Those Who Have Not Seen, and Yet Believe

Those Who Have Not Seen, and Yet Believe
John 20:19-31
Rev. Liz Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
April 24th, 2022

19 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.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.’

26 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.’ 27Then 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.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

The joy of Easter morning can be so palpable. It certainly was for me last Sunday. And yet: The day after Easter rolls around too. The floral arrangements are drooping, and if I’m honest, so is that burst of resurrection energy in my soul. Because I turned on the news on Monday and there’s still a war raging in Ukraine. Water protectors trying to stop the construction of oil pipelines on Indigenous land are still facing trial for their defense of Mother Earth. Loved ones face overwhelmingly daunting medical problems that never seem to improve. Is Jesus really risen?

Our text this morning, on this 2nd Sunday in the Easter season, captures this complicated resurrection reality. We are reminded that the women’s discovery that the tomb was empty did not mean an absence of danger and fear. We find the disciples behind locked doors in this text, afraid that the empire has targeted them the way it targeted their table-flipping, protest-parade-leading rabbi. And we find Thomas, more specifically, having been passed over entirely by the experience of seeing Jesus risen from the dead. He’s only hearing about it second hand. That alone must have been incredibly painful, to be left out of the visceral resurrection experience his friends witnessed. And he’s understandably skeptical. ‘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.’

It’s important to pause here to call Thomas’ response to the cries of “We have seen the Lord!” what it is: healthy doubt. This is what the Rev. Margaret Ernst calls it in a podcast from Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ), “The Word Is Resistance”. (The Rev. Margaret Ernst, “TWIR 4.28.19 – The Week After: Trust, Doubt, and Whiteness as Bad Faith,” The Word Is Resistance podcast.) Healthy doubt like Thomas’ is integral to grounded faith because it refuses the path of toxic positivity. It holds space for grief and pain instead of trying to spiritually bypass what hurts just because society wants to move on. Healthy doubt engages resurrection, but not without making room to honor the very real wounds-that-are-not-yet-scars on the body of the resurrected. This is a word for us as we live into these ongoing pandemic times of both resurrection and open wounds. Let us not forget the 6.2 million people who have died worldwide in this pandemic. Let us slow down like Thomas, to demand an honoring of the very real wounds left on our bodies by the isolation, the overwhelm, the loneliness, the heaviness of the season we’ve been living through. That refusal to rush past grief is holy work.

And: let us not allow healthy doubt to give way to what Rev. Ernst calls “bad faith.” (TWIR 4.28.19 – The Week After)  Bad faith happens when we start clinging to the realities of death because it has become more comfortable than engaging resurrection. Bad faith happens when we insist on death-dealing patterns rather than opening ourselves to the possibility that new life is possible. Bad faith happens when people cling to more wealth than they need to live, all while the risen Christ is alive in movements fighting oppression that are aching for funding to stay afloat. Bad faith happens when communities like ours insist on spending 70% of a county budget on policing, jails, and prosecution, all while the risen Christ is beckoning us to use the abundance of resources we have so that everyone has a roof over their head and food on their table. Bad faith happens when we keep repeating the hurtful narratives other people have written for us – that I’m not worthy of love, that if I am not meeting another person’s expectations, I have failed, that I am what I do – when all the while, the risen Christ is alive and well in the waters of our baptism, reminding us that we are beloved simply because we are, and that living as if that is true sets us free.

I love how Jesus meets Thomas in this place between healthy doubt and bad faith where I am sure many of us find ourselves today. As Rev. Ernst invited me to consider this week, Jesus does offer Thomas the gift of touching his wounded and resurrected body. In this invitation, Jesus gives Thomas a tangible sign that resurrection is possible. And if we look around, we will see tangible signs of resurrection too. 

I heard about one last week on the podcast “One Million Experiments” called the Friendly Fridge in the Bronx, NY, an initiative started by two friends, Selma Raven and Sara Allen, to feed their neighbors. (“Episode 3 – The Friendly Fridge with Selma Raven and Sara Allen,” One Million Experiments, December 16, 2021.) The community surrounding the Friendly Fridge faces the intersection of many kinds of oppression. Community members who are undocumented are screened out of many of the services that require citizenship to receive benefits. According to a New York Times article about the Friendly Fridge, the U.S. is a country where a whopping 30% of our food supply is wasted. People of color in lower income communities (like the Bronx) do not have access to healthy food options near them, and many develop a greater risk for illnesses, including diabetes. (Amanda Rosa, “See That Fridge on the Sidewalk? It’s Full of Free Food For many New Yorkers, healthy meals are hard to come by these days. Now activists are stocking refrigerators for those in need,” July 8, 2020.) These gaping wounds created by capitalism and white supremacy are the realities of death-dealing systems that we name with our friend Thomas. And yet! The Friendly Fridge stands as an outpost of the resurrection, proclaiming in action that death does not have the last word and that the abundant life of resurrection is indeed real and for everyone. At the Friendly Fridge, “anyone is welcome to take whatever they want and leave behind food they don’t need, like extra produce… The goals are simple: Reduce food waste and feed the community.” (NYT) MelPaola Murillo, “a Honduran immigrant seeking asylum in the United States,” said that the fridge “has helped relieve the stress of feeding herself and her 15-month-old son, Jonah… ‘Nobody’s coming outside to ask you questions about what you want, if you came yesterday,” Ms. Murillo said. ‘There’s no restrictions for if you go there, so you can get whatever you need.’” (NYT) Surrounded by forces that police the ability of the poor to get what they need to live, the Friendly Fridge is a tangible sign of resurrection life, helping us see that a new world where there are no barriers to receiving what we need to thrive is possible and, through Selma and Sara and their community, is indeed already at hand. 

At the end of his interaction with Thomas, Jesus says to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Selma and Sara are the definition of those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. They looked at their neighborhood corner and the systems working against them, and with no road map in sight, with no visible evidence that they could succeed in feeding their neighbors, they said with their actions, “I believe in life. I believe in abundance. I believe there is enough for everyone to be cared for, no exceptions. I believe resurrection is possible and is indeed already here.”

May Thomas lead the way for us this week if the heaviness of this world is keeping us in touch with the wounds in ourselves and those around us that need tending. That tending is sacred work and I pray that Thomas shows us how to be grounded in healthy doubt. And I pray that we hear Jesus’ invitation to reach out and touch him, to have new eyes to see the ways resurrection is possible and is indeed already here. May each one of us become one of those Easter people, like Selma and Sara, who have not yet seen with our own eyes the world we long to be real, but who believe through our actions that it is indeed coming to pass. Amen. 

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