There are a few big days in the church year that always use the same gospel lessons. Having preached on a number of them year in and year out, I often find myself looking for an alternative. Usually, that’s because there’s more to the story than one little lesson. An example of that is Maundy Thursday. We always read the story of the washing of the feet. But there’s so much more that happens at the Last Supper. As we prepare to strip the altar in silence—without explanation—I find myself wanting the betrayal to play a larger role in the lessons. Sure, usually I’d want to preach on the Jesus-mandate, but, every once in a while, I’d like to hear something else.
The Second Sunday of Easter isn’t one of those. Every year, it’s the same story—Doubting Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ—but it’s a story that I feel might never be exhausted. As a curate, I preached on this coming Sunday several times, and I have as a rector, too. Every time, I find myself trying to sort through more than I can deal with in one low-Sunday sermon. I figure I’ve got 30+ years left in active ministry, and I’d guess that I’d need at least 15 of those to feel good about preaching Doubting Thomas.
As John makes clear through the words of Jesus, Thomas’ story is our story: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We have not seen. We have believed—or at least we’re trying to. This narrative is the post-modern, post-metanarrative, post-I’ve-got-the-answers-so-stop-asking-questions-and-just-believe-what-I-tell-you-to-believe gospel. It is the gospel lesson for today’s church. It comes at the perfect time and needs careful thought.
On Easter Day, we proclaim that Christ is risen. We celebrate the empty tomb. And Easter Day isn’t the right time for the preacher to battle the doubts of postmodernism. Yes, we want the resurrection to be real to us, and I tried to stress that in yesterday’s sermon. But Easter isn’t the time to say, “What if he didn’t really rise from the dead?” As a robust treatment of this Sunday’s gospel would show, I’m not afraid of that question, but, if I only have one or two chances to proclaim the gospel to those Christmas-Easter parishioners, Easter Day isn’t the time to do it. But this Sunday is.
The ecstasy has worn off. The shock and awe has subsided. Although the story still begins on the first day of the week—Easter Day—it allows us some time to reflect on the truth we’ve proclaimed. This is the time to let our faith mature—to show how it will resist the healthy, natural, honest skepticism of Thomas.
Of all the Sundays, this is the one preached to the faithful Christian. They are the ones who journey through the busyness of Holy Week and Easter and still come back on the second Sunday of the season. So, preacher, don’t let them down. They are here asking the same questions as Thomas. “Was the hype of last Sunday for real? Were we just caught up in the joy of a prescribed observance, or is there really something here worth putting my faith in?” Tackle the doubts of Thomas and let us be strengthened in our resolve. We aren’t in church this coming Sunday because we’re going through the motions. We’re there because we believe—or at least because we really want to. Help us feel the risen Christ without actually touching him.