April 11, 2021

Second Sunday of Easter B

Living Life Large

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to 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 answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:19-31

The story of Thomas speaks to a struggle that we each engage when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. It shines a light on the conflict within every one of us, as we face the potentially life transforming proclamation that the Lord is risen. That the one who was put to death on a cross by the power of hate was raised to life by the power of love – that the Lord is risen – that He is risen indeed.
Yes, we all want to believe that life and love conquer all – even death. Sometimes, we are even tempted to live and to love as if this were true.
At times, we dare to give into the temptation to actually live that free of all those cares that drag us down and make our living and our loving: smaller than God ever intended; smaller than grace makes possible; smaller than the larger life that God imagines for us and would have us live. And in those moments in which we dare to own our freedom, do we not quake and quiver with life’s sheer vibrancy?

But there is a fear in each of us that the Good News embodied in the Risen One might not be true: that hate and not love is the final word; that death and not life is the final word. And where there is more fear than faith, there is doubt, and even paralysis.

This fear can play havoc with the robustness of any response we make. This fear can make us hesitant rather than forthright in our response. This fear can cause us to hedge our bets rather than bet the farm.
This fear can cause is to turn inward, rather than open us up to the breadth and depth and intensity of a God-fueled and God-driven life. This fear can stop us dead in our tracks. And so, when it comes to living life with the radical freedom that faith in eternal life can and would make possible – where do I hang? Do I find myself clutching and grasping or do I find myself trusting and letting go?

Yes, the Easter story was hard to believe then and is hard to believe now. Thomas may be remembered as the icon of doubt, but he was not alone in the struggle between faith and doubt, between belief and unbelief.

The only one in the Easter story who did not question what she saw, nor question the truth of her experience, was Mary Magdalene. When the Risen Lord spoke her name with love, her anxious and frightened heart melted, and she immediately surrendered to the reality and mystery of his living presence. And immediately, at his command, she ran to tell Peter and the others. Can we not see her racing from the garden, sprinting up the road to the gates of Jerusalem, dashing through the streets and charging into the upper room of the house where the disciples were hiding? Out of breath she cries out in joyous excitement – “I have seen the Lord.”

The task, of those who wrote the scriptures and the task of those who preach the scriptures, remains constant: that those who listen to the word proclaimed and hear the word preached might either come to believe for the first time, or might find their faith strengthened and believe that much more deeply.

My sisters and brothers, I say to you this morning, I too have seen Lord. I have beheld his glorious presence many times over in the course of my life. And I know that you too have seen the Lord. Otherwise, you would not be here. This week UIDN participated in the reunion of a family. The photos of that reunion taken at LaGuardia Aiprport were snapshots of the risen Lord?

But the proclaimed, preached and experienced Lord is always up against doors and hearts that are, or too easily would be, locked shut again and again by fear.

Gracefully, as the post resurrection stories remind us, locked doors are no barriers to the Risen Lord. He penetrates our barriers and stands in the room with us. And as he stands in that space with us, if we would but take the time, no matter how frightened we may be, even as we shake in our boots, to tune out the noise and eliminate the distractions, we will hear him speaking our name with the same love with which he addressed Mary.

The Divine Stranger is always standing before us. Yes, Stranger, because it is the ordinary experience not to recognize him – is it not?

One of the recurring themes of all the post resurrection stories is that they did not recognize him.
Mary thought he was the gardener. The disciples thought he was a ghost. The two who met him in the road to Emmaus only recognized the stranger when He broke the bread. Peter and Andrew and John did not recognize that the Stranger on the shore cooking them breakfast was Jesus.

Thomas had his litmus test – he was clear about what he needed to believe that the Stranger was the Risen Jesus. He needed to touch the wounds and put his finger into the nail wounds and his hand into pierced side of Jesus.

What is our litmus test? What would have us make that Easter proclamation, “Alleluia. He is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” with all the joy and delight that is possible for a human being to experience, short of that face-to-face encounter that awaits us beyond death.

What do we require? What do we require to respond with more than lip service? What do we need to respond in a way that moves us out of our comfort zone? What do we need to respond to the change being invited, with faith rather than fear?
What do we require to stand in the presence of the risen Lord and with the same passion as Thomas – cry out, “My Lord and My God”. What is required to live the grace prayed for in the opening collect for today’s mass ……”to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith”?
It takes faith to live into the radical nature of the response that is being invited. It is radical because it is simply not the way of the world in which we live.
Each Wednesday we distribute food to scores of immigrant families. It is easy to see this is an act of charity. But in the world according to God, that people have food, is a requirement of justice. We are only returning to those who would otherwise be hungry, what is theirs by a prior right.
We read in the Book of Acts, that in the community of those who were the first witnesses to the resurrection, there was not a needy person among them because they shared all that they had. Do we have the faith to work toward the later becoming the norm rather than settling for the status quo?
We live in a society in which racism and its marginalizing and destructive impact, borne of the conscious and unconscious forces of white privilege and bias, remain, very much, parts of our social fabric. We and our black brothers and sisters are still dealing with the legacy of 250 years of slavery. Gerrymandering, voter identification requirements, and voter suppression strategies have disenfranchised countless black voters and threaten more of the same moving forward.
In the trial being held in Minneapolis, Derrick Chauvin is not the only defendant. The verdict will either convict or exonerate the establish ethos of policing in the country.
As I was driving up from NYC on the thruway this past Monday, each and every overpass was crowded with firetrucks and police vehicles, firemen and law enforcement offices, flying American flags. I later learned that the demonstration was intended as a show of support for the police, and, apparently, a statement of righteous indignation, that police brutality and even the murderous actions of officers, should be called into question.
Do we have the faith to mount an effective protest to any and all expressions and reinforcements of systemic racism and its killing consequesnces?
In his first post resurrection sermon to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem the Apostle Peter proclaimed the good news that God shows no partiality. That He does not distinguish between tribes, races and nations and that all are welcomed into his loving, saving and safe embrace. Do we have the faith to incarnate this vision in the circumstances of our common life?
“To show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith” is to make daily choices, in our personal and communal lives, in the direction of the Gospel ideal and to take those chances and make those decisions that are born of living as if God’s love and eternal life do in fact, and will in fact, conquer all.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

April 11, 2021