Second Sunday of Easter (Year B)

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of  St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 11, 2021 (Easter 2, Year B)

On Wednesday this week, just as I was emerging from my post-Holy Week and Easter haze, I had a conversation with Davis Dassori about the reading he did for our Easter Day service. It was from the Acts of the Apostles, and Peter was speaking to the Gentile Cornelius, sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. You may remember it — although, in fairness, the only thing I really remember about our Easter service was that glorious Pageant put on by our children. 

But Davis was telling me that when he was filming the reading, he told Dan that the part he wanted to emphasize was the line where Peter says, “We are witnesses to all that he did.” Davis wanted to make sure he looked directly into the camera when he said this. “We are witnesses to all that he did.” 

Peter and the other disciples were indeed witnesses to all that had taken place. They were there when Jesus taught and healed and lived and died and rose again. They were witnesses to something so powerful, so incredible that they risked everything — their livelihoods, their reputations, their very lives — to share it with others. They shared it with their friends and families, they shared it with strangers, they shared it with the powerful and the powerless. And it is only because of them, because of their eyewitness accounts, that we have been entrusted with the good news of Jesus’ message some 2,000 years later.

This morning we hear the story of the apostle Thomas, and I was struck by Davis’ comment because at first, that was one thing that Thomas decidedly was not: a witness. We don’t know where Thomas was when the other disciples had initially gathered, we just know he was not with them when the resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared among them. And when Thomas finally does show up, after Jesus had left, this famously leads to some doubts.

Now, I will say that I think Thomas has been unfairly saddled with the “Doubting” moniker. We often pejoratively refer to someone as a Doubting Thomas, if they don’t share our optimism or beliefs. To accuse someone of being a Doubting Thomas is often just one step away from calling them a Debbie Downer. Using it this way isn’t fair to Thomas, but mostly I think it’s unfair to the whole concept of doubt. As if doubt were a dirty word or an unholy state of mind or something antithetical to faith. 

The thing is, authentic faith is not an on-off switch or an either-or proposition. Doubt and faith coexist on a continuum that ebbs and flows throughout our lives. Please know that doubt is an integral part of faith, something to be embraced and examined rather than stifled and repressed. Doubt plays a vital role in a healthy, vibrant, engaged, and living faith, because periods of doubt, as difficult as they may be, quite often strengthen our faith.

But the church hasn’t always done a good job of recognizing and accepting doubt as a natural part of our spiritual lives. Too often the response is “just pray harder,” and your doubts will magically go away.” Which is not exactly helpful advice, and it sends the message that doubt is a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of or something we’re doing wrong. On the surface of things, doubt certainly doesn’t pair well with Eastertide, this 50-day season full of joyful alleluias and proclamations of a sure and certain hope in the resurrection. 

And yet, year after year Thomas shows up on the very Sunday after Easter, expressing his doubts. And this is such an important reminder that faith, at least a faith truly rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not about plastered-on smiles or the suppression of true feelings, but about the full range of human emotions. Which most certainly includes doubt.

Davis told me, and said I could share with all of you, that when he begins to have doubts about this whole Christianity thing, with its absurd hypotheses and death-defying outcomes, he always turns back to those first believers, to the witnesses to all that Jesus did.

And if you are wrestling with doubt, this may be a helpful practice for you as well. To consider Peter and those other eyewitnesses whose hearts were so full of love, they couldn’t help but share it with others. To reflect upon what it was that set their hearts so ablaze that they risked everything to share it with the world. To listen to the words Skip read this morning from John’s first letter, “We declare to you…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” That’s the witness of those who were there. They shared it because Jesus’ message of love changed their lives, filled them with hope, and brought peace to their souls. Things we all so desperately crave.

Like Thomas, we first heard about the resurrection from someone else. We’ve all come to this faith because it was shared by witnesses in our own lives. They may have been our parents or a friend, a family member or a Sunday School teacher, an author or even a priest. Most likely we received our faith from some combination of various witnesses. And, like Thomas, we don’t always believe what we hear. 

If you are struggling with your faith these days, know that you are not alone. It’s not always an easy place to be. When you walk it alone, it can sometimes feel like the valley of the shadow of death. Especially if things are feeling broken in your life right now.

I’m aware that not being able to gather in-person, not being able to worship together and be in community can amplify our doubts. We lean on one another to get through periods of doubt. Sometimes even just showing up and going through the liturgical motions even when we aren’t feeling spiritually connected, is an important way to stay grounded in God. You may be feeling disconnected and distracted this morning, but you’re here. And God is too. God’s arms are open wide in welcome, inviting you in, embracing you, loving you. Even when you’re not feeling it. Even when you turn away. Even when doubt feels stronger than faith. 

And don’t forget, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. There’s hope on the horizon, yes, but fear is fertile ground for doubt. And I don’t care how much of a brave face you’ve put on it, living through a global health crisis ratchets up our fear, whether consciously or not. All of which is to say, that if you’ve been struggling with your faith, please know that you are not the only one. Know that it’s a normal part of everyone’s faith journey; and the stressors we’ve all encountered, the isolation, and the loss of being together, have only exacerbated these feelings for so many of us.

And then remember those who were the first witnesses to these things. Revel in their sense of wonder, and perhaps their witness will leave just enough space for Jesus to enter your heart in new and life-giving ways.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s