A sermon preached by the Rev. Beth Rauen Sciaino
at St. Bernard's Episcopal Church in Bernardsville, NJ,
on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017
Scripture: John 20:19-31
hen it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "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."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11a)
It is a delight and a joy for us to baptize Lukas and Cole today - to welcome them into the Body of Christ, the church in all its forms and generations, the communion of saints in heaven and on earth. God acts through water and the Holy Spirit to claim them as beloved children of God. They are born anew, even though their families and friends probably remember their births in July and September of last year like it was only yesterday. This is a sacrament of identity, a sacrament that initiates Cole and Lukas into a way of life, shared with their family, their godparents, their parish communities. Through water and the Holy Spirit they will be marked as Christ's own forever. We will promise to live into our communal responsibility to nurture their Christian faith and encourage them to know God is present and active in their lives.
Every year, on this Second Sunday of Easter, we hear these words of good news from the Gospel of John. In John's telling, the risen Jesus came and stood with the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday. They don't know what to make of the events of the last three days, no matter how Jesus tried to prepare them, this was beyond their comprehension. No wonder they are afraid! Jesus doesn't hold this against his friends, he joins them, stands in their midst, and says, "Peace be with you." Jesus does the same for us.
Wherever we are on our journey with Jesus, he comes and stands with us, bringing God's peace. When we gather for worship, longing to see God, or find peace, Jesus meets us here, in Scripture and Eucharist, through our welcoming words and faces of our fellow Christians, in silence and beautiful music, we find strength and renewal and forgiveness in generations of Christians who have shared peace in this place and many others like it around the world.
Echoing our creation in Genesis, Jesus breaths the Holy Spirit into his friends, those with whom he shared his earthly ministry. Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." He gives them the power through the Holy Spirit to bring people into deeper relationship with God - to forgive the sins, the acts, choices, and mistakes that get in the way of our relationship with God, with other people, and with our deepest self.
Thomas is often referred to as Doubting Thomas because of this story - but we don't need to label him. His story is too familiar. We can relate to Thomas. Thomas wants an experience of the Risen Christ, amid his grief and pain, he wants to see and touch, to know the truth of the resurrection through these sensory experiences. His trust in God's power has been shaken by Jesus' awful death on the cross. The inclusion and importance of this story in the Gospel of John reminds us that skepticism was alive and well in Jesus' day too. Thomas' story also reinforces John's concept of discipleship - present throughout his Gospel. We heard many of these stories in Lent. It's the process by which people come to faith in Jesus. A person experiences God acting in and through Jesus, that person goes and invites others to come and see Jesus for themselves. It's like a relay race, where the person who has experienced Jesus hands on the baton to the next person or people so that they can meet Jesus and continue the pattern of inviting others in a new life rooted in God in Jesus the Christ.
This is John's purpose for writing his Gospel. He states it explicitly in today's reading. "But these [signs] 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."
John doesn't want anyone to drop the baton, he wants the community of the faithful to grow and deepen their faith so that abundant life is available abundantly. John writes his Gospel so that we can come and see Jesus, we can trust God's love and saving grace acting through Jesus in John's day and in our own time, and that we can have abundant life in Jesus' name.
This is what we are doing in Lukas' and Cole's baptisms today. What we have done for generations as Christians living out our faith in a wide variety of denominational expressions, all rooted in the Sacrament of Baptism, rooted in baptismal identity, our identity of God's beloved children. Jesus passed God's peace to his disciples, at a time when thy were grieving and hiding in fear. Despite their swirl of emotions and concerns, they managed to share this peace which passes all understanding with new people they brought into the Christian way of life. Following our baptism today we will share in this very same Peace. We will speak God's peace to one another, breathing the Holy Spirit into each other. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will strengthen this community for its role of raising up Cole and Lukas to be children of Peace, children of Love, children of Faith. Amen.
Sundays and Seasons Preaching Year A 2017. p. 150. Accessed online: