Right now, we want to touch Jesus.
I know that it’s hard to believe, but it’s only been 5 Sundays since March 15th, the last time we were in this worship space and had Eucharist. You remember what that was like? Of course we do.
The elements of bread and wine are brought forward, we offer them up to God to give thanks and to hear the story of the night before he died he took bread, said the blessing and then gave it to his friends and said, “take eat this is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper he took the cup of wine, and said, Drink this all of you, this is by blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, drink this in remembrance of me.”
Praying the prayer that Jesus taught us, we come forward with the invitation of The gifts of God for the People of God.
And we come forward to hold out our hand and touch the Body of Christ in the form of communion bread.
Prior to the 1970’s Since the 1960s and 70’s the Episcopal Church did much to teach and change its approach to worship. Some of you might remember a time when Morning prayer was the norm. But for most of our lifetimes, and certainly in my formation as a priest, the Eucharist has been a central part of our worship life together. And we have been better for it. In essence each time we gather, we touch Jesus.
But in this time of COVID, that has not been so. Much of the conversations I have been having with other priests has been about the role communion now has in our lives and how much the members of our congregations miss it and is there anything we can do about it. Even though other Protestant traditions do communion in other ways, what makes the Epsicopal Church different from other denominations is our unique understanding of the Eucharist. For now, we can’t touch Jesus.
And neither could Thomas. We heard in the Gospel of John, a story told in near real time as we witness the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday holed up in an upper room in fear. Everyone who is left is there except one. Thomas.
Thomas missed the interaction as they recounted it to him, it sounded fastastic. He could not believe that the Lord had somehow been physically in their presence, even if it was a for a short time.
Thomas makes that infamous statement- unless I am able to touch Jesus, I won’t believe.
Many people, like Thomas, struggle with the continuing presence of Jesus following his resurrection. And May people, like Thomas, are always looking for proof. As Christians, we make bold and rather unusual claims: the leader of our religion was executed, buried, and then came back to life to walk the earth only to be lifted up into heaven on a cloud.
But none of us were there. None of us were in the room with those disciples. None of us touched Jesus.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King junior is reported to have said, “take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Jesus appeared again in that small room with the disciples we're gathered to make a point of visiting Thomas. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the presence of the risen Christ. The Lord God is with us in our darkest moments and in our happiest times.
With the restrictions in place, we are holed up in our rooms. We have the doors locked in fear. We are told not to go out in public- except for the essentials like food or medicine. Even then we wear a mask for fear that either we might be an unwitting carrier and breathe one some one or come in contact with the Coronavirus through someone else.
And we are eager to see and touch Jesus again. Perhaps not exactly like Thomas, but Thomas in many ways through both his desire to believe and his doubt, he speaks for us.
He speaks for us when, in that moment he is able to connect with Jesus, he says “My Lord, and my God!” And Jesus is speaking TO us when he Blesses us and teaches us again about having the faith to believe.
Eventually, all of the 11 do bear witness to the resurrected Christ. And they will go on to tell the
We can bear witness to the living God because of those who saw him. The disciples attested to the resurrected Jesus, first by their confusion at the tomb, and then by providing evidence to the resurrected Christ through his two visits. They were able to tell others about the wounds in his body. Even Thomas could tell the story, because Jesus ensured that his wandering friend had the proof he needed in order to fully believe.
Thomas is told, Blessed are those who believe and have yet not seen. On the one hand this may come as a indictment of Thomas’ doubt, but on the other hand, Jesus wasn’t scolding Thomas. Jesus was affirming Thomas’ will to believe. He was encouraging him ot have faith.
As resurrection people, faith is what guides us. It is more than just a five-letter word. It requires the use of our senses. Faith requires us to hear God and feel the Holy Spirit in our lives. The faith that Jesus tried to inspire in his disciples is the same faith God hopes for us now. And though WE may never ge tot touch Jesus in the way that Thomas did, to know the marks of the naisl in his hands and to feel the scar in his side, we know through faith, tht Jesus rose from the dead.
This is Peter’s great profession in his speech in the Book of Acts. Jesus died and was placed in a tomb. Yes Jesus was no ordinary man, and the tomb was not his final destination. God raised him from the Dead on the third day. He returned to the disciples for them to carry the news not of his death but of his triumphant victory over the grave to the rest of the world.
As we continue to celebrate these great 50 days of Easter, we are encouraged have the kind of faith that guides us to the live the kind of lives that Jesus envisioned and commissioned them to do in making disciples of others.
Faith is a daily, ongoing exercise. It is a risk. Doubts arise. We struggle with God. And hopefully, faith grounded in the goodness of God triumphs — even when we do not have all the answers and life doesn’t make sense. Even when we can’t come to church, or gather with our loved ones, when we can’t make Eucharist. Even when we can’t touch Jesus.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is not void of doubt, but requires a daily commitment to developing our spiritual walk despite life’s uncertainties and sometimes cruelties.
Faith doesn’t take away our doubts, but is strengthened by them. And faith doesn’t deliver us from our problems and head aches, but gives us the strength to persevere through them and lead others as well as they navigate around the abyss of nothingness.
May God bless us in our unbelief. May his resurrection power be at work in our lives as we learn to allow our doubts to strengthen our faith.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.