Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Acts 2:14a, 22-23+Psalm 16+1 Peter 1:3-9+John 20:19-31

My father, who died back in 1997, was not a man to dwell on the negative or on grief or sorrow. Perhaps he was a product of his time, growing up during the Great Depression and enlisting in the Navy at 17, but he was definitely of the “just get on with it” mode of dealing with difficulty and hard times. If something sad happened, I could shed a tear or two, but then I was expected to just move on. No use crying over spilled milk.

This is how I imagine Thomas, the disciple who has come to us down through the ages as “The Doubter.” The disciples, all, that is, except for Judas who is dead, and Thomas, had gathered in the Upper Room, that same place they were last all together with Jesus. John tells us that they were afraid of the Jews. As you know by now from the many times I’ve explained it, this refers to the religious authorities, those who turned Jesus over to the Romans for committing blasphemy by claiming that he was the son of God. They are all Jews at this point, so blaming “the Jews” for anything is inaccurate as well as nonsensical but has been used for evil across the centuries. These disciples are afraid they face the same fate as Jesus because they were known associates of his.

So there these ten are, hiding behind locked doors. They heard from Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). They heard from Peter and John that the tomb was empty, but they have not yet seen Jesus. Who knows if they believed Mary? What they do know is that the last time they saw their friend, he was arrested and tortured and nailed to a cross. And they ran away and hid, because they might just be next.

But not Thomas. We don’t know where he was this first night of the week, the day of the resurrection. Maybe he, like my father, was the kind of person who just barreled on through things. The great promise Jesus had given them had come to nothing but death, so it’s time to move on, get back to normal. Thomas, the one who always asked the questions no one else would ask and said the things others might have been thinking but wouldn’t speak, didn’t know what else to do but to get back to the business of living. The past three years? Done. Time to move on.

So he’s not there when Jesus suddenly appears even though the door was locked. He wasn’t there when Jesus gives them his peace. The first words Jesus has for this motley crew of his are “Peace be with you” (20:19) when the last thing they were likely experiencing just then was peace. They were terrified, and then Jesus appears in front of them like some kind of apparition. Peace be with you.

But Thomas isn’t there to receive that peace. He’s out and about, and when he returns to his friends and hears their story, he is understandably dismissive. Nope. Jesus died. We all saw it. I’m not going to believe until I see and touch for myself. Y’all are just wishing for something that isn’t possible. Time to get on with it. Get back to normal.

Thomas was always the practical sort. When Jesus delayed going to Lazarus back in John 11 and the disciples worried that going so close to Jerusalem again would be dangerous to Jesus, Thomas said, “Y’all, let’s go, too, and die, too” (11:16). And again, after the foot-washing in the Upper Room, Jesus is giving them all his final instructions, and he promises them that he’s going away but will prepare a place for them, and that they know the way. And Thomas is like, “no we don’t. How can we know the way where you are going?” (14:5). Thomas is nothing if not practical and direct. He also, if willing to go and die with Jesus, was committed to the cause. And when that cause appeared to go up in smoke on Good Friday, then Thomas was putting his head down and getting back to living. Back to normal.

These days, we hear a lot about getting back to normal when all of this is over. Once we are not socially distanced and we can get back to work and school and gathering here for church, everything will be back to normal again. I’m sure you probably suspect this, too, but I don’t believe the normal we return to will look anything like the normal we left behind. We will have been through too much, witnessed too much sorrow and suffering and death, too much economic ruin, too much recognition of the frailty of our existence in the face of a microscopic virus. Whatever we get back to when this is all over will hardly be “normal.”

Any more than Mary Magdalene would ever get back to normal after seeing and speaking with the risen Christ. Any more than these disciples would get back to normal after receiving the Holy Spirit, being told that they have the power to loose and bind, to forgive or not forgive sins. Over these Great 50 Days of Easter, the disciples will see and hear a lot about what is expected of them until Jesus finally ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit descends on all the people at Pentecost.

There is no getting back to normal. The new normal is as different from the old as the night is from the day. And it shouldn’t be just what we expect to happen after a pandemic ends. When resurrection happens, nothing is normal again.

In his Easter message a few years ago, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said

God came among us in the person of Jesus to start a movement. A movement to change the face of the earth. A movement to change us who dwell upon the earth. A movement to change the creation from the nightmare that is often made of it into the dream that God intends for it. He didn’t just happen to be in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. He went to Jerusalem for a reason. To send a message. That not even the titanic powers of death can stop the love of God. On that Easter morning, he rose from the dead, and proclaimed love wins. [1]

If love wins, nothing gets back to normal.

If we are part of a movement, nothing gets back to normal.

If nothing can stop the love of God, nothing can go back to the way it was.

If we, like Thomas, can proclaim, “My Lord and my God” (20:28), how can anything ever be considered “normal” again?


[1] https://episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/easter-2017-message-presiding-bishop-michael-curry-go-forth-be-people

ASEPSermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas