The Second Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Jon Hullinger
John 20:19-31

Last Sunday, we observed, as we do every Sunday, the mystery of our Lord’s resurrection!

What makes Easter Sunday, and this whole season of Easter, so special is not ‘what’ we are celebrating but ‘how’.

Easter always comes after a long Lenten season of preparation in prayer, fasting, alms giving and in the context of an the intense Holy Week of special liturgical celebrations,

Then, on Easter Morning, we arrived to a beautiful, brightly decorated Church full of equally beautiful and brightly dressed people to celebrate the Sunday of the Resurrection. And, the Gospel lesson is always the same.

Most Sundays follow a three year cycle giving us a passage from Matthew in year A (the year we are in now), one from Mark in year B and Luke in years C. But not on Easter Sunday Morning… The Gospel Lesson for Easter is always the same.

It’s story of Mary Magdalene rising early in the morning to go to the tomb, finding the stone rolled away and the the tomb empty, and running to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple. It’s the story of Peter and John racing to the tomb and of what they saw and that it was then beloved disciple believed. It includes the account of the Angels greeting Mary Magdalene alone and weeping after the disciples had departed and of how Jesus spoke her name and called her to belief. And, it’s only the first half, the first 18 verses really, of the twentieth chapter of St John Gospel.

But, that was last week … this is this week…

This Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter, has its own context and Gospel lesson and its own special name.

I was reminded of this when I a parishioner saw me last we and said, “Hi”, “How are you?”
I said “Hello” and then added, “I’m preaching this week” to which they respond, “This really will be “Low Sunday then.”

Now I’m hoping I didn’t hear them correctly … but it is true that this Second Sunday of Easter is often referred to as ‘Low Sunday’ and it can certainly seem that way at first glance.

Attendance has dropped off a little compared to the packed house we had on Easter Sunday, the new clothes we wore then are hanging in the closet now waiting for another more special occasion, most of the chocolate and jelly beans have been consumed and of course you are listening to me instead of the Bishop. So, I can see how this might seem like a ‘low’ Sunday.

However, liturgically speaking this Second Sunday is not ‘low’ at all. Rather it is a continuation of the ‘High’ Easter celebration begun last week.

Which is why our Gospel lesson today picks right where we left off last week… with verse 19 of Chapter Twenty in St. John’s Gospel.

With this verse we fast forward to the evening of that first Easter Sunday Day. We told that the disciples gathered together in fear behind locked doors. And, that Jesus came and stood among them, that Jesus showed them his hands and his side and breathed on them and that sent them out in peace filled with the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.

We are also told that St. Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples on that first Easter Evening, that he hadn’t seen the risen Lord, and that when Thomas was told what had happened that day he confessed 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.”

Then we are told that the following week – this week – the second Sunday of Easter the disciples gathered again. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came again and stood among them and 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.”

Now, biblical scholars have debated whether in fact Thomas actually touched Jesus’s risen body or not. Some have maintained that if Thomas had examined and touched Jesus’ body, he would have persisted in his disbelief and would have ceased to be a disciple.

Raymond Brown explains this by arguing that when Jesus says, “Do not doubt but believe” that was enough for Thomas and he could then answer “My Lord and my God without ever touching Him”

The only thing I don’t like about that theory is what it does to Caravaggio’s painting of Thomas. If you have never seen it – google it when you get home. It’s great painting and tells a wonderful story.

In the picture Thomas is bending over, looking intensely at the wound in Jesus’s side as two disciples (I’m thinking Peter and John ) look on gazing over Thomas’s shoulder. Jesus is holding Thomas’s hand with one hand, pulling open his robe with the other, and gently guiding Thomas’s finger into His wound. I love that image. And I think when these two weeks are taken together; when Thomas’s story is placed in context of all that we have heard concerning Jesus’s resurrection appearances in this Twentieth Chapter of Johns’ Gospel… Then, I think we see that Caravaggio’s painting gets it exactly right and adds a dimension to the story of the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection that might be missed without it.

Remember, the Beloved Disciple believed when he saw the garments left in the tomb; Mary Magdalene believed when she heard the voice of the risen Jesus call her name; the disciples believed when they saw the risen Jesus and realized that it was the Lord; Thomas believed when he saw Jesus’s wounds and placed his finger in His side.

In these stories of the resurrected Jesus and of his encounters with Mary Magdalene and John and Peter and Thomas and the other disciples we see a risen, loving and forgiving Jesus who goes out to meet those who love Him wherever they are, giving them whatever they need to see and believe and proclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and My God!”

And the story doesn’t end there… After Thomas utters these words Jesus say to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” and then to Thomas, the other disciples gathered together “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Those words are also spoken to us. And not just us but to everyone, from that first Easter Day to this day, who have not actually seen, but who have come to believe.

And it includes in a very special way this day Al and Bently and Tyler who will be baptized here shortly… in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.