The Second Sunday of Easter – April 28, 2019

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Sermon preached by Samuel Vaught, seminarian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Easter

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Yes, friends, the Lord is risen indeed. Easter is still with us, and will be for another six weeks. The Church sets aside fifty days to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord—ten more than our penitential season of Lent. And this is right, I think. Fifty days to celebrate the most stunning event in all of history—and not just the event of Jesus’ resurrection, but the reality of resurrection in our lives, too, and in the world. In fact, we celebrate the resurrection every Sunday of the year when we gather and proclaim together that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and that Christ will come again. Every Sunday is a little Easter, or Easter is just a really big Sunday, depending on how you look at it. So here we go—I hope you’re not tired—we’ve got forty-two more days in Easter—thirty-five more Sundays this year—and a lifetime of opportunities to proclaim resurrection everywhere we go and in everything we do.

If I’m honest, this sounds a little daunting. And I wonder if it does to you, too. You see, I don’t find it very hard to believe in resurrection at the Easter Vigil, when the lights have come up, Alleluias are joyously shouted, and the choir and organ are sending us up to heaven with their glorious music. And I don’t find it very hard to believe in resurrection on a beautiful Spring day, when the sun feels warm on my skin and the scent of flowers gently moves through the air. Or when things are going my way, or when my loved ones are healthy or when we see justice being done in the world.

But what about all the other times? How can we believe in resurrection when justice isn’t being done—when the poor suffer and the wealthy get richer? How can we believe in resurrection when we’re sick—when our bodies are breaking down? How can we believe in resurrection when we’re depressed, or lonely, or filled with anxiety? How can we believe in resurrection when our minds are seared with images of burning churches or when we hear the news of over 200 Christians killed at mass on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka? When the world turns dark and doubt comes knocking, how can we possibly maintain our Easter hope—for fifty days, let alone a year or a lifetime?

The story of doubting Thomas that we heard in John’s Gospel today teaches us something very real about doubt and I think, something very real about resurrection, too. It turns out that doubt—and specifically, doubt about this very foundational yet unimaginable core of the Christian message—Jesus’ resurrection—it turns out that doubt has been with us from the beginning. And it’s preserved in our scriptures. Saint Thomas’ doubt is not the kind that’s cooked up in a study lined with books by some skeptic who has worked through all the intellectual and metaphysical puzzles and determined that rising from the dead is simply an impossible proposition. No, Thomas’ doubt is the doubt born from grief—born from the betrayal, arrest, and murder of a friend. This is not doubt born out of comfort or privilege. This is doubt born from death: from a hospital room, or from the scene of a car accident on an icy highway. Doubt born from watching the coffin lower into the ground. This is doubt born from the cross—from the darkest moments of human life. Thomas does not doubt because he’s clever, or enlightened. No, Thomas doubts because he knows a fundamental truth about the world that we still claim to be true today—that the only thing that can be taken for granted in life is that one day it will end. Jesus lived. Jesus suffered. Jesus died. Thomas knows that that’s it. And so do we. But it is this fundamental truth of our existence that in his resurrection Jesus reveals to be nothing but a lie—a lie as old as the world itself—a lie as old as a serpent in a garden saying, “take this and eat it—and you will be like God.” To death, Jesus says, “No. You are a lie.” And yet, we here can’t see past it.

Thomas’ doubt, in the end, is our doubt. It’s alive today in every single one of us—we who have come face to face with death. But the good news of Thomas’ story is that he is not left alone in his doubt. Jesus does not hide this reordering of the world from him. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” To Thomas and to his doubt, Jesus brings himself—his own crucified and resurrected body, still bearing the wounds of his passion. Jesus does not come armed with an argument—this is why you should have believed, Thomas—or even with some kind of supernatural presence—look, Thomas, it’s all okay. No, Jesus comes with holes in his body. Jesus does not ignore or negate his death in his resurrection—Jesus transforms and transcends his death in his resurrection. And it is this truth—this more fundamental truth of our existence that Jesus reveals to Thomas. Death may be a certainty. But in Jesus, life has triumphed over the grave. And life will have the last word.

This morning, we are witnessing the baptisms of four new Christians: Ari and Evie at 9:00, and Campbell and Henry at 11.

Today we proclaim that through baptism, they are united with Christ not only in his resurrection, but in his death, too. Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[1] Jesus’ body, risen from the grave, bore the wounds that he received in his death. Ari and Evie // Campbell and Henry will today bear the mark of the cross on their foreheads, a reminder that it is through, of all things, death that we have new life in Christ.

These children are not baptized into a faith that is free of doubt. Or of death. And in time, strengthened by the stories and the sacraments of the one who has called them into life, they too like Thomas, like all of us, will find themselves in that locked room where fear and doubt and death meet. And in that place, Jesus will appear and show them his hands. And his side. Jesus will show them that death has been conquered forever, and that in the end doubt will not triumph. So Ari and Evie // Campbell and Henry, doubt away. Let Jesus meet you there, and receive the gift of faith. John’s Gospel ends right after the story of doubting Thomas. We heard the words this morning: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” So we bring Jesus our doubts. We bring Jesus our bodies, and our lives. We bring Jesus our children for baptism. And in return, Jesus brings us his body broken and his blood outpoured. Jesus brings us new life, so that we, like Thomas, may cry “My Lord and my God!”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!


[1] Romans 6:3-4

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