April 14/15, 2012
For the communities of Dignity/NoVA at Emmanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Arlington, VA and Dignity/Washington at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC.
You may not remember where you were last year on this, the “Second Sunday of Easter,” and you may not know where you’ll be next year, but it just so happens that if you did or will miss Church on either of those days … not to worry! Because even though we have a 3-year cycle of Sunday Readings for our Liturgy, this Gospel from the 20th chapter of John is heard every year on this day. And no matter what we may think of some things when it comes to the institutional Church, there is usually great wisdom behind the selection of scripture readings that we have for our Liturgies. Even though the other two readings in our A, B and C cycles do change from year to year, this gospel story — about Jesus’s arrival in the locked room, John’s version of Pentecost, and the story of Thomas, the doubting “twin” — this story is heard in all three cycles. Because of this, I think it’s worth our special attention to look at this story very closely and see why it’s so central to the Easter message and what it means for us in our lives today.
Each of the elements of this passage from John is worthy of our full attention. You will remember that – of the four Gospels – the Gospel of John stands apart. The other three are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels, because they share many of the same stories, they are organized somewhat similarly, and probably drew upon some of the same oral traditions and sources. They were also written before the Gospel of John, which is sometimes called “the Last Gospel” because it was written later.
We could no doubt spend time reflecting on these “Resurrection Appearances” – on how the disciples are full of fear and therefore have locked themselves inside, separated from the outside world. Despite the locked doors, Jesus appears to them and he offers them the gift of Peace.
Likewise we could reflect on John’s description of how Jesus further strengthens these scared disciples by offering not only the gift of peace, but also by bestowing on them the gift of the Spirit. It is through this gift that the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation springs forth, and it is through the Spirit the scared disciples will again – in time – not be afraid and will follow in the footsteps of Jesus more closely.
It is, however, this encounter with Thomas that I’d like us to focus on for just a bit. From a purely story-telling perspective, one wonders why Thomas wasn’t with the disciples on that first day. We might wonder, “Where was he and what was he doing?” Curious as those questions are, we should be careful not to get bogged down in them. If we do, we run the risk of missing the point of his initial absence. Because remember – what we are reading is not history or some journalistic re-telling of events that took place. No, what we are reading is Gospel. And Gospel is Good News. The author of John’s Gospel wants to emphasize the Good News that Jesus is indeed risen from the dead. The Johannine author wants to use a story about doubt to dispel whatever doubts may exist about the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Crucified One.
And so we have Thomas demanding to see and experience for himself proof that Jesus is alive. This demand sets the stage for a second appearance – Jesus coming again into that same locked room, and offering again that same gift of Peace. Although John doesn’t say whether Thomas actually does put his finger into the nail marks and his hand into Jesus’ side, it is quite clear that any remaining doubt has been dispelled and Thomas now fully believes that Jesus was and is the Son of God.
Of course, none of us knows what the experience will be like when – God willing – at the end our lives we meet the Lord face to face. But earlier this week I read a possible vision of what that encounter might be like. The author suggested that when we do finally meet Jesus, He won’t question us about how well we carried out our religious obligations. He won’t be interested in whether we followed all the rules and regulations of religious practice; he won’t be interested in so much of the minutiae of life that we too often mistake for what is important. And, despite what many religious leaders and politicians seem to think, he probably won’t even be interested in our sex lives.
On the contrary, the author suggested that our heavenly encounter with Jesus will not be unlike Jesus’ encounter with Thomas. However, the table will be turned. Jesus will ask us to do for him what he did for Thomas. He will ask us to show him our wounds, the wounds that we have received as his faithful disciples, wounds that are the signs we’ve spent our lives imitating him. The wounds we have are not the wounds of soldiers or warriors or those who have engaged in battle; they are not the wounds of those who meet sword with sword, violence with violence. No, the wounds of discipleship come from living as Jesus lived, and most especially loving as Jesus loved.
For us as a community of LGBT people who seek to be such disciples, I often think that one of the core experiences of our communal lives to which all of us can relate is the experience of rejection. This experience, I think, is at the very heart of our call to discipleship. In the liturgy of last Friday we vividly recalled that Jesus, before he died, experienced the pain of rejection, the loss of friendship, and abandonment by those he loved. He knew that very human experience of what it means to give and receive nothing in return, to love and not be loved. And yet through all this, he remained faithful. He did not give in to the temptation to stop giving, to stop loving, or to lash out in anger and vengeance; nor did he give in to that ultimate temptation of thinking he had been abandoned by God. Is not this how we too should respond whenever we experience – as individuals and a community of disciples – that same rejection and abandonment? Many if not most of us bear the wounds of rejection – rejection that comes from family, from society, from the institutional Church, and sometimes even from one another. And yet, if we are able to find deep within our hearts the ability to respond to that rejection with compassion and generosity and love, then those wounds not only are healed, but they also bear witness to our faithfulness in the One who first and always has compassion, generosity and love for us.
Thomas’ doubts were dispelled by the privilege of physically seeing Jesus in Resurrection. As a people who have shared in the death of Christ through Baptism, who have received the Breath of the Spirit in Confirmation, and who are nourished by his living presence in Eucharist, we also have come to believe. We believe that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God; and we believe that for us and for all people, Jesus has overcome the pain of rejection and won victory of death for all time. And although we haven’t seen Jesus in the same way as Thomas and the other disciples did, our faith does indeed give us “eyes to see” the living presence of Jesus who is here, now, in our midst – and if you doubt that, just look around!