St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Easter – April 12, 2015
Let us pray.
Take our lives and let them be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take our moments and our days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.
I was a sophomore in high school when I first heard about a mysterious new website called “Facebook.” Originally just for college students, the website aimed to create an online venue for the social activities and gossip once confined to the offline world, allowing young people to share photos with and write messages to their ever-accumulating list of so-called “friends.” At the beginning, only a few people had joined, but by a certain point a critical mass was on the site and it was all that anyone could talk about. It was common to hear students talking in the hall about what they wrote on each other’s wall last night, or about the latest total of their friend count, or about the pokes they had sent to the popular girls or boys.
Not everyone was on board with this new innovation, however. The administration of the school I attended was scared of unsupervised students going out of control on the Internet, reminding us that we were responsible for our conduct even online, banning us from accessing Facebook from school computers, and discouraging us from even joining it at all. I personally remained very skeptical of this newfangled way of interacting, wondering if I would get myself in trouble or distract myself from my homework or somehow compromise my privacy. Little did any of us know how central Facebook would be to our lives now, almost ten years later. At least for members of a certain generation, Facebook is the first thing many of us check when we get up in the morning and the first thing we update when any kind of major life event occurs. St. Paul’s on the Green has a Facebook profile—where we post photos and remind people of important events coming up. Even my high school, which had preached fire and brimstone about the horrors of Facebook, eventually got its own Facebook page, and now posts updates several times a week.
I was reminded of my initial reaction to Facebook recently when I finally surrendered to getting the mobile application Uber. Like Facebook, Uber was initially for me a great unknown that I was sure could only bring trouble. Any time someone would tell me how convenient and easy the app was I would respond by pointing to safety concerns or the blatant gouging of surge pricing or uncertainty about the service’s legality. I resisted for over a year until two months ago when New Haven was covered in snow and a friend suggested that we split an Uber ride downtown instead of having to deal with parking in the mess. Now several Uber rides later, I have seen what others value about the app and no longer have the same hesitancies and fears.
I share all of this not because Facebook and Uber are paying me for product placement—and I certainly take no responsibility for any problems you might encounter with them!—but to make a point about how challenging and complicated it can be to embrace new things. Many of us often have trouble seeing the potential worth of something until long after we have been introduced to it, stewing over all our misgivings without fully considering all the good outcomes something new might offer. The reluctance to accept the new, I would argue, is a basic element of human nature.
Given that he can so easily be portrayed as the dangerous skeptic, you might be surprised to learn that the patron saint of such conservatism is Thomas. There’s a way of reading the story of Thomas that makes it a tale about the truth of the Christian faith and the problems of atheism and agnosticism. Thomas doubted the resurrection and got yelled at by Jesus, the standard interpretation goes, so you too should not doubt the resurrection unless you want to get Jesus mad. But while it’s certainly the case that the author of the Gospel of John was very concerned with promoting faith, I don’t think that’s fundamentally what the story of Thomas is about.
It’s important to remember that Thomas didn’t grow up going to church every Easter and reciting the Nicene Creed every Sunday morning. When Thomas doubts the resurrection, it’s very different from us doing so. We have known about the resurrection, most of us, all of our lives; if we doubt the resurrection, it is studied, deliberate, intentional. But in all likelihood, Thomas had no idea that Jesus would be resurrected. In John, it is clear that the disciples did not know that the resurrection would take place until they saw Jesus after his death. According to John’s resurrection account, the disciples still didn’t understand what had happened even after seeing the empty tomb. Only once Jesus comes to show them his hands and his side—giving them tangible, physical proof—does the resurrection become something that they can begin to contemplate.
The disciples aren’t chided for their lack of faith, and it would be unfair to hold Thomas responsible for not demonstrating something his fellow disciples weren’t capable of or held accountable for. Thomas’ error, it seems to me, was not his failure to immediately accept an abstract concept but instead his refusal to open himself up to the possibility that something radically new—something previously unimaginable—could happen. His demand to see proof of Jesus’ resurrection is not a rejection of God but an insistence that nothing new of any importance is possible, that the way things are right now can’t change. Jesus’ appearance to Thomas shows us that Thomas is wrong—that things can change—and Jesus’ declaration that “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” are blessed is less for Thomas and more for us—inviting us to look beyond the tediousness of our present preconceptions, to envision the newness that is possible, and to realize the joys that such newness can bring.
Today we baptize four beautiful babies—and I can’t imagine better proof of God’s ability to continually create something new than these four delicate, intricately crafted creatures who were only thoughts in their parents minds mere months ago and yet have grown to become breathing, babbling, burping beings and have even more growing left to do. By baptizing them, we welcome and pledge to nurture them into a way of life that takes resurrection for granted, that assumes that something new is always around the corner. And by affirming again our own commitments to this way of life, we claim once more our responsibility for working towards wellbeing of all kinds in the world, for making all things new.
It may be tempting at times for these children’s parents and the larger community to keep them sheltered, hidden, like Jesus’ disciples after his death, behind locked doors, afraid of the dangers of the world outside. Surely we are often tempted to stay there ourselves, knowing all too well that our fears may be founded, that the dangers are real. But in today’s celebration of baptism, we put aside our fears in the interest of their growth. We promise to walk with them into the light, to encourage them to stretch beyond the stale, tired ways that we have become accustomed to and into a new, resurrected world that we can’t yet see or comprehend. We promise to impart upon them the necessity of fighting the sins that keep our selves and our society from flourishing. We promise to hold up for them a vision of living together in unity, of sharing everything that we need in common. We promise to help them believe.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Spring is starting to take shape. Babies are being born. Locked doors are being pushed open. God is doing new and wonderful things. Easter is here. The Lord is risen indeed.