Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"My Lord and My God": An Easter Sermon from Our Student President

This sermon was given by our Student President, Ms. Emma L. Brown '14, on the Second Sunday in Easter 2014. The readings for the day are available here

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Poor Thomas. If we take this story at face value, a grieving Thomas is so saddened and shocked by the events of Good Friday that he doesn’t break bread with the other disciples on Sunday evening. He’s scared and hurt and lonely, and he doesn’t want to be around the people who remind him of Jesus, his lost friend and leader, who he thinks is gone forever.

The gospel notes that the disciples are all still scared, and that they lock their door for fear of further violence. We can imagine how shocking the events of Good Friday must have been to the disciples, and how tensions in Jerusalem must still have been very high. Thomas watched as Jesus was convicted, beaten, taunted, and violently killed. So on the night of this scripture, he doesn’t feel like fellowship. He doesn’t eat supper with his friends. But as a result, he doesn’t get to see Jesus like all of the other disciples. He didn’t get to see the looks of joy and wonder on his friends’ faces when their savior appears. He doesn’t receive the peace that Jesus grants them. He doesn’t receive the holy spirit or the authority to forgive others for their sins. He doesn’t see for himself Jesus’ wounded hands and side, and he is not reassured.

So imagine how Thomas must have felt when he heard from his friends the next day. “Either my friends are playing a joke on me,” he must have thought, “or, I just missed the greatest miracle there could be. I missed the opportunity to be comforted in a time of great pain by the person who could have comforted me most. I missed the opportunity to see for myself that Jesus is alive.” But Thomas, because of his hurt and his anger and maybe because of his jealousy, refuses to believe his friends’ story. He says: “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.” Fatalistic and pessimistic and wholly swayed by the events of the past week, Thomas doesn’t even want to let himself hope that Jesus is alive. That could only lead to more sorrow, right? He was protecting himself.

I think it’s easy to see things from Thomas’s point of view. Or it’s easy for me to be sympathetic. But maybe that’s because when I got to college, I felt let down by my church, and by God. I felt really alone, and like God wasn’t with me, and like if he had ever been with me, then he certainly wasn’t here with me in Cambridge. I was far away from home, really for the first time, and I didn’t make the effort to go to church, or even to find a church. I missed the disciples’ Sunday supper, let’s say, for my whole first semester of college. I don’t know what I was waiting for, or what I was looking for. I didn’t have specific demands like Thomas either. I didn’t feel the need to touch Jesus or see him in the flesh to know that he had died for me. Unlike Thomas, I wasn’t even consciously looking for a sign. In that way I guess I’m a little worse than Thomas. And yet people haven’t adopted the phrase “Doubting Emma” to mean someone without faith.

In the scripture, a week later, Thomas has healed enough to go to Sunday supper and be with the other disciples. Jesus comes to them again, he grants them his peace, and then he looks Thomas in the eye and addresses him directly. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

During my second semester of college I shopped a class called Leverett 74: The Question of God. It was a seminar taught by Armand Nicholi in which texts by C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud were read and discussed in dialogue with each other – like a debate over the existence of God. Looking back, I know that there was a reason that I was interested in this course, even though there was a required essay and interview to even be considered to take it. And I was a freshman, and I was intimidated by everything, and I usually didn’t take chances like this. But I got into the course. And I was the youngest person there. And for a semester I read the texts that encompassed this grand debate, and I wrote about them, and I debated them myself. And, needless to say, at least for me, C.S. Lewis won. It was like he was directly answering every question I had in texts that he had written 50 years ago. And you know what? That course, which Professor Nicholi had been traching for about 50 years, that was the last time he taught it. He retired. And now it seems very clear to me, however murky it was at the time, that that course was Jesus looking me in the eye and addressing me directly. “Here, read this. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas answers Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I think the uncomfortable thing about this story is that we all have doubts occasionally, or we have had doubts in our lives – about God, or about why we’re here – and it can be an awkward conversation, as open as we try to be here in discussing doubts and questions and hesitation, to say, “Hey. Wait. I’m not sure.” Because if we’re doubting Thomases, why are we here? Doesn’t doubting somehow exclude us from the body of Christ, from this community? Isn’t it something to be ashamed of, something that we should try to ignore until it goes away? No. Not at all. Not even a little bit. Thomas has gotten a bad reputation. We call faithless people “Doubting Thomas,” and we mean it as a bad thing – you pessimist, you skeptic, O ye of little faith. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” But I think it’s the “come to believe” that’s the important part of that sentence. Jesus doesn’t insult Thomas for needing guidance and support. He seeks Thomas out to give it, in fact, and once Thomas sees Jesus, he cries, “My Lord and my God!” He comes to believe. Eventually. Passionately. And for the rest of his life he travels as a missionary (as far as India) to provide others with reassurance when they need it.

Thomas asked for reassurance of his faith. He was a human, a sinner, in a moment of extreme sadness. He had his doubts, and he asked for a sign from God to renew his faith. Have we not all prayed, or asked in some way, for God to lead us back to our faith? Have we not all asked for a sign, or guidance? Have we not all had our doubts? I don’t even think I asked. I just doubted. And I was lead to this place. And all I can say is thank you, and hope that I can help assuage some doubts, or at least talk about them, without shame or judgment, with the rest of my time.

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