The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Second Sunday of Easter
My Uncle Frank was an “undertaker,” and owned several funeral homes. He had a strange view of life. He delighted in taking dad and me to see his newest casket models when he’d have a new shipment. In those days hanging out at the funeral home wasn’t high on my list, nor seeing clients who didn’t talk back.
One evening as we are leaving the funeral home, Uncle Frank notices a light on in the casket selection room: “Steve, run upstairs and turn out the light.” He hands me the keys. I go in. To get there, I have to go past a room, where a dead guy’s lying in a casket. Did I say I was a bit reluctant about seeing my uncle’s clients? At night, when you tip toe past such a room, with only a soft light glowing on a body, your mind goes weird. I’m all for Jesus’ resurrection, but the last thing I want to see is a dead body move or get up. I get Thomas. Dead people don’t get up. They’re dead. Unlike Thomas I don’t need to see the dead walking to believe the Lord is risen.
Easter stories are incredible – meaning, hard to believe, especially in an age that demands proof and certainty. Jesus not only dies and returns to life, he materializes into a room of fear-filled disciples. His words of peace forgive and restore their relationships. He breathes into them the Spirit that will empower them to tell their experience of the risen Lord. And that completes Easter – not as a day, but a new era God gives to be alive in this world: forgiven, reconciled, loved, sent to live and to tell the story. When the Lord is risen in us – love energizes us, the story changes us, and we can’t help but want to tell it.
We are resurrected people. People of resurrection still can have doubts. A friend’s mother dies. She’s a devoutly committed atheist. My friend fears where she’s ended up. That evening of her death, he tells me the lights in their den flickered, right after they got word she died – no explanation for the lights. I tell him, “That’s just mom letting you know she was wrong. She’s arrived safely.” That’s the difference the risen Lord makes – an assurance God’s love gets us all home.
Thomas misses that first Easter evening meeting – but Jesus won’t lose him, even if he refuses to believe until he sees for himself. That’s how Thomas became the patron saint of doubters. I prefer to say, he’s the patron saint of those who know what matters and won’t give up until they find what they need. Something this incredible, it’s important for Thomas’ faith and friendship with Jesus to see for himself – and it’s important to Jesus to meet Thomas where he is.
I’ll bet many of you have doubts. The church often says to suppress them. Did you grow up hearing that doubters lack faith, so put a lid on them if you hope to fit in. Jesus doesn’t agree. Jesus welcomes Thomas in his peace, too. Jesus doesn’t scold, shame, or belittle him. Jesus meets Thomas on his terms. Doubt is a portal into faith, meaning you take faith seriously. Just being in the presence of the loving, forgiving, welcoming risen Lord is enough for Thomas to make the greatest confession of the incarnation and resurrection, “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus turns to us: “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet come to believe.” We are here, believers – resurrected people. How are we at such a place if we can’t see as Thomas and the disciples have?
We have the stories of those who did see. Through the centuries their story is passed on, and it becomes ours, the story through which we see life now. You hear the story from grandma, mother, dad, a friend, your pastor, the church. One day you realize, “Jesus is risen in me.” You get there not by evidence but by experiencing a mystery beyond words. The story unfolds and grows as we faithfully gather as Christ’s Body, in our worship, in music, preaching, in prayer, in study, in bread and wine, in fellowship, in the wounds and suffering of our lives – Jesus is risen in and among us. A couple of us gather – he’s here. He completes and continues Easter in our experience together as a faith community around him. Then we are sent to live and proclaim his risen life – as signs of his presence and God’s power of love and new creation.
This Saturday the Rev. Dr. Frederick Schmidt comes to help us learn how to be apostles in our present culture. The world we go to is not the world of our parent’s church, not the one in which we grew up. The church still tries to be the same to a world that has changed. Friends of younger adults find options more authentic and relevant to their lives than hanging out with church people. We need to understand this shift – to listen and learn, to respect and hear their doubts, share ours, and love them where they are – just as Jesus did for his disciples and for Thomas, and does for us. We have a story to tell. I hope and pray you will be here so we can begin talking together about turning ourselves outward toward our future. Some of you are tired and ready to step back – “let the younger ones lead.” You need to be here, too, because you care about St. Paul’s – to understand, support and pray for our younger leaders as they discern and guide us.
One question I know people out there want answered: “The difference Jesus makes in my life is…” They want to know and see how we live our convictions – not doctrines, information, or dogma. We are created to love and be loved. They watch to see if what we say matches what we live. God brings heaven to earth through people like us. Need some evidence? Look at what God’s love did with Jesus’ disciples – with Thomas. We need to understand and appreciate where people out there are – so we meet them where they are.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus commissions us, too, to continue his mission – his life and love to all. I hope being a disciple and an apostle is a joy for you. Let us be open to the Spirit Jesus breathed into his disciples, to guide us into living and sharing the story of the difference Jesus makes – to you and to me. So all this said – I’ll see you here Saturday.