Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Easter 2022

Every eye will see him. No one, not a single Thomas, will be left in any doubt.

The Reverend Mark Birch Precentor

Sunday, 24th April 2022 at 11.15 AM

How do we come to believe? Most of us, I’m guessing, have not had a private visit from the risen Christ, showing us his hands and side, and so our belief in the resurrection might not be quite as spontaneous as St Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God’. Our belief in the resurrection has to be, to some extent, a trust—a trust that the generations who have handed this on to us were genuine in their intentions and not themselves misguided.

Our own experience (our feelings, our thoughts) are likely to offer a rather mixed testimony; there are times when we might wonder if we are a bit credulous, even perhaps a bit foolish to believe in the resurrection. We might have sympathy with the initial Thomas, wanting more evidence before he will trust his companions’ testimony. There might be other, shining moments, when the resurrection feels wonderfully real to us, when we might share some of the later Thomas’s spontaneous joy and wonder.

But if our belief is more like a trust in what we have been given—something we hold to, whether we are feeling it or not; something we try to live by, through good times and bad; a lens through which we try to interpret the world and our experience, however counter-intuitive that might sometimes seem; how do we, or how might we, come to trust and to believe?

Well, it is worth noting that those who have handed this on, and especially the writers of the Scriptures, didn’t do so lightly.

In the reading from Acts, the apostles ended up on the wrong side of the Temple authorities. They had been told, very clearly, not to teach in the name of Jesus and yet something compelled them to keep on doing so. The high priest and the council, quite understandably, aren’t happy to have a man in whose execution they played a part, now being ‘declared to be Messiah and Son of God, by resurrection from the dead’. ‘You are determined to bring this man’s blood on us’—they complain. True! Peter tells them, because this man’s blood doesn’t invite the guilt or retribution they fear—this blood speaks of forgiveness, and invites repentance. We are witnesses to these things, Peter says, and it is clear that he and the apostles are quite willing to face disapproval and persecution for the sake of making this divine forgiveness, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, more and more widely known.

God in Christ stopped at nothing, even to the point of shedding his blood, to make this forgiveness and salvation known, and neither will anything stop his apostles handing this testimony on. We are recipients of a faith for which generation upon generation has given much, through cultural upheavals, wars and persecutions, to ensure its transmission – to make sure it got to us.

We surely think of those keeping the faith in Ukraine on their Easter Day, and those in Russia who are resisting the distortions of nationalism and propaganda.

Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples… (wrote St John the Evangelist) 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.

Their intention is clear and their commitment is beyond question—they certainly could do no more to win our trust.

John the Divine, in the reading from the Revelation, looks forward to the end of time, when the risen Christ will return with the clouds:

Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; (he writes) and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

Every eye will see him. No one, not a single Thomas, will be left in any doubt.

But who are ‘those who pierced him’? Just those who hammered the nails, and the soldier who pierced his side with a lance—those who created the wounds that Thomas would demand to see? Or was it also the religious leaders, who condemned him before Pilate? Or was it also those in the crowd who shouted, ‘crucify him’? A sorry legacy of anti-Semitism hangs on that interpretation.

Surely, we have to acknowledge that every sin of ours is a piercing of Christ’s body—he who bore our sins—and that among all the tribes of the earth that will wail at his coming, ours will undoubtedly be included.

While John solemnly declares ‘So it is to be. Amen’, acknowledging the sheer stubbornness of human sin, he cannot stop proclaiming

him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.

If the tribes of the earth will wail, it will be in sorrow for the love and freedom we have, to some degree, refused—but which at the last stands before us; still loving, still setting free, still making us a kingdom and priests. John gives us a glimpse into the end-time so that we can make better choices now—so that we can be among those ‘who have not seen and yet have come to believe’, however imperfectly.

I’m a bit less insecure now, but as a student, beginning to explore the idea of faith, I found myself surrounded by slightly wild-eyed and enthusiastic Christians, telling me, like Thomas was told, that they had ‘seen the Lord’—they could prophesy and speak in tongues and everything. They all seemed to have not just a hotline, but a high-speed fibre broadband connection to the Almighty, and even claimed that they had messages from Jesus for me. I, slightly grumpily, suggested that maybe Jesus would have the decency to tell me directly. ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ Like Thomas, I needn’t have been quite so churlish, but they were a bit insufferable, and a bit manipulative.

Fortunately for me, like Thomas, there have been subsequent moments when I have felt or acknowledged that call to believe, and to let doubts rest. Not that doubting is wrong—it can be the crucible in which faith is formed and refined—but it can sometimes get in the way—it can be a standing on one’s own dignity, demanding one’s own evidence and not trusting the testimony of others, of generations.

For me, it was the likes of St Augustine, and other great luminaries, who demonstrated a way of believing and trusting that engaged the mind as much as the heart; and it was the quiet testimony of those formed by liturgical practice, the Daily Office and Eucharist, especially in religious communities, who showed me how you might sustain a life of prayer through good times and bad.

The truth is that we are all living in the in-between times: like the time between Christ appearing to the disciples without Thomas, and then appearing to them altogether—the time between those forty days of Christ’s appearing after Easter, and his appearing at the end of time. We exist in that period of not-yet seeing, and relying on the testimony of those who did see, and the faithful transmission of that testimony.

The story of Thomas presents us, then, with a challenge and a reassurance: a challenge to believe without seeing, (‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’) and a reassurance, a promise, that ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.’

We live between these two appearances and are invited to trust the testimony, and so to believe—to trust in the one who, by his resurrection ever lives, ever loves, ever sets us free, and offers a great cloud of witnesses to encourage us until the end; until the clouds of heaven are parted, and we all, finally, see.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.