Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
18th Apr 2021
Sermon for Easter 2
“My Lord and my God” John 20.28
The post-resurrection appearances of Christ serve not only to drive home the message of the Resurrection but convict the witness in the deepest level of their being. They give us the sense of God’s calling and of Christ as its visible manifestation. Doubting Thomas is shown the wounds of Christ as signs of the meaning of his suffering and death. It is by Christ’s wounds that the ‘secret’ of his Messiahship is communicated. It is through the wounded Christ that the full fruits of his ministry is understood and responded to. It is as if God the Father is saying ‘It is by these means alone that my love for you is shown”. “It is in response to my wounded Son that I call you to serve me”. “To know these things you must go by the way of unknowing”. “To serve me you must cast all care aside”. “I am calling you to believe in this…”
Thomas was not present to hear the first glad news of the Resurrection. Because of his absence he can only accept its truth doubtfully. He wants not only to ‘see’ it but also even to touch it! He wants to experience the resurrection viscerally and even to use a word shared by all who have received the Covid jab, subcutaneously. Only by putting his finger into Christ’s wounds will he recognise Christ as truly alive. The Gospel writer John wishes us to know that the call to serve Christ, to embrace the Christian vocation takes the individual beyond the realm of proof and into the deeper realm of sacrificial and unselfconscious self-giving. Thomas’ doubting is of little importance if it does not draw us into its counterpart – the call which draws you out of yourself and into the life of the other. The wounds are a reminder that this may be costly, but c’est la vie, as the French say, ‘that is life’. Real, true life.
The Camden Abu Dis Friendly Association is led by Dr Nandita Dowson. Camden teachers and other community leaders, under its aegis, have been visiting settlements in Palestine, esp. in Abu Dis. They have met other schoolteachers, parents, and young people who are under sentence of isolation in the Palestinian territories east of Jerusalem. I will never forget when asking the young people of Abu Dis what they wanted to do as a career an unusually large number said ‘doctor’ or ‘nurse’. It was moving to meet the young personalities who have suffered tremendous early dislocation and disharmony. Yet they want to dedicate their futures to mend and enhance and improve their social environment. Somewhere deep inside is the need to express something of their longing for freedom and harmony and to want to help make this possible for others, too. These are vocations which seem to appear out of nowhere, but do in fact emerge out of the fruits of a wounded existence.
I noticed in all the filmography relating to HRH the late Prince Philip that the motto at the foot of his crest simply says: ‘God is my help’. When the lives of a child like Philip and the Palestinian youth emerge out of experiences which have been unsure, and where perhaps there has been great emotional challenge, so too the recourse to express something of what it might be like to live ‘on the other side of hope’? Many remarkably caring persons, coming from difficult backgrounds, have nonetheless ‘put themselves out’ in the service of others, and particularly at the level of bodily care, to make this world a better place. From a background of inherited displacement may come the desire to offer it back as a passionate response to the beauty and possibility of life itself? There is the accompanying idea of the interconnectedness of vocations, particularly ones which bring strength and healing to those they nurture. We may remember personalities in our own lives who have truly believed in us and given us in turn much needed self-belief and self-confidence. They are bringers of resurrection. No doubt Prince Philip owed much to two stunning vocations, one which belonged to his own mother who became a religious and founded an order for nursing the sick, and the other the Jewish emigree Kurt Hahn who, as the prince once said ‘understood adolescents better than they understood themselves’. These bringers of resurrection, having experienced the brunt of suffering in their own lives had nonetheless made possible resurrection in others. God’s great helpers.
In Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, the recourse to God, out of a life of great personal trial, was I think, something of a key. I say all this as our attention is drawn to the means by which Christ shows his wounds to Thomas. This is not just a ‘showing’ but a visceral immersion into the wounded Christ. We may shiver a little when we consider what lies beneath our skin, our bodily packaging; what the medics call ‘sub-cutaneous’. It relates powerfully to what lies at the heart of our human woundedness and vulnerability. The ‘going deeper’ is a figure for the deeper and more profound response which the resurrection of Christ calls out in us all…
Thomas’ doubting is, in fact, of little importance. It serves as a powerful contrast, to draw us to that greater recognition of God which lies deep within our human nature, and which is the catalyst for that greater response to service of which the wounded Christ is the living embodiment. This has emerged not out of personal choice alone, but whose possibility is for the transformation of our lives and other lives. Thomas is finally able to give his assent. His teacher, Jesus of Nazareth is now both human and divine and his resurrection life is now and forever possible for all who come to him. He has seen his salvation.
The Orthodox Churches call ‘Doubting Thomas ‘Believing Thomas’, for his response to that which he has come to see in truth:
“My Lord and my God!”
Christ is Risen!
Rev. Christopher Cawrse