Sermon Easter II – April 12, 2015
Falling for Christ… All over again…
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA
The numerous accounts of Jesus’ resurrection would not be complete without the presence of Thomas and his doubt. Maybe this is so because we wrestle with our own faith… Maybe we long for the days of innocence when we did not feel the need to ask questions, we simply believed… that Jesus loves us, that he walks with us, that we are to love God and love our neighbors as our selves…. living with the sweet knowledge that we are to be peacemakers and see Christ in the face of the poor, the prisoner, the outcast. Yes… I believe. But as we grow up we begin to probe the simple faith of our childhood. We examine the biblical stories in more detail and begin to ask questions. We begin to notice the different voices of Christendom that continue to rise up, some proclaiming that there is one, and only one way to understand and interpret the “faith” that has been handed down to us.… As we experience the scrapes and bruises that come with growing up… we may begin to ask further, more probing questions… Not necessarily a bad thing. Our God… whose love is far more than we can know, ask for or imagine… can certainly withstand our attempts to dig beneath the surface… to move beyond the outer layers of meaning to discover that, amidst, the messiness of our struggle… there is much more richness to be found … if we dare to engage and wrestle with questions of faith and attempt to make sense of the traditions, the biblical stories, the rituals and creeds that have been passed down to us. Sometimes heartache and loss takes us into a mucky realm where we thrash around, with questions of faith, in frustration and despair…. in an attempt to find some sense of surety and to grasp… a shred of meaning to hold onto for dear life.
This poor guy Thomas, a disciple whose heart had been totally broken by the horrific events of the previous day has been saddled, forever, with the label of “doubter.” Maybe we feel some kinship with him as we wrestle with our own faith especially as we live in a time in which the knowledge about the origins and context of our scriptures continues to proliferate, at a time when the search for the historical Jesus, that began in the late 19th century with Albert Schweitzer’s work, has given us a new portrait of a dark skinned, flesh and bones carpenter… a reclaimed image of Jesus that sits along side the “other worldly” Jesus that has been depicted down through many centuries. Though our tradition holds that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, Jesus’ humanity was nearly totally eclipsed by his divine nature by Christians…for over a millennium. Our creed tells us that Jesus was “of one being with the father.” This I can reconcile… and even more so, when I think of Jesus as the fullest expression of God, walking among us, teaching us and showing us how God loves us and challenges us to live into a new and better way of being. The love of God, that Jesus showed us, is not fixed or stagnant… it is a love that we can not grasp, hold onto, own, or contain…. This great love is alive and through the eyes of faith we try to understand its meaning for our lives… even as we continue to explore, and probe, and question. We walk this journey of faith, from cradle to grave… sometimes with great peace and contentment… at other times in a state of befuddlement… and so it goes… To quote the great theologian Anne Lamott, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, its certainty.” A dose of doubt enlivens faith. Certainty entombs and encases a living faith.
Sometimes when I am in this sanctuary alone I sit in one of the back pews and imagine the people who have worshipped here at St. Paul’s over time. I see the backs of folks going up to the communion rail in Civil War era dress with dusty boots and calico dresses. I imagine Victorians of uptown Port Townsend worshipping in their finery. After the toll of World War I and the Great Depression I envision folks in more humble attire. I then flash forward…. beyond another world war…to the 1950’s and imagine little girls who, like me, enjoyed wearing their frilly Easter dresses and anklets and shiny black patent leather Mary Jane shoes… and whole families coming to worship in a time of new prosperity. I see all of these eras superimposed in a layering of history, and tradition, and change.
As we kick-off the sesquicentennial celebration of this historic church building I think about all that has gone on in this place… the babies, children and adults who have been baptized into the Body of Christ here at Saint Paul’s, the children who have come to Sunday school to learn the stories of our faith, the couples who have exchanged wedding vows and rings at the altar….committing their lives to one another in and through the love of Christ. I see parish hall tables filled with casseroles and pies. I hear the sound the hammers and smell the pungent odor of fresh paint as numerous generations of work parties have tended this beloved church and her grounds. I can feel the grief of mourners who have come to this place to commend their loved ones to God over these past 150 years. The whole spectrum of life experience has been known in this place.
When the first worship service was held here on Easter morning back in 1865 a bloody Civil War had just ended. A mere 13 years earlier, in 1852, the population of Port Townsend was recorded as three families and 15 bachelors. The town of Port Townsend grew quickly. The hubbub about the publication of Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution, that had been published in his book, “The Origin of the Species” in 1859, was escalating… and was beginning to challenge long held literal religious beliefs about the story of creation found in the book of Genesis. Much had happened in a very short amount of time. The founders of St. Paul’s would have worshipped out of the 1786 Book of Common Prayer. The congregation would go through two more major prayerbook revisions, one in 1928, and the next in 1979. A century and a half ago the emphasis would have been more on personal salvation. Since that time the focus has broadened to include an emphasis on social justice and our own call to be witnesses to the Gospel though our words and actions… to be agents of transformation in the world through the waters of baptism. In our time, when Christianity is no longer a dominant religion, at least in our corner of the Pacific Northwest, we are living in a world in which there is a greater awareness and respect for other faith traditions. There are challenges too. We may well wrestle with all of this as we seek to rediscover and renew the richness of our Christian tradition that is grounded in eternal truths…and that can actually be enriched by the richly textured tapestry of world faiths and traditions of which we are apart… Rather than throwing up our arms amidst this diversity, we can fall in love again with our living Christ in a faith cannot be confined or contained.
There is a sculpture of the meeting between Jesus and Thomas entitled Das Wiedershen by the German sculptor Ernst Barlach. “Wiedershen” means to see again, or to meet again. “Das Wiedershen’ means “reunion.” In Barlach’s depiction of the reunion between the risen Jesus and Thomas… a Thomas who had been totally devastated by the loss of his teacher, his guide… the one who showed him that God’s vision and love is large, and embracing, and challenging… in this meeting between a stricken disciple and the risen Christ we catch them a split second after Thomas has actually touched the wounds. At that moment the impact, the realization that Jesus was alive, hit Thomas full force. His knees buckle and he crumples. Without a moment’s hesitation, the wounded hands of Jesus catch Thomas. In apparent helplessness Thomas gazes up towards Jesus and their eyes fix on one another. Thomas is seen, and held by the risen one who bears the marks of crucifixion, who has known death, and yet lives.
Amidst the challenges and changes of our time, in the flow of a rich history of tradition and human experience, I pray that we can fall in love, all over again, with our Christ who is the heart and bedrock of our living faith. The blessing of a faith community such as St. Paul’s, is that we can celebrate, wrestle with, and live into the richness of our faith and tradition… within and beyond these walls. It may be messy at times… but in every moment this life together is blessed.