Thomas wasn’t there on that first Easter Sunday, either in the morning at the empty tomb or in the evening where the disciples had gathered. We don’t know where he was or what he was doing. For whatever reason, Thomas was not one of the first eyewitnesses to the risen Lord.
And he doesn’t believe it. (Here again, we see that resurrection from the dead was just as hard to believe back then as it is for us today).
Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is risen unless he sees hard evidence: the physical marks of Christ crucified. Only that would prove it was really Jesus and no other - and not a ghost but a body.
Then, Jesus comes, shows Thomas His hands and His side and invites Thomas to reach out and touch. It doesn’t actually say that Thomas took Jesus up on the offer, but Thomas sees what he needs to see; and then in awestruck wonder, he exclaims, ‘My Lord and my God.’
Jesus doesn’t exactly accept the praise, does He? Jesus doesn’t say, ‘why, thank you Thomas, I was hoping you’d say that.’ Rather He says, Have you believed just because you’ve seen me? because you got the hard evidence you wanted? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Do you see what Jesus does here? He turns the focus to us – to you and me. I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here and assume that none of us have seen a vision of the risen Lord (some people today have, Jesus does appear to some people in dreams). But none of us have seen the risen Lord in quite the same way Thomas did.
And yet somehow you and I have come to believe. We’ve gathered here virtually this morning because of our faith in the risen Lord; or if you’re not quite sure you believe, if you're spiritually searching or seeking, you’re here because you’re interested. Friends, no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, we’re all here and Jesus is in our midst.
And like Thomas, I hope you’ve brought your doubts and questions with you.
[In the past, quite often the moral of this story was said to be: ‘Don’t be a ‘doubting Thomas.’ Do not doubt but believe! But clearly that’s not the point Jesus wants to make here.]
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
So friends here’s the question for us this morning: how do we come to believe? Well of course, each one of us has our own particular story, but there are at least two commonalities between them all:
To illustrate what I mean, we need to turn to our first reading for today:
The Book of Exodus tells the story of Israel in Egypt; and the Passover is the story of the night of their deliverance from slavery to freedom.
And what’s so fascinating here is that the story of the night of the Passover and the meal involving the lamb is ‘interrupted’ by a command to remember and celebrate it:
v. 14: This shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. … You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance.
How did future generations of Israelites come to learn the story of their birth as a people? How do the Jewish people continue to remember it today? By gathering every year around this time for the Passover meal. They hear their story, they remember & celebrate it, and they re-enact it through a ritual, a family meal. That’s how they come to believe in the LORD their God and how their faith is passed down to their children and subsequent generations.
Much the same is true for Christians. The Eucharist is our Passover meal. [I’ve posted a very helpful 11 minute video below for those who want to go deeper in learning about the Passover and how it applies to Christians.]
One of the hardest things about this COVID-19 pandemic is that we are currently unable to gather together in church for the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion/Holy Eucharist.
At St. James, Caledon East, in accordance with the directive from our Bishop, we have decided not to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for the time being (this may change going forward). In the midst of this present affliction, we feel it is most appropriate to fast from the Lord’s Supper. From the Bishop's letter:
'This temporary absence from one another tests our very nature as a living body and reminds us of our deep longing to be together. We now find ourselves in a time of Eucharistic Fast rather than Feast.'
I realize this is painful and that many of you will disagree. (I welcome your objections via email or phone).
But there’s precedent for it in the Biblical story:
The Israelites were commanded to keep the Passover every year on the 14th day of the first month of their calendar. But as we read on in the Biblical story, it turns out this didn't happen. By the time we get the reign of King Josiah, we discover that the Passover had not been kept for many generations (2 Kings 23:21-23). This was a major contributing factor to Israel's demise - without the Passover, they forgot who they were as a people. This culminated in the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 B.C. (You can read more about this story in our previous series on the Book of Lamentations).
The people were carried away into Exile in Babylon, but as God promised, they were brought back to their land about 70 years later. The prophet Daniel remained behind in Babylon and he observed the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread while in exile/mourning. He doesn’t eat the Passover meal, but he keeps the feast by fasting and thus identifies with the trials of his brothers and sisters in back home in Jerusalem. (Daniel 10:1-3)
So friends, as we find ourselves in this time of pandemic, how can we, like Daniel, keep the feast of Christ our Passover by fasting from the Eucharist?
For this we need to turn to our second reading for today. Paul, an early Christian writer, sends a letter to the church in Corinth - a church struggling with various issues, including the proper celebration of the Lord's Supper. He says:
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6–8 ESV)
Paul reminds his hearers and readers of their perpetual ordinance to keep the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread.
He compares malice and evil with leaven - a small amount of fungus that causes dough to ferment. He likens sincerity and truth to unleavened bread.
So just as the ancient Israelites were to cleanse out the old leaven in preparation for the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread, so too must we clear out any 'leaven' from our hearts, minds, relationships and homes. What might this leaven be for you in your life? Here are some examples:
In short, any discrepancy between our own character & conduct and those of Christ Jesus our risen Lord.
Some of these may seem to be small and of little danger, but a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The stress of this pandemic (social distancing, self-isolation, economic shutdown) can exascerbate these. So focus intentionally on clearing out any such leaven in your life. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me for spiritual direction.
Finally, just because we are 'fasting' from the Eucharist does not mean we are fasting from food and drink! The 40 day Lenten fast is now over! This is the Easter feast, the queen of seasons! Eat rich foods, both savoury and sweet; prepare and cherish old family recipes; drink good wine. Sing hymns, songs and spiritual songs with lots of alleluias! Pay attention to your family rituals, including those around the dinner table. Institute new rituals such as lighting a Paschal Candle to remind you of the presence of the risen Christ in your midst. Join us weekday evenings for Evensong. Pray the Easter Anthems and the Collect everyday:
Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us: / so let us celebrate the feast,
Not with the old leaven of corruption and wickedness: / but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5.7b, 8
Christ once raised from the dead dies no more: / death has no more dominion over him.
In dying he died to sin once for all: / in living he lives to God.
See yourselves therefore as dead to sin: / and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6.9–11
Christ has been raised from the dead: / the first fruits of those who sleep.
For as by man came death: / by man has come also the resurrection of the dead;
For as in Adam all die: / even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15.20–22
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.