Sermon, Easter 2 – April 11, 2021 – David R. Weiss
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, St. Paul, Minnesota
Texts – Acts 4: 32-35 (holding all things in common), John 20: 19-31 (Thomas)
NOTE: You can also watch this sermon at this link. I take the pulpit at 29:29. The hymn that comes right after the sermon is also a text by me. I’ve put the hymn words below the sermon here.
No one wants to be “that guy.” But sometimes “that guy” is exactly who you are.
Just imagine. John never tells us why you went out that first Easter evening, but you did. And the moment you return and step back into that upper room, you can tell. Everything has changed. For everyone. Except for you.
Because you missed it.
And no matter what your friends tell you, it doesn’t make sense. The gap between what you hear and what you can believe is simply too great.
Although we should be clear. This has nothing to do with your “willingness” to believe. If “willing” were the issue, you would have believed before anyone said anything. No, this is simply beyond your reach. Try as you might, you can’t touch this.
I mean, look, you watched him die. Albeit from a safe distance, at the outer edges of the crowd, because, like the other apostles, you were scared to be associated with the man on the cross. Your stomach was knotted in anguish—and in disbelief on that day, too. But you were there.
You saw his beaten body. You winced at the crown of thorns pressed into his brow beneath Rome’s mocking sign that called him “King of the Jews.” You cringed at the way his hands curled inward in silent endless agony from the nails driven through them. You heard him speak in breathless gasps from the cross. Finally, the centurion pierced his side with a spear. You. Watched. Him. Die. In disbelief.
So now, when everyone else is suddenly so excited to tell you, “He’s alive! We saw him! Just now … while you were out … He was here!” well, you’ve never wanted to believe anything in your life as much as that. Your disbelief is simply desperate honesty. In fact, you’re speaking against your own deepest wishes when you say, “Unless I see for myself … I won’t believe.”
And ever after you’ve been known as “Doubting Thomas”—the disciple who at first refused to believe. As though the rest of us never would have doubted. But I wonder.
Because there isn’t one of us here this morning who was in the upper room. We all missed that first Easter meeting. And there probably isn’t one of us here who hasn’t at some point found ourselves desperately wanting to believe … but unable to.
So, Thomas … is us. Every last one of us, sooner or later. Desperately wishing to believe and finding that it is simply a leap too far. Thomas at least knows what he needs. “If I can just touch his wounds, then I can believe.”
* * *
Now it’s eight days later. Over the past week you’ve heard all the stories swirling. Angelic words of comfort at the tomb. Tales told by Mary Magdalene and others. An appearance on the road to Emmaus—a supposed revelation in the breaking of bread. And yet, for you, it’s been a long week, as you find yourself still “stuck” on the outside of this story, with resurrection faith remaining stubbornly beyond your reach.
Until—on this eighth day, suddenly there’s a PRESENCE in the upper room again. The hair—every single hair—on your neck stands up as if to say “Alleluia.” And then he’s here. In front of you. Outstretched hand open, the nail wound still there … inviting … your touch. And his side, no longer bleeding, but still bearing that wound from the spear. You lift your hand, trembling in wonder, and you do the most awful—the most full-of-awe—thing you’ve done in your whole life. You touch that wound.
And … finally … you believe.
Of course, John is using this scene in his Gospel to address his own audience. You can hardly blame him. By the time he writes, around the year 90 or 100, everybody had missed seeing Jesus. So, when John has Jesus say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” it’s because now everybody has to believe without seeing for themselves. Everybody—including us.
Still, it stings a bit. The message seems to be, “don’t be like Thomas.” But you’re Thomas, and you know there’s a deeper truth here.
* * *
Fast forward several months now.
You’re still in Jerusalem. Eventually, you and the others—apostles, disciples, followers of the Way—will scatter to the ends of the earth, carrying the gospel with you wherever you go. But for now, you’re still getting your feet beneath you again. And right now, you’re thinking quite directly about those feet—well, more specifically all the coins getting laid at them. The proceeds of property sold by new followers of Jesus to be shared as needed with others in your midst.
I’m guessing you know something about the trail that leads from touching Jesus with your hands to all these coins piled at your feet.
As you and the other apostles and closest followers of Jesus began to announce his resurrection, it was as though everyone who’d encountered Jesus during his ministry was suddenly standing in your sandals.
People who’d heard his parables that turned the world as it was upside down. Declaring grace and compassion rather than power and domination as the very architecture of God’s empire. But … after his arrest and trial and execution by Rome, was it possible—how could it be?!—that the world might still turn as Jesus said?
People who’d seen one of Jesus’ healings or sat at table with him—why, he simply refused to even acknowledge the otherness that both Rome (and Jerusalem!) used to set people against one another, or the boundaries they used to decide who was in and who was out. It was as though for Jesus there were ONLY children of God. But … after the cross, was it possible—how could it be?!—that those boundaries, which Rome had just nailed back in place, might still crumble?
People who firsthand, for themselves, had felt God’s longing love reach out through this man and wrap them in a transforming embrace—one by one, and then altogether woven into a glorious piece of kin-dom fabric. But … after his body was wrapped in linen and laid in the tomb, was it possible—how could it be?!—that this wondrous weaving might go on?
