Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on April 11, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Apr 11, 2021 in Easter, Sermons

The Second Sunday of Easter

April 11, 2021

I want to begin with Malcolm Guite’s piece about St. Thomas.

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.

Malcolm Guite is an Anglican priest, college chaplain in Cambridge, poet, singer-songwriter, and fronts the Cambridge-based band Mystery Train

The thing about doubt is that we have to trust them. I know that sounds antithetical but it is a good thing to roll them over in your mind like an interesting stone in your hand, explore them. This leaves us open to all sorts of possibilities, and pretending we have no doubts or never speaking of them means they can’t be aired out or reconsidered in the light, and silencing them is isolating. 

In Minneapolis being chair of the Commission on Ministry meant I got to arrange a retreat for those about to be ordained (the very day we returned!) so they could have time with the bishop, prepare, and pray, away from the hubbub going on in their homes and churches. My first year I planned a relaxed conversation period for them to ask questions and explore doubts. The time came and no one spoke. How could I be that unaware?! Here I was trying to make a meaningful and safe retreat, (and a good impression on my new Bishop) and yet expecting them to lay themselves bare in front of him and each other. Obviously no one wanted to admit they had questions about ordination or priesthood, no doubts about God or faith, certainly not in front of their bishop! So I changed the schedule for a re-do the following day. That evening I put out a basket and paper for anonymous questions and doubts. No takers. Again, foolish me put it out where anyone could see who writing those down doubts or questions. Minnesotans are private about such things. We needed Thomas! Finally I took a stack of the paper and wrote down what I thought they would’ve said if they had been—well, Thomas. I put them in the basket and we had a wonderful afternoon session taking turns reading them to the bishop and discussing what they thought were each other’s questions, and they soon added their own. There were tears and laughter stories, arguments, and some eye-opening truths—and plenty more questions, doubts, and fears came out in that atmosphere of love and trust and respect. 

The experience Thomas has in the gospel is like when you’ve been away from a close knit group of friends or family, and you come back and it seems like everyone has moved on without you. Or they have new memories and jokes you missed out on. Thomas’ bold honesty is laudable in saying to believe he too needed the experience they had with the risen Christ. Thomas is good with questions. Remember earlier when Jesus said ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled…. In my Father’s house are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? … And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas says hold on a minute, we have no idea where you’re going, how could we possibly know the way? He asked the question that I’m sure they were all thinking. Here Jesus says words that become formative for the faith journey of everyone there, and every one of us attempting to follow him since then; ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ A beautiful answer —which probably stirred more questions. 

So Thomas has heard they had this bizarre experience of Jesus suddenly present through a locked door, of his showing them his wounds, speaking to them and breathing on them to (somehow) receive the Spirit, and it’s even tied up in the gift of forgiving sins. Rather than nod sagely and act like he too is an insider who ‘gets it,’ Thomas admits his doubts out loud, and unless he sees and touches those wounds for himself he will not believe. That takes courage—and faith. Faith that such doubts are not outside of the love of God, and are part of growing into a seasoned faith. Those ordinands probably thought that their bishop and I had no doubts, that he knew all the answers, that we were already at the Christ-destination. To admit doubts, uncertainties, or growing edges, would appear weak or unintelligent or lacking in whatever spirituality a priest “ought” to have. By opening up and sharing our own such inquiries with them, Bishop Jelinek disabused them of the idea that faith – or ministry – is ever without doubts.

Jesus already knows this is what Thomas needs, before he even has to ask. In appearing with them all shortly afterwards, he invites Thomas to see and touch his wounds, and to believe. When you look at the Greek translation it is fun to see the word we translate doubt and believe are nearly the same word; doubt just has an “a” in front of it. Pistos πιστός faithful, believing, trusting or apistos ἄπιστος unbelieving, incredible, unpersuaded. We don’t know if Thomas touched Jesus his wounds or not, but he experienced them in some way in that moment, and his response was to know, to proclaim, Jesus as “My Lord and my God!”

This scene is not memorable just because of Thomas’ famous doubt or Jesus’ presence in a locked room. We need to remember that the wounds of Christ, resurrected, are part of our faith story too. Thomas didn’t ask to hear his voice, look into his eyes, or see a birthmark He would know him by the wounds, signs of Jesus having known human pain willingly, and answered it with divine self-giving love. Love that goes so far that it continues into eternal life. Those wounds did not disappear in the resurrection, and to see them was to believe. We see reminders of this in churches with red doors, symbolic of entering through the wounds of Christ. Most of the time in Anglican or a Catholic churches you will see the top of the altar is engraved or embedded with a cross in each corner and one in the center. When the altar is consecrated the oil of chrism is rubbed into the crosses blessing the altar as a holy sign of Christ, calling to mind his words to us at the table of the last supper, this is my blood, this is my body—“do this in remembrance of me.” 

Today, we’d call Thomas an experiential learner, and really Christianity itself is an experiential learning faith. Merely reading about it cannot bring the sacraments to life, and blessing as it is to be able to participate in livestream worship, enjoy Holy Week Kits, and give thanks for this remarkable community of faith – there is still a deep longing to be face to face, to feel the broken bread touch the palm of our hand. We have all experienced the pain of being unable to be next to one another this year; for holy days, baptisms, birthdays, anniversaries, to grieve, to bury those we love, to light a prayer candle right next to a candle just lit by a sister or brother in Christ. There is no pretending we have not been wounded by this or are without doubts. As we begin steps towards re-opening the church perhaps what we come through is like Thomas’ doubts turning to belief made real and entered into through the wounds of Christ.

There is a wonderful parallel in a saying in ministry, “the church draws broken people.” It reminds us that we are all broken in some way, sometimes more than others, and it is to God we are drawn. It is to the community of the body of Christ we turn. It means we must be willing to enter into the brokenness of others and love them as we are loved, to trust each other with our vulnerabilities. Thomas’ story helps me see that we sometimes enter faith through that which has wounded us, maybe more so than through the big boisterous pageantry of Easter or Christmas. 

When Jesus reappeared in that room with Thomas and the others, there was no mention of the time or day of the week. It was just an ordinary moment made spectacular by what was experienced and received from he whom we too may call, My Lord and My God!

Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.