John 20: 19-29
Palm Sunday A Grateful Series
April 19, 2020
Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon
For years I would listen to this story about Thomas and feel righteous indignation on his behalf. Why does he get singled out? Everyone else got to see Jesus. Why would Thomas be any different from his friends? “I want to see Jesus too.” That’s all he’s saying here. And I would hear Jesus’ words as reprimand of Thomas – You believe now because you see, but all the more blessed and faithful are those who believe but do not get to see.
But, I see now that in all of my staunch defending of Thomas I was missing the point – the point that Jesus returns to the very same place he did the week before. He comes back just so that Thomas can have the same experience as his friends. Yes, Jesus closes with those admonishing words. But how about if we put those words in the mouth of the narrator instead? – the narrator who is speaking to the likes of us, all of us who follow, years, decades, centuries on the heels of Thomas.
When taken like this, this story unfolds as one of great compassion and kindness. Jesus has been through a week of appearances. Following the various gospel writers, Jesus has shown up on long walks, at barbecues, in gardens, and hideouts. He has no reason to come back to this very same room, to these very same people. He could have said, “Been there. Done that.”
Except that he knows Thomas needs it. He knows that this is the kindest act he can show Thomas. The poor guy was probably feeling really left out, probably kicking himself for having left the house that day – of all days! – to go run that errand. Of all the times to step out for a cup of coffee. And if Thomas is anything like any of us humans, he is probably really shaming himself for having messed up, probably feeling a lot like a dufus for having screwed up this most important moment of his life. Stuck in that condemning self-talk.
And Jesus responds to Thomas with love and compassion. He doesn’t say, “You snooze, you lose. Instead he says, “Come here, Thomas. Feel the wounds. I am here to help you get what you need so that you can carry on with your life.”
This week I have begun reading about Saints of the Church. Now, I have never been particularly drawn to their dramas and gifts. They are simply not narratives that have moved me. But, I got to thinking that I bet there is a lot of wisdom for this pandemic era to be gained from those who have faced hardship with endurance.
And in my reading I learned about St. Francis de Sales. He is known as the Gentleman Saint. Not because of his upper class origins – actually many saints come from the noble class. He is remembered as a gentleman because he was a gentleman. He led with a quiet, compassionate, reconciling presence. He served in the early years of the Reformation and was known as a great reconciler within those religious battles.
His ministry is marked with gentleness and patience. And he’s quoted saying, “Have patience with all things, but first of all, with yourself.” But in fact, this Gentleman Saint confesses to having spent over 20 years trying to curb his own streak of temper. “Have patience with all things, but first of all, with yourself.”
In his maxim that is nothing but kindness toward the world and oneself, I hear the presence of Christ, who chose to show up for Thomas again that day so that Thomas too might flourish in faith. Like the Christ in this gospel story, Francis de Sales understood that our most God-like posture is one of gentleness.
How many of us have such high expectations of ourselves that we find we are unable to live up to our ideals? How many of us find ourselves crippled under the weight of trying so hard to be good, helpful, righteous? How many of us could use the Christ showing up before us to give us a sign of hope – so that we might carry on with our life?
Over the last month of quarantine I have been privileged to hear from many of you, hear about where your joys and struggles are. And again and again I have been struck by how hard we each are on ourselves. Friends, I know this quarantine is our new normal – in fact we passed the month anniversary of schools being closed this week – this is our life now. And in many ways we have been adjusting well. Learning new apps, searching out new ways to be together, to share our creativity, to express our joy. I am so proud of each of us – showing up to life in the best ways we know how.
But let us not deceive ourselves. We are still in quarantine. And we are still human. And the bounds of this life are sure to rub us raw on days. Shorten our tempers, lower our resilience, up the anxiety and despair.
And my prayer for each of us is that we might find a way to meet the Christ – in whatever room we find ourselves – meet the Christ of compassion, who is there to provide us with what we need to keep on – breathing the Spirit of God upon us with a word of peace and providing us a healthy serving of self-compassion. I pray that the spirit of St. Francis de Sales might serve each of us well as we practice patience with all things, but especially with ourselves. Amen.
This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on April 19, 2020, via Zoom to the Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.