That changed world, that kin-dom wrought by God, had seemed about to dawn—as though it were already dawning in Jesus’ company—and then, with his death, everyone’s hopes came crashing down. And they all found themselves perched, just like you, on the precipice of despair, desperate to believe but unable to see or touch Jesus.
Who knows exactly where or when or how it started? Some things are maybe meant to be wrapped in mystery. What you do know is that eventually these people also found a way to see and touch Jesus.
Sometime around the day of Pentecost, you and the others among Jesus’ closest followers began to establish the rhythm of a new community. Sure, there were “big moments,” like Peter’s public preaching. But in your mind it was the mundane parts of the movement where faith was truly born. Words can move you for an hour or a day, but it’s the rhythm of ritual, the intentional shape of daily life, that really transforms a person.
So, there was daily teaching just as Jesus had done, now in your own small groups. Retelling his parables and his message about God’s sheer and holy grace, recounting with wide-eyed wonder how that grace found expression in Jesus’ healings and table fellowship.
Beyond the re-telling, there was the re-doing: the daily practice of genuine fellowship among yourselves. The miracle—honestly, no other word suffices—the miracle of befriending those that the empire had made “other,” until these others became friends you knew by name.
At the center of that fellowship were the meals—breaking bread, amid laughter and tears, among new friends. Sometimes those meals took on the shape of a ritual, as Jesus had instructed. Other times they remained merely meals, but no less holy on that account.
And there was daily prayer. Gathered together, you spoke gratitude to God for what was unfolding in your midst. And you beckoned—as one people, though so varied among yourselves—for the courage and the wisdom to play midwife to the reign of God in a community called to echo the compassion Jesus taught.
And this is where resurrection faith was born among you. Not as some mystical idea, but as the visceral conviction, born out of your lived practice, that God was entirely undaunted by Jesus’ death. And that God was NOT going to leave him dead. Jesus’ living presence was palpable in your midst. God’s desire for a people brought together by grace and love was proving greater and stronger than anything you—or Rome—had imagined. Stronger even than death.
To be clear. To be emphatically clear. Because you know this all the way down to your bones. This love that is stronger than death … is born in our wounds. “Resurrection,” as you like to say, is just a fancy word. It doesn’t mean anything. Until you touch the wounds.
Which brings us back to those coins at your feet.
You know nothing of the precarity of our lives. But you have your own versions of generational poverty, police brutality, racism, obscene wealth, neglect of refugees and immigrants, rampant incarceration, medical debt, student loans, ecological devastation, and the deadly othering of persons by gender or sexuality. Your world is at once very different and yet all too similar to our own.
But there is a peculiar vitality that shapes your community so much that now Jesus’ talk about new wine bursting old wineskins makes perfect sense to you … even as it honestly unnerves us today. You live as a community that recognizes—and embodies—God’s gospel truth that “Nothing belongs to any of us … except as we belong to one another.”
That rhythm of teaching and fellowship and meals and prayer has become the manger in which the newborn Body of Christ is laid: the church. And the miracle that amazes even you to this day (the evidence of it is piled at your feet right now) is that as these first members of the Body of Christ dared to know one another, freely sharing griefs and joys … and needs, they find themselves moved to touch the wounds on the Body of Christ. To meet the needs of others so fully, so FAITH-fully, that “there were no needy persons among you.”
Imagine: today we find THAT idea—actually and entirely meeting the needs of others—more challenging to believe than the notion of resurrection.
But what you understand is that the early church is simply going about—as its daily business, as its very purpose—the work of ending Rome’s reign of domination and death. And giving daily … quiet … defiant … embodied … announcement of the reign of God—just as Jesus declared. No doubt, later on people will want to clamor about the coins at your feet, the property held in common or sold to meet the needs of others. But this sharing of possessions, this pile of coins, in truth, this is the least of it.
Because this extravagant sharing—from human fellowship to material goods—this daring to touch the wounds of Christ’s body—this is the moment when these first Christians—including you—finally know what it means to say, “I believe.” This is where resurrection faith begins.
And suddenly it strikes you: it’s even more than that: THIS IS RESURRECTION ITSELF. Happening right now.
And as you, “Doubting Thomas,” smile at that deep truth—piled up at your feet, but even more so playing out in the community around you—you could swear you hear an angel chorus in the background singing “Alleluia—Christ is risen.” And you say quietly to yourself, “Christ is risen indeed. Thanks be to God. AMEN.”
* * *
This is an abridged version of a hymn text I wrote several years ago. These verses were used as the Hymn of the Day following my sermon.
text by David Weiss
Precious Lord, still your hands, bear your wounds, many lands;
Some are lost, some are least, some are hurt,
Let me touch you in deed, as I touch those in need;
Use my hands, Precious Lord, make them whole!
Easter morn, through my tears, call my name, bring me near,
And I hear, and I look, and I hope.
Over cross, over death, bringing life, drawing breath,
Precious Lord, once again, you are whole!
Easter eve, I’m away; you were there, but I say,
Let me see, let me touch, let me know.
Once again, there you are; fingertips touch your scars;
In my heart, Precious Lord, now I know!
* * *
David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.