Sermon preached by Rev Canon Lesley McCormack on 23rd April 2017 at Ss Peter & Paul
Acts 2:14, 22-32;
In some parts of the church, today is known as ‘Low Sunday’, in part because attendance may be less than for the Vigil or Easter Day; and the atmosphere is certainly quieter, calmer – the organ and choir are more restrained; fewer bells and no trumpets or tambourines; the service somewhat simpler than our Easter Vigil when the Bishop announced, quietly at first, gradually rising to a crescendo – Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! But still the faithful and the doubting are drawn here – probably for as many different reasons as there are people here – some seeking perhaps, but not sure what; drawn to worship, to pray and to experience and be touched by the presence of the Risen Christ who reveals something of himself in each one of us, in every element of our worship, but most profoundly in the simple things of broken bread and wine outpoured.
And yet it is utterly amazing that we are here at all, for when we look back, the signs were far from encouraging! It was hardly a hotbed of faith that Jesus walked in to when he bypassed the locked doors that expressed so much about the disciples fear. This group of frightened, uncertain people, utterly exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually, had shut themselves away, afraid perhaps of what they may have to confront if they stepped out into the wider world. But then, Jesus is there! The wounds reveal that it is unmistakable Jesus yet he is also different, no longer subject to time and space. Into their fear and confusion, Jesus speaks words of peace, and the disciples rejoice as they glimpse the glory of God in their midst.
Yet before they even have time to absorb what is happening, Jesus commissions them to continue the work that He had begun and sends them out – beyond the safety they feel locked doors have given them, out into the world beyond. In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke gives us an insight into the reality of this outdoor life, with all its joys and it tribulations. There is a new-found energy and vision born in them following the blessing of peace – a peace that does not bring the quiet life. Quite the opposite – it is a peace which gives this group of once fearful and uncertain people, a new dynamic energy and the courage to be outdoors, to cope with whatever comes their way.
And so they begin the work that would take the Good New far beyond Jerusalem, out to the gentile world. And that, my friends, is in large part why we are here this morning!
I am certain that this very ordinary group of people, people who knew joy, people who argued among themselves, people who doubted and questioned, had no idea what God was about to achieve as they stepped through those locked doors. But, their willingness to trust, to walk in faith and hope, to take a risk began the work that led to the eventual spread of Christianity across the world.
But what of Thomas – the other significant person in our readings this morning. I discovered while preparing for this morning that among Eastern Orthodox Churches, this particular Sunday is known as St. Thomas Sunday – so let’s journey with him for a few moments, and see what we discover.
It is only St. John’s Gospel that has much to say about Thomas. He is first mentioned when Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to Judea. The disciples are dumbfounded – isn’t it in Judea that the people were wanting to stone him to death? But Thomas speaks for them all when he says ‘let us also go, that we may die with him’. So many mixed emotions in these words: bravery perhaps, but I also hear resignation, reluctance and a dogged loyalty.
Thomas appears again when Jesus is in the Upper Room. He is telling his disciples that he must go away, and that they know the way to the place where he is going. But it is Thomas who asks the question that perhaps the others dare not ask; ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
The final occasion and perhaps the best known story is the one heard this morning. For whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the first Easter Day. They singularly fail to convince him of the fact that Jesus is risen with either their words or their joy; Thomas insists on the evidence of what his eyes can see and his hands can feel before he will believe.
So quite clearly, Thomas had his doubts, and in a sense who can blame him! Would any one of us have reacted differently? But those doubts did not cause him to leave the group of disciples or follow a different path. He continued to stay around, ………. and wait, and wait!
John records, almost casually, ‘A week later…….although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them.’
Seven days of nothing happening, and yet ……what I wonder, was going on within Thomas during those seven days; what was he thinking, feeling, experiencing; what was being re-created.
When Jesus does appear, he invites Thomas to see and to touch, just as he had the other disciples. But in the end, Thomas doesn’t need to! The invitation is enough, it seems, to call forth that supreme confession of faith in the entire Gospel – ‘My Lord and my God’.
And so it is Thomas who is the first to explicitly recognise what the writer of John’s Gospel has been revealing since the very beginning with those wonderful opening words:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God……and the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory….full of grace and truth”!
Thomas, surprised by God, glimpses the glory of God in the person of Jesus, the word made flesh and living among us.
In Thomas, we glimpse the transformation of reluctant dogged loyalty mingled with doubt into radiant joy, and as we catch that glimpse we are encouraged to remember that if it can happen to him, it can happen to me, to you, to any one of us!
Jesus comes to us in the midst of our uncertainties, doubts and fears as he came to those first disciples. He places himself in our hands in the simple things of broken bread and wine outpoured. He reveals himself to us in the kindness and generosity of strangers; He speaks to us through our experiences of love and being loved; he speaks healing words of forgiveness that release us into new life; He comes to us in every encounter that lights up our lives!
This is the reality of the resurrection, a reality with the power to transform the darkness of our world into a world filled with light and joy, hope and peace. This was the Good News that Thomas and those other disciples were called by Jesus to take beyond the safety of locked doors and proclaim to the wider world. I hope and pray that our faith will take wings this Eastertide, opening our eyes to the glory of God in our midst, and giving us the courage to take risks and go beyond what feels safe and secure to proclaim the hope and joy of the Resurrection, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Who knows what God is already doing and will continue to achieve in and through our sometimes faltering steps yet faithful steps!
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!!