Grace Episcopal Church
The Second Sunday of Easter (A)
Acts. 2.14a, 22-32 Psalm 16 1 Peter 1.3-9 John 20.19-31
Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Are you a professional Christian? Some of you might feel that way, after coming to fifteen services between Palm Sunday and Easter Day. Some people think of clergy and monastics as professional Christians. After all, clergy are paid to be in church, and in our ordination vows we promise to teach and proclaim the faith, to serve those in need, and to strive for a life of faithfulness to God. But in your Baptismal Vows you too make a public profession to gather in worship, to observe the teaching of the apostles, to strive to live in faith to God, and to serve Christ in all persons.
In the Collect for today we pray to that God may “ Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith ...” That’s really what a professional is, a person who models his or her life upon the belief which he or she professes. So let’s take a look at our professional résumé as Christians.
The first thing we need to look at is what we profess, the content of our faith. Do we, with Peter in the epistle, have faith that “By his great mercy [God] has given us a new birth into a living hope ...”? And do we live this way? Do we rejoice? Do we love Jesus although we have not seen Him? Perhaps a simpler way to examine this faith is to look at the example of Thomas in our lesson from the Gospel of John; Thomas who has not seen and so has not believed, but who then on seeing professes his faith in terms in which Jesus is recognized fully for who He is: “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas professes his faith, and then we hear no more of him in Scripture. The Bible says no more about him, but Church Tradition does. Thomas is recalled in Church writings as early as the fourth century as an apostle to India, and as having been martyred there. To this day the Mar Thoma Church exists on the Malabar coast of India, claiming its founding from Thomas. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 there was present a bishop “John” from India, and from as early as the seventh century a bas-relief cross has stood in Malabar to mark the site of Thomas’ martyrdom. (The cross still stands today.)
Whether or not you believe Church Tradition on this matter is not the point. The point is that having confessed his faith Thomas apparently did something about it. His confession became his profession. We believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord. We confess His lordship with our lips. We are called to profess his lordship in our lives.
How can we do this? First we need to look at the confession part, and recognize that we are never perfect in our faith. Even loyal church members have doubts. Even Thomas–whose loyalty cannot be questioned, for he is the disciple who, when he thinks Jesus is going to Bethany to die, says to the other disciples “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11.16)–even he has doubts despite the joyful and direct testimony of his peers. Doubt is not something to be ashamed of; it is to be brought into the open that in the open it can be addressed.
And how do we address doubts? Our Lord tells us that those who have not seen and yet have believed are more blessed than those who have seen. What is He saying here? He’s saying that a direct experience of God is surely blessed, but that when we have faith in God while we await direct experience, then our blessedness is even greater. That’s where the confession becomes the profession, that we live in hope; hope that by faith we can have a direct experience of God.
St. Peter, who not only saw Jesus alive, but saw Him transfigured and saw Him raised from the dead, also saw and heard Him interact with Thomas. His words in the epistle are thus more than a little an echo of Jesus’ words to Thomas. Writing to Christians facing persecution he says:
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
“[Y]ou are receiving the outcome of your faith.” Notice the present tense participle. The blessedness of faith is not just that we live in the hope of heaven, but that salvation happens now, that we do experience God now.
So, short of having a vision, how do we experience God now? We experience God in the love expressed to us by those around us who profess their faith. We experience God when by grace we are enabled to forgive those who have wronged us, and we experience God when there is no one else to love us, and the Spirit then comforts and guides us. We experience God when we commune with Him in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, and we experience God when we listen to His word.
John gives us a strong indication that he intends us to experience God in what he writes. He ends the twentieth chapter of his Gospel by telling us that the book is not enough to record all that Jesus did among the disciples, “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” (John 20.31). In other words, our faith is to be formed not just by direct experience (by what we can observe ourselves) but by relying on the testimony of those who have gone before us.
The testimony of the Bible is not without issues, and a literal interpretation of Scripture is dangerous. Rather than pick out an individual verse in order to claim “Here is what the Bible says about X,” we need to look at all of Scripture, to discern what is the consistent testimony of this witness. And when we do this we see that all of Scripture points to one thing above all else, one thing that Thomas sums up in addressing Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” Thomas gets it right: that Jesus is Lord of all; that He is God; and that as Lord and God He is personal; that each of us who acknowledges Him as Lord and God is in relationship with God, with the all-powerful God who comes to us and says, “Peace be with you.”
In human terms, wouldn’t it be fair for Jesus to come to us and say something like, “We’ve got to talk. I am not happy.” Wouldn’t it be fair and expected for Him to stand among the disciples who have just denied and abandoned Him and say something like, “Hey! Remember me!” But He doesn’t do what is expected; three times He says “Peace be with you,” and to these same disciples who have denied and abandoned Him He gives the Holy Spirit and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” He not only grants peace, He grants to those who confess Him that they may profess His rule in their lives.
And that’s what we pray for. In the new covenant of reconciliation established in Jesus’ supreme sacrifice for us we are reborn into the fellowship of His Body, the Church. In the new covenant of reconciliation established in Jesus’ supreme sacrifice we are reborn, that the faith we confess may show forth in our lives; that our confession may be our profession; that whether or not we have seen God we can experience Him, and share that experience with all others. So the next time you wonder whether there are any professional Christians, look in the mirror, look into your own heart, and show forth your faith in your life. The One who rose on Easter comes to you and says “Peace be with you,” that you may share this peace.
There’s another thing you can do when you look in the mirror, when you realize that you are a professional Christian. You can get ready for an interview. What interview? The interview that happens every time you meet someone who does not have faith in God. Whether or not the topic of faith ever comes up, people will notice if you are seen to live your faith, to profess it in your life. People admire real “pros,” and want to learn more about how they became what they are. Tell them. Tell them about the one whom you call “My Lord and my God”. Confess your faith, and profess it to all others.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.