April 26, 2020

The Strength of Those Who Believe and the Hope of Those Who Doubt
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A
(Second Sunday After Easter)
Becky Robbins-Penniman

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

I’ve been thinking that this COVID 19 pandemic needs a patron saint, and I think we couldn’t do better than Thomas Didymus, Thomas the Twin. Thomas would totally understand what we’re going through. As Cindy said last week, just like 2,000 years ago, we went to bed one night in one world reality and woke up the next day to a new world reality.

There’s a lot in common between Thomas’ time and ours as to how people go about dealing with the startling changes that come with new reality. On Good Friday, 30 AD, the old reality was that dead people stayed dead. On Easter morning in 30 AD, the startling change was that the tomb was empty. Some deal with the change by denying anything is different: remember, the elders paid the guards at the tomb to lie and say the disciples came and stole the body. Others not only accepted the new reality, but lived totally different lives afterward. In 30 AD, denial and acceptance were two ways that humans coped with change.

On Friday, January 10, 2020, fewer than 1/10th of 1% of people who got seasonal flu virus died. By Sunday, January 13th, scores in China were sick and dying from a novel virus. People – including, at one time, me – didn’t think was that it was that bad. We thought folks were overreacting, and denied that anything was different. Others said this was a serious global pandemic and that no measures to contain it were too strong. In 2020 AD, denial and acceptance are still two ways that humans cope with change.

Back in 30 AD, a week after the first Easter, the disciples were split, with Simon Peter telling everyone he’d seen Jesus alive, and Thomas was saying he wouldn’t believe it unless he saw for himself. Here in 2020, a week after the virus hit the US, Americans were split, with some focused economic stability and normalcy, and others focused on stopping an enemy we can’t even see.

Yes, Thomas’ dilemma was soon resolved, when Jesus himself came into the room. But during that week BEFORE Jesus showed himself to Thomas, while Thomas still doubted Jesus’ assertion he would be raised from the dead while Thomas still doubted his companions’ experience of the risen Christ. There was a split, there were two groups: believers and doubters.

As I’ve said before, the best synonym for the Greek word “believe,” is not to give intellectual assent to a proposition, but to put our trust in something to the point of betting our entire life on it. For example, intellectually, the fact is that Tom Brady has the skill and experience to lead the Bucs to the Super Bowl; after all, he’s the GOAT of the NFL. But I’m not about to bet my life on it. I won’t even bet a beer on it. Sorry.

Thomas doubted, he didn’t trust Mary Magdalene’s and Peters’ claims that everything was different now, that the obviously dead Jesus wasn’t dead. Thomas had decades of experience with death, when dead meant dead forever, like King David was still dead. Why should he believe the ravings of other disciples, especially Peter, whom he knew often to have been impulsive and even clueless?

Yet, Thomas is my nominee for the patron saint of pandemic because even in the midst of the change, conflict and confusion, he refused to be like Judas and abandon his companions, to give up on everything Jesus had stood for. Thomas MUST still have had hope against hope that some kind of good would come out of the nightmare of Good Friday, hope against hope that Jesus would somehow keep his promise. If he didn’t have any hope, Thomas would have made like a banana and split. Instead, he kept listening, kept his mind open, kept gathering with the others…

Read the full sermon text HERE.

Join us LIVE online at 8 AM & 10 AM: