So here we are on Low Sunday. We moved through the building tension of Lent, interrupted with the Dylan Mass, then into Holy Week, finally to the explosion of Easter. The music, the flowers, exceptional worship on every level. Now we settle into the Sundays that follow.
In past years and in other churches it was tradition that the Senior Pastor worked through Lent to Easter, then took off for a much needed rest. (Randy hasn’t figured this out). As one who has been in a number of Associate positions, I was often left to be the preacher on Low Sunday.
That was all right with me. The text for this Sunday is often the one about the Apostle Thomas. He’s my favorite apostle. Cynic that he appears to be, I can most identify with him.
In the Lutheran process to ordination, the last step after finishing the class work of seminary, after securing a call to your first parish, you had to meet one final committee. Their vote could determine your future.
I have since sat on such committees when the vote was denied. Well, I had my call, my degree. My bags were packed. The meeting was going well. I was becoming a peer among peers on the brink of joining the community. There was a warm sense of welcome into, what was then, a fraternity.
Then came the last question. Out of nowhere someone asked, after all this, “Did I believe in God.”
The question caused me to pause. My answer: yes….most of the time. There was another pause. The vote was taken. I was accepted.
In retrospect, as unexpected as my answer was, it was, I think, the answer that each of the members of the committee would have declared in their most honest moments. They did not want to open that discussion. Thomas the Doubter. He could have been called Thomas the Brave or Thomas the Absent One.
Earlier in the story of John’s Gospel, Jesus receives word that his friend Lazarath is sick, near death, followed by the word that the death has occurred. Jesus decides to go to be with Lazarath and the family. The disciples as a group are upset. To make that trip puts Jesus at risk. Too close to Jerusalem. Threats have been made on Jesus’ life. It is Thomas who steps forward in the midst of the rebellion saying, “Let us go with him that we might die with him.”
He was fully engaged. His courage lead the other disciples. Now what they feared had happened. They came to Jerusalem, palm’s waving, hosanna’s sung; then betrayal, finally crucifixion. All hope lost.
Today’s Gospel tells us that the disciples were locked inside a room in fear for their lives, all but Thomas. One authority I read suggested that Thomas was so grief stricken that he went apart to be alone, suggesting that he mistakenly walked away from the community when he most needed community.
I disagree. I have no doubt that Thomas was grief stricken. He was clearly a close follower. He had been there from the beginning. He had left everything to follow this path. He doesn’t seem to be the type to leave to hide his grief. He more seems the type who would say this story is finished. It is time to move on, to see what is next.
When the disciples seek him out with word about Jesus’ appearance, he does not question. He returns with them to the room. When Jesus invites him to believe he answers, “My Lord and my God.” He is back and all in.
My Lord and My God. No more doubts. Let’s go forward. Today’s collect invites us – those who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body – that we might show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.
That prayer would have real meaning for Thomas, he left his fish to follow, he witnessed the miracles, he heard the parables, he picked up the baskets of food left over from the feeding of thousands. He was there through the building tension. He could see the danger that was ahead; going to Jerusalem was a march toward death. He is a witness to the death. His faith is challenged, he walks away for a moment, he leaves the community then he is drawn back in. “My Lord and my God, ” he returns to the fellowship.
But, where does that leave us 2,000 years out – listening to ancient stories, marching with our palms, having our feet washed, seeing the altar stripped, and the light carried from the altar.
Easter Sunday is a great relief. Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. But, what about Monday morning? The lilies have been delivered, the halleluiah’s sung. Time to go back to work, back to life in a world that is often not friendly. Negotiations over nuclear destruction, religious wars, concern over global issues, air, water, food, unemployment, deadlines to meet, products to produce or sell. Life outside these walls can be brutal – life and death, sickness and health.
It is another place where the experience of Thomas comes into play. At one point Jesus is talking about what he sees coming. His sense that the end is near.
Jesus is reported to say – in my house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also. You know the way.
It is Thomas who interrupts. He declares that he does not know the way. Jesus responds, looking Thomas in the eye. He says: “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the father but by me.”
Thomas does not hold back, he asks the hard question. The answer he gets is direct. How many times have we heard this scripture? Read as we stand by the crypt, stand with those who grieve.
Jesus says from the beginning that faith is something in this moment, not something in some distant future. It is in the face-to-face confrontation. It is in the community that forms to celebrate good news and to support those in grief and loss.
Thomas is invited to touch the wound. He doesn’t need to. He has looked into the face of Jesus, “my Lord and my God.”
We don’t have that opportunity. What we have is the chance to see Jesus in the community that gathers here Sunday after Sunday. We meet as we share the peace, as we walk from this place into a world of many different faces. The Kingdom of God is now.
We come to the Sunday after Easter. We stand in the locked room. We meet the man who radicalized our faith, fed the hungry, comforted the grieving, visited the sick, and those in prison. He invited us to love our enemies. Those who despise us. In those moments, those faces, we can respond with Thomas, “my Lord and My God.”