No exceptions

A sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, 2022


Have you ever noticed how much fear there is in a book that says a prodigal number of times, “Do not be afraid”?

People – we might easily call them factions, for they are the same people, with the same language, religion, nation – are pitted against one another. From our vantage point in history, we see the tragedy about to unfold if fear is allowed to divide and conquer.

Yet all this is happening in the shadow of a greater victory: Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth … who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, his is the glory and dominion forever and ever. (Revelation 1:5-6) For he has defeated death and the fear of death, and he has brought his people to new life.

Then why are we still afraid, and fractured and in factions? Where is our resurrection life?

When Jesus came to the disciples at the beginning of the week, at sunset on that first Easter day, and they were afraid, he offered them peace, and he offered them power, breathing on them the Holy Spirit that first animated the earthling at the beginning of Genesis.

It was that Holy Spirit, that giver of life, that enabled them to unlock their doors and their hearts and their tongues to rejoice in the risen life of the saviour, the new, expanded, unlimited life of Christ.

And Thomas was not with them. For a week, Jesus left him to his devices and doubts. Thomas was afraid to enter into joy, unwilling to let the risen Christ go unseen. Jesus gave him time to grieve, to be angry, to be human. Then Jesus came back to Thomas, and showed him his wounds, and invited him to touch them – “I know your pain,” Jesus was telling Thomas. “I do not diminish it. But I can bear it.”

Jesus did not make Thomas choose between grief and belief, doubt and delight, joy and remembering. Jesus gave Thomas the love that he needed to bring them all to his knees, “My Lord and my God!”

There is a move afoot in Ohio to follow Florida and some other states down a fractured path of fear, pretending that if we do not talk about so-called “divisive concepts”, then we will somehow become more united, as though denying our differences, historical and ever-presenting, does not divide us as deeply as anything can; as though suppressing the spectrum of human experience does it justice.

From our vantage point of expansive life, we see the tragedy about to unfold if fear and factions are allowed to divide and conquer us.

Driving children, their families, their teachers, back into silence, cloaking them with closet doors does nothing but harm, nothing but harm. Insisting that the gay or bi or transgender child hears nothing in literature or in passing conversation that might affirm that they are not alone in their experience does nothing but harm. It does not avoid division, but it cuts that child away from the body of their peers. It tears at their soul.

Likewise, excising our divisive and difficult history does nothing to heal it.

Is that why Jesus would not rush Thomas to his reckoning, but allowed him his unique experience amongst the eleven of bewilderment, his doubts, his grief, so that he could bring them all to his knees as Jesus returned to him? Is that why Jesus came to Thomas holding open his wounds, saying, “I know your pain, and I can bear it”? Is that why Jesus did not make Thomas choose between grief and joy?

Well, I’ll admit it’s a stretch to say that Jesus had an obscure Ohio state bill on his mind several centuries before Ohio was invented, but that does not mean that his interaction with Thomas cannot be instructive to us. The only response available in the end was for Thomas to fall at his feet and worship, “My Lord and my God,” to adore Jesus because Jesus loved Thomas enough to come back for him, for him and his unique, undeniable experience.

What are we afraid of? Confronting our own sinful past? I know my own hypocrisy well enough. Yet we have a roadmap to repentance and reconciliation!

What are we afraid of? Expanding our understanding of what it is to be human? Jesus has already stretched it beyond our imagining, being both human and divine, mortal and resurrected, all at once.

The response of the apostles was, despite the factions and fractures among their own people, to tell what they knew, what they had seen, what they had experienced: the love of Christ who came back for Thomas. The life of Christ who had risen from the dead. The peace and power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed upon them, for the forgiveness of the sins we will continue to commit out of fear, out of misguided, misleading divisions.

We do not need to be perfect in our faith. God knows, we do not need to be perfect in our understanding. We do not even need to be unafraid. We do not need to present ourselves unscarred by the world. We can stand with Thomas, and fall to our knees with Thomas, knowing that Jesus has it all covered, and can bear our doubt and confusion as well as our love.

He breathes peace and power over his disciples: his peace, which is life, and his power, which is love. He has harrowed hell, and brought those who languished there back to life. And now, as he says to his disciples, “As my Father sent me, so I send you.”

And here is our resurrection life: to do the will of him who sent us, and to love as he has loved us, without exception, without exclusion, as far as it depends upon us.

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth … who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father [and our neighbours], his is the glory and dominion forever and ever.

Amen.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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