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The Reverend Krystal Leedy
April 19, 2020
A Reading from the Gospel of John
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.
This past week, I called a colleague about helping out with a summer conference that we’re working on, and we of course started where many conversations start these days, “Hey friend, how’s it going?” As has been my experience, both parties just start laughing no matter who asked the question. It’s just weird. It doesn’t feel like the normal question can even measure up to how strange this situation is. It’s like asking, “How’s it going?” at a funeral. It all seems too casual for the gravitas of the situation—life and death doesn’t seem like it can be met with, “Hey friend, how’s it going?”
There are many articles that are talking about this time as collective trauma, collective grief, and we are all experiencing it differently. And when we are all suffering, it’s hard to hold one another. So, we are finding our own individual coping strategies—the cleaning out of old closets or the learning to cook a new dish, the glass of red wine at the end of the day or the new telemedicine with a therapist, the walks around the block, and the endless breaths we take that become like prayers: “Thank you God for giving me this breath, this life that I don’t want to take for granted anymore.” It’s all us fishing around to try to find that routine that we are settling into–for now. Some have called this the new normal, and my colleague that I was on the phone with brought up that if this is the new normal, he didn’t want it. No one wants a normal that’s been imposed upon them. I can’t find too many people that are only enjoying this new pandemic normal.
I cannot seem to get this image out of my mind of Thomas washing dishes when the rest of the disciples show up to tell him that they had seen the Lord. I just imagine that he is doing some sort of mundane task in order to try to get back into a routine. You may have another one in mind, but the act of washing dishes in grief seems to be one that comes to mind for me. There’s something about that act, the act of making something clean that was once dirty, the act of getting the melted cheese scraped of the plate when you thought it would never become unstuck, (Can you tell we’re still eating tacos?) There’s just something about that action of washing that seems like, well, seems like exactly something that I would do when I’m in grief. Because Thomas saw his friend die, the person in whom he believed just disappeared, right before his eyes—he just watched the future that Christ had been building in his mind for the past three years crumble into dust. So, yeah, I imagine him washing a few dishes. I imagine it was hard if not impossible to believe what his friends were trying to tell him. After all, they had the luxury of seeing the resurrected Christ, and were asking their friend just to rely on their statement. Because even if Thomas was at the resurrection of Lazarus, a man still cannot resurrect himself. It’s just not anything that we’ve experienced before, so we don’t know how to process it.
I was reading an article about strong-willed children. I know this is difficult for you all to imagine, but I have a strong-willed child who seems to have some Thomas propensities when it comes to what her mama is asking her to do. She’s an incredibly bright kid but her self-reliance can sometimes get her into making some poor decisions, not because she’s evil but because she’s 4. And I was reading this article about how one of the defining factors between adults and children is experience. Okay, I can’t see any of you, but some of you are rolling your eyes at me. That’s fine! Some of you have me doubled in life experience, and I’m preaching to the choir. Literally, hey choir! Experience is what keeps us from making really stupid decisions… the second time. Fear and critical thinking probably keep us from making really stupid decisions the first time, but once we take the risk and fail, our brains are like “okay, don’t do that again.” Difference in life experience is what makes kids so curious and adults so cynical. And as adults, our life experience has taught us that once something is dead, that’s it. It’s gone.
And I know that this particular Sunday, Doubting Thomas Sunday, is the Sunday where we can easily point our judgmental fingers at the disciples once again. We can call them stupid; we can say that they were just acting like children, we can say that they just didn’t have enough faith. But now being in the midst of a situation where I am grieving the loss of what was and looking toward the future, where the community that I have stood with for years is now scattered and my life is turned upside down, I’m really with Thomas in the kitchen, trying to cope with today, a day that does not entirely feel like Eastertide or even the third Sunday in April, on a day where I’m understandably looking at my friends and saying, “I’ll believe it when my senses tell me it’s okay to trust again.” We are like little children once again because we have no experience with this. Still. Six weeks in, and I’m still not sure what this looks like.
I believe the Word of God today gives us permission to stay skeptical of resurrection. I believe that God says, “Don’t believe what others are saying? Cool, I’ll show up anyway.” Because at the same time, the Word of God is also giving us permission to live into what it means to be a resurrected people. The joy of Easter and the gravitas of grief are both still present because Scripture is not flat. The humans talked about the Bible are not easily labeled. They are complex. Life is complex. It’s both grief and joy.
I’ve loved getting to see the signs of life pictures on Facebook. They brighten my day, each time I look back over them. I’ve noticed so many of us are posting pictures of growing things—plants, trees, caterpillars in transition to their true selves, dewberries, flowers, and children. And we can see how the spring season is exploding all over our city, with the mix of rain and sun, the earth is primed for growth, especially when we can get out there and cultivate our gardens and harvest those beautiful tomatoes. And do I believe those are signs of a resurrection? Yes. The burying of a seed in the ground that all of a sudden explodes into some new life—that is resurrection. And we can see and smell and touch and taste and hear nature in our gardens, on our daily walks, in the sharing of that with others, we are experiencing the yearly resurrection of life.
And then there are days where the signs of life feel like a someone saying “Hey friend, how are you doing?” after I read an article in the news or just had to cancel another program or heard that another person got the coronavirus and is in the agony of waiting all by themselves. And those are times to wash the dishes or find a new coping skill. It’s hard to believe in a resurrected humanity after this. Look how horrible it’s gotten. Look how miserable our lives are, our country is, the lack of help for those who need it. This virus is shining a spotlight on weakness. This virus is shining a spotlight on the parts of our humanity that are broken, on the parts of our world that are broken, and on what we have lost during a long time of complacency, where we thought that we would just keep on trucking, keep on following Christ in one direction, in one way, and we have come to a crossroads.
Thomas’s friends told Thomas about the resurrection, and Thomas dismissed them. But that’s the beauty of community. Their act of pointing to resurrection opened Thomas up enough to recognize Christ as soon as he was in the room, and to have this eternal inside joke with Jesus—that Thomas was the one who got to do exactly what he needed to do—to touch and to be moved. And so, we too should open ourselves up to those experiences. Listen to something that makes you feel touched or moved–like your favorite opera or your favorite Daniel Tiger episode. Watch Frozen 2 or go to a virtual museum. Go for a drive and roll down your windows blasting Sia’s Unstoppable or Mozart’s Requiem in D. I don’t know what you listen to. Outside is great, and if you haven’t been out there, I highly recommend it. Watch the sun rise, y’all. And also, be opened by the creation that comes through community—a resurrected humanity– that is imaginative even in our cocoons. Look at art, write a poem, read a really good book, dance like everyone is dancing with you. Create something and put it on the fridge. Put color in something that is black and white. Hum your favorite song. I know you have a lot of work to do. I know those dishes don’t clean themselves. I know that there are people hurting in the world and we all still feel helpless. I know you miss your family. I know you miss the people of UPC. Lord knows I do. And there are signs of the resurrection all around us.
I know that when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he said “Peace be with you.” But I’d like to think that right as he came up to Thomas he said, “Hey friend, how’s it going?” And Thomas just started laughing and crying all at the same time.
The Signs of Life project is just the beginning. It’s just the thing we can see right now. The real growth is happening in you. The stone is being rolled away in you. We are signs of life as we breathe a new resurrected breath. So, believe in the resurrected Christ who also is resurrecting all of humanity, even here, even now. I can’t wait to see the growth that we will all experience after this. I can’t wait to see your faces. But until then, don’t forget to call your friend. You can maybe start with, “Hey friend, how’s it going?” It gets a lot of laughs.
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of us all, Amen.
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