This week is usually referred to as a low Sunday because attendance drops significantly compared to Easter Sunday. It is common to see a significant increase in attendance on both Easter and Christmas because, for some reason, everyone all of a sudden decides that they need to pay attention to God; I like to refer to this as the birth and resurrection society because those are the only services we see them at. At any rate, this week is post Easter, and it appears to be considered a less important week, but truly we have never lived in a time other than post Easter. Every Sunday for us, even the one we call Easter Sunday, is post Easter because Easter occurred more than 2000 years ago; and we have never seen a resurrected Jesus, which may be why so many people avoid church.
Even the people who witnessed the resurrected Jesus had doubts and poor Thomas is forever known as doubting Thomas because he had trouble believing the news; but is that fair? If you look closely you will find that none of the disciples believed it at first, so why should Thomas be singled out? Well, by focusing our attention on Thomas we are completely missing the point. The point is not to warn us that doubters are bad, it is to show us that even when we have doubts, Jesus, God, is still right there with us, patiently waiting for us to understand. Thomas needed to see and touch the wounds to believe, although we do not actually know that he did touch them, it only says that Jesus offered and then Thomas declared his belief, which Jesus responded to by saying “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus could have rebuked all of the disciples, including Thomas, for their lack of faith, it certainly would not have been the first time he did so, but instead he was gentle; he was patient; and he gave them what they needed; he not only gave them his teachings, he gave them the visual proof they required; but in addition, John has made it clear that some people will not have the benefit of visual proof, and they will be blessed for their faith, which is how Jesus rolls according to John, he finds a way to give us what we need; so how does Jesus give us what we need in 2020?
Since we have been in isolation and have expanded the use of digital media, I have noticed a significant increase in participation in services. Our nightly Compline service averages 19 people and our Sunday services average 94, which is quite higher than our normal Sunday attendance. It is important to realize that these numbers do not mean that we are getting that many people all at once, with the digital world people can utilize our programming at any point, and I know that many people do. The question we should be asking ourselves is why? Why are so many people, near and far, taking advantage of our online services? What it indicates to me is that there is a hunger for God. Now this hunger could be related to the pandemic, as there is typically an increase in interest during times of tragedy and fear; but I don’t think this is the only reason, I think that there is a deeply rooted desire for connection; a connection to community and a connection to God. If we learn anything from our time in isolation it has to be that we can never go back to the way it was before; we have stumbled into a new way to bring the church to the world and we can’t stop now.
Earlier I said that we have never seen a resurrected which, I think, could be the source of doubt for many people, but it is not entirely true, I know that I have seen Jesus many times. I have seen him in the eyes of the people I used to greet at the essential’s pantry; I have seen him carrying baskets of food down the aisle at St. Philip’s; I have seen him walking beside me during an Out of the Darkness Walk; I have seen him in the hug my grandfather gave my mother when she thought her world was ending; and I have seen him in the world’s response to disaster, when we focus our attention on making sure people have the shelter, food, and care that they need. Jesus is everywhere, God is everywhere, and we all have the potential to see the resurrected Jesus every single day, but we have to look and that’s where the trouble starts. Even though Jesus is with us at all time, we don’t know how to recognize him, so we forget. The whole purpose of the Gospels is to give us a tool to know the teachings of Jesus, and the purpose of his resurrection is to help us change our thinking, to change the way we live. Jesus did not die on the cross for our personal sins, he died to show us the way out of a life to sin. If we die to our sinful selves, to the things that keep us from God; meaning if we lead a life based on the Gospels, then we will experience a resurrected life; and when we do experience that life, even if only for a moment, we need to remember that it is a gift, and it is a gift that we are expected to share. No matter how long it takes us to come to God, no matter how long it takes us to understand, no matter how long we doubt, God, Jesus is patiently waiting and once we get there, once we understand, God will continue to walk with us. I am reminded of the chorus from my Great Grandmother’s favorite hymn, “In the Garden”, which goes like this “And He walks with me and He talks with me, And He tells me I am his own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.” God does walk and talk with us, God does bring us joy and when we experience that joy there is nothing else like it; so look and listen for God; look for the resurrected Jesus in everyone you meet; Look for Jesus in yourself; look for kindness; look for patience; look for love; and remember that when you see those qualities you are looking at the face of the resurrected Jesus.