Baptism, like resurrection is a way to begin a new life in Christ, and a way to form relationships in a community of faith. Paul tells us in Romans that through baptism, we become united with Christ in his death and consequently also in his resurrection. (Romans 6:3-5) When we are baptized like these sweet babies just were, we begin a new life as members of the body of Christ. Through the water of Baptism, the newest members of our faith community, Preston Tyrell, Rowan Sterling, Amelia Rose, Charlotte Lewis and Nicholas Hansen now share in Christ’s resurrection, they are reborn by the Holy Spirit and have been marked as Christ’s forever. When we share in Christ’s resurrection, we share in a relationship with God and with each other.
Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Easter and our Gospel reading tells us that Thomas is late to the resurrection. Jesus had appeared to the other disciples the week before but for some unknown reason, Thomas was not with them. When the other disciples told Thomas “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas was just not having it.
Preacher, priest and writer, Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about visiting nursing homes on the poor side of town to celebrate Communion with the residents. Once a month the nurses would wheel about ten or fifteen residents into the sunroom and park them in a semi-circle around a small table. As she prepared the elements some of them would complain while “others dozed.” I have visited nursing homes like that, and it is sometimes very difficult. Taylor writes “It’s one of the hardest things I do because I sometimes doubt the power of the sacrament to break through their fog. I say all the comfortable words and wonder if anyone hears them. I stand there with my arms raised over the bread and wine and suspect that I might as well be flying a kite.”
One Monday Taylor went to the nursing home late in the afternoon and a volunteer warned her that the residents’ medication was wearing off. Taylor described this as a mixed blessing because they were more awake than usual and also more vocal. One woman bounced against her restraints and sang “Row, row, row your boat.” It was then that Taylor asked, “What shall I read from the Bible today?” “What part would you like to hear?” The room quieted down just enough for one woman’s broken voice to be heard. “Tell us a resurrection story,” she said. And as her words settled on the room, the sleepers opened their eyes. “Yes” someone else said and then came another voice, “Yes, tell us a resurrection story.”[i]
In our Gospel lesson today, Thomas wanted his own resurrection story. He didn’t ask to see Jesus’ face. For Thomas Jesus’ identity was now defined by the sacrifice he had made – a sacrifice made visible by the scars Thomas wanted to see on Jesus’ resurrected body – the scars he wanted to reach out and touch.
How many of us need our own resurrection story? When dreams die, when relationships end, when we lose our purpose in life, when our world falls apart? In my late teens, there were certain things going on in my life that caused me to believe that God had abandoned me, so I turned my back on the church. A priest I encountered in an Anglican church more than ten years later reminded me of my baptism, helped me to see that God had always been with me and that I was God’s beloved. She told me a resurrection story and I encountered Jesus in a little church I found off the beaten path in a suburb of Toronto.
Our Gospel last week told of Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the garden. This week we learn of how the other disciples encountered Jesus – how he appeared to them when they were hiding behind closed doors. Thomas was missing when Jesus appeared and said, “Peace be with you.” He was missing when Jesus showed the other disciples his wounds, breathed on them and gave them power over sin. Thomas was not there to receive the Holy Spirit and to be sent out with what he needed to begin his new ministry. Thomas needed to have his own encounter with the risen Jesus, not to prove that Jesus was alive once again, but to believe the promise that he would still have a relationship with Jesus – a relationship that could not be taken away, even by death. As one of my favorite writers put it, “I see a man who yearned for a living encounter with Jesus; a man who wouldn’t settle for someone else’s experience of resurrection but stuck around in the hope of having his own; a man who dared to confess uncertainty in the midst of those who were certain. A man who recognized his Lord in woundedness, not glory.”[ii]
Thomas had to wait a whole week, but Jesus showed up and met him right where he was and freely offered Thomas the testimony of his own wounds, his own pain. [iii] Thomas finally received what the other disciples had received, and he could finally say, “My Lord, and my God!”
At our baptism, and as we just did when we renewed our Baptismal vows, we make a series of promises. Yet, I do not recall Stanford asking us to promise to be perfect. Don’t we all at times wrestle with hidden doubts and fears? As we promise to take part in the breaking of the bread, to read scripture, to work for justice, and to respect human dignity, we do not swear to always get it right. What we do is promise to try, “with God’s help.” We knowingly make promises while acknowledging that we cannot keep them on our own. While we will never be in the room with the original disciples on that first day of the week – nevertheless, we encounter Christ in the waters of Baptism, when we take part in the Eucharist and when we seek and serve Christ in each other.
Parents and God parents – remember to remind these children often that they are God’s beloved. Sometimes that is the only resurrection story we need to hear. And whether we show up late or whether life causes us to forget that we are beloved children of God, Jesus meets us in the midst of our fear and doubt; in our woundedness and in our abandonment – and sometimes, God sends someone to tell us a resurrection story. All we need to do is show up with open hearts and open minds.
Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia!