A Message for the Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020
The Rev. Charlie Bauer
I greet you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ’Peace be with you.’”(John 20:20-21 NRSV)
In an ordinary year, we would be gathering on this Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, still basking in the glow of the most holy and joyous occasion of Easter. With alleluias still echoing in our ears after their long Lenten absence, in an ordinary year we would come together to worship, to sing hymns, to enjoy fellowship. Colorful Easter flowers would still be fresh, and we would still be basking in the glow of the Good News of the Resurrection.
And amid all of this joy, each year we normally gather together and hear this passage from the twentieth chapter of John’s Gospel.
But, of course, this is not just an ordinary year, not just an ordinary Easter.
Though we always hear this same Gospel reading on the Second Sunday of Easter, the author of John’s Gospel describes events that mostly take place the day of the Resurrection. And these words have a particular resonance this year: the disciples, who must have felt confused at the absence of Jesus in the tomb even with Mary’s report of seeing Jesus that morning, locked themselves inside a house for fear of retaliation from the local authorities. Even in this joyous season, even in ordinary years, we hear about how the disciples found themselves staying home – and in the midst of their fear and isolation, it is there that they encountered Jesus.
I find odd comfort each year in hearing this passage, particularly the words of the disciple Thomas. I suspect his words, the ones that lead to his nickname “Doubting Thomas,” are even more relevant this year. Thomas, for unspoken reasons, was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. When he returned and heard of what had transpired, he expressed a feeling both so very natural and so very unpopular: complete disbelief that Jesus had appeared at all. Thomas demanded to experience what his companions witnessed, or else he would not accept their story: “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” (John 20:25).
Thomas offers us an expression that even the most faithful among us feels once in a while: questioning what we cannot see, wondering about the true story of our God: revealed to many long ago in the human person of Jesus, but revealed to us in Word and tradition. And now, perhaps uniquely to our lifetimes, disbelief and questioning are all around us. We have not met in person for worship in over a month; we have abstained from the Eucharist, our primary expression of our shared relationship. Illness and death are unavoidable – particularly strange things to focus on during this season of Resurrection.
The few times in these past weeks I have been among people for some essential shopping, I have found my mood is uncomfortable at best. When we are experiencing a pandemic of something we cannot see, everyone we encounter is suspect. As I pass people in store aisles, I cannot help but feel suspicious, especially if someone invades my six-foot bubble of personal space. People I would usually greet with a friendly smile are now potential vectors of sickness. This is not just disbelief in our God, but disbelief in our fellow humanity, and clashes with our very identity as Christians called to love one another.
The story this Sunday from Thomas offers us some comfort amid rampant disbelief and fear. Besides learning something important about Jesus’ resurrection – that Jesus was risen in full bodily form, wounds and all – God gives us permission for our disbelief, and the reassurance that we are not alone. Though it took another week, Jesus did indeed appear to Thomas, knowing the exact words on his heart.
God does not abandon us. Though a simple statement, this may seem strange to say as we are absent from gathering at church, and as thousands die with no certain end in sight to our current situation. But God is indeed with us, as he was with Thomas and all the disciples in those hours and days after the crucifixion and resurrection – even Thomas, who, after spending all those years walking alongside Jesus, was so shaky in his belief that he was willing to leave it all behind without physical proof.
God is with us in our homes, in our prayers in whatever form they take – whether the Daily Office, or watching online worship, or simply in the wanderings of our own hearts. God is with us as we venture out in fear to buy essentials. God is with the doctors and nurses who tend for the sick; God is with those who are ill, and those who are dying. Amid disbelief – Thomas’, and even our own – this is what Jesus assures us.
Jesus’ words today in response to Thomas are words of comfort: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). This does not exclude our own moments of disbelief; we are again reminded that even as Thomas states his disbelief, Jesus still appears to him. Rather, these are words that speak to us at our best: yes, our best in better times, when we are able to gather in person as the Body of Christ, but also our best as we look around at all those around us who are helping in this time of great need, even us as we help by staying home. God offers us blessing through it all, thanks be to God. Amen.
The Rev. Charlie Bauer is a priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, living in Williamsburg with his wife Kelly and two young daughters, four-year-old Hazel and two-year-old Olive.A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he has lived in southern Virginia since 2004. He enjoys travel (though not so much recently!), birdwatching and immersing himself in nature as a means of personal reflection and relaxation, and is an avid baseball fan of his hometown Milwaukee Brewers. Kelly is an early childhood educator, and has a passion for 18thcentury dance.