Susy Hessel is a lay preacher at St. Hilda St. Patrick and is a mental health counselor. The manuscript on which her sermon was based is below.
Peace!!!!. Peace I give to you….. Peace I ask of you…And Jesus said Peace be with you.
Bravery, doubting, risk-taking, believing and questioning. We all do these things and we all ask for peace. Jesus has given us the gift of peace and stillness of mind to be brave, to ask questions, to take risks, to believe and and yes even to doubt.
Thomas was all of these things but unfortunately the first association most people have of him is his nickname Doubting Thomas. The funny part of it is that it was lay people who gave him that name, not the disciples. Yes, he doubted but he was so much more. He was a courageous guy, he always looked for the truth, he asked honest questions searching for honest answers. And just like all of us he struggled to believe at times. But it was his doubt that bore questions and out of his questions came answers.
We have all been Thomas some time in our lives. For example, Who here has questioned authority? Who here has found difficulty believing what others have said?
And on the flip side Who here has been confident and willing to take a risk.
Thomas was a regular guy who had extraordinary experiences and there are four very important instances in the Gospel of John that illustrate this.
First…Thomas said and did profound things throughout his life without even knowing it. He was brave and believed.
It was Thomas who told the disciples to stop arguing with Jesus because they didn’t think it was safe for him to return to Judea and see Lazarus and instead they should all go with him that they may die with him. He innocently convinced the disciples to go on what could be considered a suicide mission. And they all went.
The bravery we are seeing in our world today is extraordinary. We hear about unexpected heroes everyday. The volunteers who work with the World Central Kitchen are some of those heroes. They go with Jose Andres the organizer of the Kitchen to serve food in war zones and disaster areas. They are now working in Ukraine doing God’s work and were bombed on Saturday the 16th of this month as we were celebrating the Easter Vigil and renewing our baptismal vows renouncing sin and evil. The kitchen they worked in was destroyed, 4 were injured, and luckily no one was killed. They could pack up and leave Ukraine but instead they will salvage their equipment and move to another part of the city to continue their work. They are risk takers and they believe.
During a second time Thomas took a risk and asked a question that most were probably thinking but didn’t ask. Because he and the other disciples still didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he spoke about his death and resurrection Thomas said to Jesus “We don’t know where you are going.” Unknowingly Thomas’ innocent statement gave Jesus the perfect opportunity to respond with one of the most important statements in the bible explaining he was the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through him. We are challenged to see and believe.
Thomas has been known as the Patron Saint of the blind because of what has been described as his spiritual blindness. But on the other hand can’t we call him the Patron Saint of blind belief. He always showed up, followed Jesus, listened and naively and honestly sought the truth, and he was even a leader of his fellow disciples .
The Ukrainian people are perfect examples of blind belief. Their country has been invaded and the people young and old have made a commitment to fight off heinous atrocities that accompany war, exclaiming they will fight to the death to defend their people and their homeland. They are following a President who was a professional comedian just a few years ago. No one knew what kind of a leader he would be in a war..but they have followed. These people are unknowing heros…. like the man who stood in front of a Russian tank trying to prevent it from moving forward and the man who picked up a live grenade with his bare hands and walked into the forest so it would not explode and kill or mame the citizens of that city. And then there is the 83 year old hero, a woman who had to stay behind in her home risking her life. She was raped and beaten. Her story infects the outside world fueling support for her country. She is a martyr and Hero! She and the others went to battle in their own ways not knowing if their actions were suicide missions. They had blind faith just as the disciples did with Jesus to Judea.
We have examples of believing, doubt, questioning, and bravery in today’s gospel. The disciples with the exception of Thomas had a big day….
Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room where they were hiding because they were afraid of being killed. They were probably questioning and doubting all that Jesus had told them. And they heard him say Peace be with you. They didn’t recognize him until he showed his hands and his side and it was at that point they realized he was Jesus. Then they believed. They were exuberant and probably a little relieved. It was happy dance time. Again Jesus said Peace be with you and then gave them their job instructions, what they are supposed to do and their limitations and what they will receive. He did this by breathing on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. They were to go be his ambassador and tell people they were forgiven and by believing they would have life in his name.
In their excitement the disciples tried to tell Thomas that they had seen the Lord. but Thomas said nope I’m not going to believe until I actually see the mark of the nails on his hand and his wounds.
So a week later Thomas was with the disciples and even though the doors were shut Jesus appeared and said peace be with you. He invited Thomas to reach out his hand and put it in his side. Thomas did just that. At that moment Jesus told him not to doubt but to believe. Thomas answered him “My Lord my God” exclamation point exclamation point. And he believed.
Thomas was absent for 8 days after Jesus appeared to the other disciples but he didn’t disappear after the disciples told him about seeing Jesus. He believed enough to show up and was brave enough to exclaim what is the most passionate and explicit declaration of Christ’s divinity in the Gospels.
The people of war torn Ukraine have been hiding behind closed doors for fear of death just like the apostles.The daily news is full of stories describing refugees, recounting their struggles, many of them too graphic for even the news to show, and how they escaped from their prison’s to safety. They believed there was a chance to find safety from the bombs and the ravageing of their homes. Like the apostles it was belief that led them to safety so that they can tell their stories for others to believe.
After Christ’s ascension the disciples cast lots to decide where each of them would preach in the known world. Thomas got India…..he didn’t want to go to India…he said he was too unhealthy to go…..But he ended up going because Christ assured him that he would always be with him through the Holy Spirit. So he went to India and spread the gospel farther than any other apostle and was eventually martyred. He became known as the Apostle of India.
We are the man with the tank, we are the man with the grenade and we are the old woman. We are the disaster volunteers feeding those in need. We are disciples in the world. What else are we?
Thomas’ life was so much more than doubt….he was brave, he questioned, he took risks, he doubted and he believed. The people of Ukraine are brave, even though they are uncertain of their future they fight for their life and the lives of others. They tell their stories of heartache and devastation in declaration of the existence of life and the fight against evil lives on. Their stories are told to the ends of the earth just like the apostles went out to save souls.
On this day the Orthodox Easter lets remember what Christ has said….
Peace be with you.