It is good to be together! I have missed worshipping in this space with you, the people of Saint David’s who have gathered here this morning.
Now, in an important way, we were never entirely apart, not exactly. We couldn’t see each other, which has been hard. But, as our Bishop reminds us, the Church remains open even if the building is closed. That’s because the Church is not a building. The Church is us. We, God’s people, we are the Church.
And we continued to be the Church all through the last year. We continued in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread (as best we could!), and in the prayers.
And, even when the Church building was closed, we remained connected to each other, united by the Holy Spirit in bonds of love. We prayed together, online. We prayed for each other in our homes. We reached out as we could.
One lesson from the last year for me was just how strong a bond mutual prayer can be. In my own daily prayers, I have always included our parish prayer cycle, which means I pray for every parishioner of Saint David’s by name at least once a month. For the last few months, we have included the parish prayer cycle in our services of Morning Prayer and in the Prayers of the People on Sundays. As I have experienced it, that has been a wonderful way to stay connected.
I also had a Prayer Partner over Lent. I prayed for her by name each day, and that prayer, brief as it was, felt like a real bond.
It is probably too much to say that the whole group of us who believe were perfectly of “one heart and soul” over the last year, as the disciples seem to have been immediately after Christ’s resurrection. But we remained in communion with each other and with God, and that is something to celebrate.
Even now, of course, not everyone can be physically present, for all kinds of reasons. And so we continue to stay connected as best we can, despite our enforced physical separation from many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We continue to be Church, to be God’s people, to be people of mutual love and prayer.
Still, I say again, it is good to be together with you who can gather physically. And there is something wonderfully symbolic about coming back together physically, in our holy space, in this Easter season, when we focus with special joy on the resurrection of our Lord and the new life that Christ makes possible.
And our Gospel reading for this morning is perfect. It’s all about coming together.
Our reading begins on Easter morning sometime after the discovery of the empty tomb. The disciples were still clueless. No real surprise there. Christ was alive and on the move, but they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of what might happen to them.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jesus appears to them. That must have been terrifying! Jesus shows them his injured hands and side, and Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them. That’s quite an Easter morning!
But Thomas missed Easter. Thomas wasn’t there for the big moment. Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them. Thomas was off doing his own thing.
We’re not told why Thomas was absent. But we can rule out a few things. Thomas certainly wasn’t absent because he was worried about possibly catching or spreading a potentially fatal virus. Thomas wasn’t absent because he had mobility issues or was caring for someone else who had them. Thomas wasn’t absent because he had other things he needed to be doing. Thomas wasn’t absent for any of the many good reasons someone might truly want or need to be away.
Thomas’ physical absence symbolized a deeper spiritual division between him and the other disciples. We can see that division in Thomas’ belligerent response to their excited proclamation of the good news. “I don’t care what you say. Unless I see and touch Christ’s wounds for myself, I will not believe.”
Whatever his other reasons may have been, Thomas was absent at least in part because he was not of one heart and soul with the other disciples, because he was not prepared to continue in their teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers, because he was not prepared to hear the good news of Christ’s resurrection, because he was not prepared to encounter the risen Lord, not with them.
A week goes by.
This is one of those places where the story keeps going, but we need to pause. We know what’s coming. Jesus is going to appear to Thomas. Jesus is going to show Thomas his wounds, and Thomas is going to respond in faith. “My Lord and my God.” It’s a beautiful moment, one of my favorites in the Gospel of John.
But it doesn’t happen for a week. And I wonder, why the delay? After all, Jesus could appear to Thomas at any time and in any place. Why wait for a week?
Apparently, Thomas had a lesson to learn. Jesus was giving Thomas time for his heart to soften, for Thomas to relax some of his belligerence, for Thomas to come a little closer to being of one heart and soul with his fellows.
Thomas still needed Jesus before he could be truly reconciled with his former companions on the Way. After all, what holds Christians together is our faith in our resurrected Lord, and Thomas didn’t yet have that.
But it is surely not a coincidence that Jesus waited to appear to the wandering Thomas until Thomas was back with the others.
We can see from Thomas’ experience that being together matters, being together physically when possible, but staying united in spirit whether or not we can be physically together. Thomas reminds us that Christianity is a team sport, that we make each other better in a sometimes mysterious way, that we travel farther and faster with our Lord when we travel in company.
Christ died and rose again to reconcile us to God. In the process, Christ also brings us closer to those we learn to see as our brothers and sisters. Christ makes us Church. In our epistle, the elder puts it this way: when we walk in the light of Christ, “we have fellowship with one another.”
Thomas had to learn that lesson the hard way in our Gospel reading.
The last year has reminded us of that same lesson by depriving us of each other’s physical presence.
Those of us who are gathered here this morning get to experience that same lesson in the joy of being together for the first time in many months.
Those who continue to join us online get a taste of the same joy. But my prayer is that we can all be together soon.
In the meantime, I give thanks to God for the example of Thomas so long ago. I give thanks to God who calls us into relationship with God and with each other. And I give thanks to God for the chance for many of us to worship together here this morning. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan