The Second Sunday of Easter
Watch the Sermon Here
Our opening prayer – our Collect for today – begins by telling us that God, in the Paschal mystery, has established the new covenant of reconciliation . . .! . . . That sounds so wonderful! . . . especially after the year we’ve had . . . that God has established . . . and is continuing to call us into God’s new covenant of reconciliation.
The Rev’d Canon Herbert O’Driscoll, Irish Anglican priest, prolific author, former Warden of the College of Preachers here in the US, writing about this Collect in his book, Prayers for the Breaking of the Bread,” tells this Easter story of his time in the early 1980s at our National Cathedral:
“It was only a few minutes before the beginning of the 11 o’clock Eucharist in Washington Cathedral. We were standing near the great west doors; I, soon to celebrate the Easter Eucharist, and one of our hospitality team. … She had just returned from a medical conference in Europe, where she had met a colleague…Somehow their conversation turned to the Second World War. [Her colleague] had been a prisoner in the death camps. One of his duties as a young person was to carry out the bodies of those who had died during the night. He told my friend that as he walked away from the mound of bodies, he heard a voice coming from the skeletal form of a woman. She stretched out her arm from among the bodies and said, “I am not dead. I am alive.”
Canon O’Driscoll goes on to say that this is exactly how our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has been addressing us all these past days into Easter and beyond – ever ongoing when we know how to listen . . . calling to us “from all the dying and warring and suffering of our world.“… [Jesus] says to us, ‘I am not dead. I am alive.’ And when each of us comes “truly to believe this, we too come alive. What does it mean,“ he asks, “for [each of ] us to say this?” . . . And to that, we must add, ‘in this pandemic year’ with such extraordinary challenges – and losses – and failed leadership imposing contradictory mandates – and rumors causing endless, often life threatening uncertainty – separation and isolation – and yet, in so many ways, we have been experiencing community in a fellowship of faith and presence of heart and mind because so many of us believe that God is alive – and with us – so that God’s light overcomes the darkness as the Paschal mystery calls us into – and to become – God’s beloved community.
Returning to our Collect, following that wonderful statement about God’s new covenant of reconciliation – what is particularly challenging in our world today are the current extremes of distorted fears and uprooted power needs.
Our Collect says, “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, …”
Our country is increasingly under siege from groups and individuals who profess incomprehensible distortions, declarations, prophecies justifying their “personal” Lord, calling forth behaviors so dangerous – so disruptive and unrecognizable except in most definitions of the distorted beliefs and actions associated with those who participate in cults.
Somehow, these terribly lost individuals desperately attempt to hide their fears in extreme acts of abusive power. They do not know about God’s beloved community described so clearly in our first reading in The Acts of the Apostles which gives us God’s vision of forming an all inclusive community of loving persons with God at its very center – where believers are of one heart and soul and all is offered for the good of the whole community . . . “not a needy person among them”. . . and leadership is trusted to be faithful, wise stewards of all that is being offered.
As our Psalm says, Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when we live together in unity! (133, v.1)
And it’s not just those with extreme behaviors. Many individuals or groups today claim a “personal God” who, according to them, is there to meet their personal, individual needs with no awareness or connection to the larger community . . . except perhaps to avoid and deliberately prevent any news that might cause discomfort . . .
Our Scripture today in Acts, and also in our Epistle, are telling us that we are meant to be born into a “fellowship” community – to share and to support one another in our journey through life.
A faith that is not community based and consensus building in its mission is vulnerable to become dedicated to the personal goals and satisfactions of those in power – those in control. I sometimes call this an 11th Commandment community – the 11th Commandment being, “Thou shalt not ever raise any issues or questions that might cause anyone to be uncomfortable.” which translates to “Keep us comfortable and the needs of the world far away.” tending to scapegoat or make wrong the person or people attempting to bring forth uncomfortable truths.
In our Epistle we are being invited into a fellowship with one another and with God – and that this is what joy is all about – eternal life can be experienced here and now. To be in fellowship with God, who is light, means we have entered into the light – and live according to the light – which is what so many of us here at St. Michael’s have insisted on doing and being in this challenging time – being companions of light where there may be darkness and isolation – loneliness and fear – sharing our stories with one another – and always sharing our prayers.
Now, as our world has become unsafe in so many ways, a lot of us are struggling in our efforts to “love one another” – loving the troubled “stranger” among us – and far beyond . . .
Those of you who were able to attend the Service of Prayer and Witness against Anti-Asian violence held on the steps of our Cathedral this past March 23rd –just before Holy Week – with our 3 Bishops and other voices from our parish and the larger community, honoring victims and survivors, and recommitting ourselves to equity and denouncing racism in all its forms. This beautiful service has now been sent out to all of us as a video. Also those of us who were able to view and/or participate a few days later, in the March 26th Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries Day of Action / Day of Healing. Again, we were blessed to have our hearts filled and restored by the many voices of healing, lamentation and empowerment, including our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, and also Bishop Shin.
Bishop Curry, in his homily, reminded us so forcefully that, as witnesses, we must name the abuse that allows and even encourages the racist behaviors.
Quoting and singing from a much loved Spiritual, “Will you be a witness for my Lord?” – calling us to bring the compassion and the community in support of all those wounds – healed by the power of God’s love – wounded by hate and injustice and, on that 3rd day, rising again with those wounds healed yet still there as a witness!
That we must call out – must witness to leaders in high places speaking lies about the origins of pandemics – elected officials seeking to overthrow our democracy – not just the government – the vision, inspired by God, of freedom and justice for all and under attack for so many years !
Forcefully reminding us that in our struggle to love our neighbors we must be the witnesses who respectfully name and are empowered by those wounds.
There is a radiance when we are being God’s witnesses . . . You can see it in those who spoke and prayed . . . and sang . . . a radiance that comes forth on the steps of our Cathedral . . . and even in a Zoom webinar all across this Country . . .
And as we all learned in Sacred Ground, when we listen to one another’s stories we are together standing on sacred ground.
And, when we are blessed to listen to our radiant witnesses, we then become a witness. And God’s radiance shines through us as well . . . so that together, we witness to the world that there is another way.
And this is why Thomas, in our Gospel today, needed to see and touch those wounds. He was no more frightened or “doubtful” than the other disciples. All of them were in shock from what had taken place during Holy Week. And I don’t believe Jesus was being at all contemptuous when He asks Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” And then follows that saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
I believe Jesus was being loving – and compassionate – and grateful that as the shock of the Holy Week events began to diminish, followers would recover and be able to live into all He has been teaching them. This is how resurrection begins – hope and clarity and new life emerging.
I have always believed there is something quite diaconal about Thomas.
He listened. He believed. Somewhere within his traumatized mind and heart he carries Jesus’ teachings and instructions: ‘This is what I am calling you to do. I will die. In 3 days I will come back and bring you a powerful Spirit from my Father for you to carry out into the world.’
Somewhere deep within Thomas this information is attempting to organize and come forth, but he has to know – to be there and experience this Truth as real – to receive this experience coming together in a perfect harmony in his heart and mind that anchors deep within his soul – where he has held that recognition from when he first recognized and believed Jesus as the Messiah.
And, for Thomas, what completes this recognition is Jesus telling Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Thomas needs to see and touch and know that those wounds are still there and that they are healed – healed by the power of God’s love and carried for us by God’s Son as our witness that we might all become God’s radiant witnesses.