of you know that the Sunday after Easter Day, today, is often referred to as “Low Sunday”.
We’re not really certain about the origin of that term. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that it is apparently intended to indicate the contrast between today and the great Easter festival immediately preceding, and also, perhaps, to signify that, being the Octave Day of Easter, it was considered part of that feast, though in a lower degree, hence the term Low Sunday. .
Some more cynical folks may say that the phrase “low Sunday” has something to do with attendance at church the week after Easter. I won’t go there. And since it is very often the day that seminarians preach, some even more cynical folks may say that the term has something to do with the quality of the preaching. I definitely won’t go there.
But the gospel text for today is always the same, about the person we historically refer to a “Doubting Thomas”. I’m not at all sure that it is a good name for Thomas; he did a lot more than doubt. He was downright obstinate about what he had to say.
But you have to give Thomas a good deal of credit in this gospel reading. He does not equivocate; he doesn’t say” well… I don’t know…I don’t really see how he could have survived all that… I have a few doubts about all this resurrection stuff… seems a little iffy to me.”
No, instead he says, “Unless I put my hands in his wounds, I will not believe” In some translations, it is “I will never believe” and in fact, many scholars say that this is the more accurate translation. “I will never believe”. It took no small amount of courage, in front of all the others, the other disciples who were so ecstatic and joyful about having seen the risen lord, for Thomas to have remained so adamant and strong in his doubt… and not just doubt, his absolute refusal to believe unless he sees and feels the things for himself, unless he gets some dramatically better evidence.
And Jesus is more than willing to provide this evidence. He doesn’t chide Thomas for his lack of faith; he comes back into the room, a week later, and in front of all the others he says to Thomas, “Here’s all the proof you need.” As it turns out, and not surprisingly after seeing the risen Christ, Thomas doesn’t need the proof he claimed to have needed before. One of the interesting things about this reading is that Thomas never does touch Jesus; never does put his hands in the wounds. But Jesus makes this evidence available to him nonetheless.
But here’s the thing that keeps grabbing me when I study and reread this story. Jesus comes back into the room where the disciples gather… a week after the first time he was there. Jesus meets Thomas with all the others. Surely the risen Christ, God incarnate, could have approached Thomas anywhere and at any time he wanted. There is no mention of what Thomas was doing the week in between the first time Jesus met with the disciples and this meeting, and there is no mention of Jesus’ activities either. Why did Jesus wait? Was he waiting for all of them to be together again?
Well, I think the answer is that, yes, in fact He was in fact waiting for them to all be together. The risen Christ can meet us any time and anywhere he wants, and for many Jesus does come in solitude; Jesus meets us where we are. But here, in only his third appearance after his resurrection, Jesus meets Thomas in Thomas’s community.
Presented with the strongest statement of unbelief that could be uttered, “I will never believe”, Jesus meets Thomas while Thomas is in communion with his fellow disciples; and the result of this appearance is the most profound statement of who Jesus is that can be found in any of the four Gospels. Thomas says, “My Lord and my God”. Thomas comes to a deep and encompassing faith in the presence of the risen Lord, and in the context of community with his fellow disciples.
Today, a remarkable day for me, affords me the opportunity to come home and talk to the community where Jesus found me. I should say it’s the community where I found Jesus. I suspect Jesus knew where I was all along. My life in Jesus Christ, the next chapter of which begins in about a month when I will be ordained as a transitional Deacon, after having been supported by this community, began in this community, in this very place.
My family moved into the Fan District in 1965 when I was ten years old. (You do the math). Within a few years from that move I was totally involved here at St. James’s, and there was a ton of stuff to be involved in. In my teen years we had the “Young Peoples’ Service League”, there was a youth chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrews, of course we had the New Wine Singers. (We really liked the name “New Wine Singers” because we had figured out a way to get the word “wine” into it. When we sang at the White House, Richard Nixon introduced us and then said, “I’m sure they don’t *drink* wine”…. He was wrong about that too).
But my point is, if it was here, I was doing it; *we* were doing it, and all of this community was forming me into a member of the Body of Christ, even though I had no idea that it was happening at the time.
And I thank God that it was happening, because, like so many other young people, I drifted away from the church. I somehow must have figured out that I really didn’t need so much God in my life, so much “Body of Christ” so I decided that I was going to head out and do it all on my own for a while, and I did that for around twenty years.
There is this really annoying thing that people say to you nowadays when you’re in the midst of doing something really stupid. They say something like, “So how’s that working for ya?” Well, after stumbling around “out there” for a good long time, I was finally able to come to the realization that the whole “doing it on my own” thing really wasn’t working for me.
Perhaps it was Jesus whispering in my ear, perhaps it was this community calling me back. Whatever it was, by the grace of God I started listening, and when I did finally start listening, I came back home. The community of Christ that had begun to form within me at this place all those years before had never left me and my need for God within the community of the Body of Christ beckoned me, called me, and somehow reminded me where I belonged.
And I believe that this is how it’s supposed to work; I believe this is how the incarnation works. We naturally desire to be in community. We as human beings are ultimately concerned with one another as children of God. Our humanity is inextricably tied up with each others’.
When Jesus first entered the room with the disciples, the first time, he breathed on them; he breathed the Holy Spirit on them before he sent them out. I have a strong visual image of this passage, Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on the disciples, imparting and enlivening this incarnational spirit that connects them to each other and that will connect them to those they reach as they head out into the world.
This is how the incarnation, the Word made flesh, works. This, if you will, is the mechanism of the incarnation. God became human in Jesus Christ. God adopted human nature for all time. This is an historical event, but it is also a present reality.
We are the body of Christ, and as such, we sit at God’s right hand, together, as one body, now. We are connected, and the thing that connects us, the web that holds us all together, the thing that is common to us all, every human being, is the incarnation of Jesus Christ, his breath in us, the same breath he breathed on the disciples that day in the upper room. This is how Christ meets us in community; this is how Christ can meet us in community, because Christ is in us all.
Thomas doubted. Thomas more than doubted; Thomas refused to believe. In the face of this unbelief, Jesus met Thomas, in the room, with everyone there. And in this setting, in this early manifestation of the body of Christ, with Christ present, just as Christ is present with us today, Thomas’s strong statement of disbelief, “I will never believe” turned into, “My Lord and my God”.
May we all be free to take our doubts, our unbelief, our desire to do it all on our own, and finally our faith, to each other, in community, knowing from this gospel message, that we will meet the risen Christ there…here, and in so doing we will come into community with each other and come to know God.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.