Witness Lament Demand: The Second Sunday of Eastertide, April 19, 2020

Sermon Preached on April 19, 2020 – Second Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
John 20:19-31

Witness Lament Demand

Here we are, in the early days of Easter still, having finished – what one social media meme called, “the Lentiest Lent [we] have ever Lented.” We have celebrated Holy Week and even Easter morning – after a fashion, and here comes Sunday again. It’s still Easter, we are still in our homes, church is still on the porch this morning – feels like we’re stuck in a loop. And yet – no matter what – Christ is risen!

No matter the wrenching chaos of the world, and no matter how we celebrated the day, Easter happens. Christ is risen, life flourishes in the face of death, and we are offered resurrection hope. Thanks be to God.[1]

Christ is risen; unbelievably good news – the best news; we can hear it and know it to be true, and yet Good news doesn’t erase fear.[2] Good news, incredible news, can ignite hope, but even hope doesn’t eliminate genuine fear. The disciples are right here with us this morning – they are in a locked room because they are afraid. They too are experiencing a time that feels timeless. According to the text it’s still the first day of the week. So much happened from sunrise to evening on that day to turn the world over and over again, and these disciples are in that place of grief and fear that feels out of time.

They’re afraid of retribution from the political and religious powers that be. The threat is very real – it has killed their Lord, and yet – they can’t see it. When they send Thomas out to run their essential errands – how do they know he isn’t walking into a trap? That the crowds who yelled for Jesus to be crucified aren’t conspiring to come after them? Whispering in the shadows to kill them? Everything looks the same – but everything has changed. The whole world has changed – and Jesus has been crucified. They are lost, bereft… and afraid.

We understand. This year we completely empathize with these disciples – this year we can’t sit in judgment and wonder what they were thinking. We are in our homes, some would say we are in “lockdown.” We are beset by unseen forces which kill and we know they are very real. We are in our homes because of our care, our concern for others, ourselves, and those we love. And what threatens us all is this unseen force that has ravaged the world. Things look sort of the same – but everything has changed.

And it’s here that we receive the good news – the best news. Christ is risen. Like the disciples, we are in a familiar place, though experiencing an unfamiliar fear. Let’s be honest, an empty tomb isn’t enough to confirm our hope, to lift us out of fear – not this year. Which is why this Gospel story is comforting in so many ways. Consider our new “house-mates” – the disciples – they too need more than news of an empty tomb. Jesus has to show up – that’s what resurrection means – that God shows up. And the risen Jesus does. He shows up, and it takes time for everyone to grasp this good news. Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene, then the disciples huddled in our locked room, then a whole week later – to Thomas. Everyone receiving him as they are able; taking this into themselves, into their hearts as they are able. Moving from grief to hope as they are able, in their own time. Jesus is patient with them – and with us. Walking with us as we move from grief and fear – into the hope of Easter.

Some of us may be like Mary: vigilant, attuned to the voice of God, and ready to testify to the presence of the risen Savior. Some of us are like the disciples, navigating fear and belief, joy and isolation, all at once, and drawing strength from our friends. And some of us are like Thomas: unwilling or unable to witness to Jesus’ resurrection until our fingers can trace the scars of his crucifixion.[3]

As I was working on this sermon, I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite professors from my DMin time at Sewanee, Dr. Cameron Howard, had written on this text. (It was like visiting with an old friend.) She writes:

We say that Thomas doubts, but it seems to me that Thomas demands. He demands That Jesus show up for him, just like Jesus showed up for the other disciples. He demands that Jesus be present with him, too, so that the wave of resurrection hope may at last wash over him. Thomas’ demand is less petulance or impudence than sheer honesty. He knows what it will take for him to believe this remarkable, ridiculous news, and he asks that Jesus provide that experience. Thomas needs to understand Jesus’ resurrection not just in his brain or even in his heart, but in his body, with his senses, his whole self.[4]

Dr. Howard is an Old Testament scholar, with expertise in the psalms. She continues:

In his stark honesty about his experience and his bold demands for God to show up, Thomas is much like the psalmists of Hebrew Scripture. The lament psalms, in particular, are full of direct imperatives to God, desperately demanding God’s intervention for healing from a disease or for deliverance from enemies. These are not genteel prayers or subdued hymns; these are guttural cries to be seen, heard, remembered, addressed, and delivered by God.

When I hear Thomas’ demand, the Old Testament’s cries to God ring in my ears. I do not hear impertinence; I hear lament. I hear a deeply biblical, deeply faithful relationship with the living God. I hear an expectation that God is alive, that God is powerful, that God cares for God’s people. I hear a plea for God to show up again from someone who knows the many ways God has shown up for God’s people in the past.[5]

Friends, a remarkable thing happens when Thomas demands that Jesus show up and present his wounds: Jesus shows up! Jesus answers Thomas’ honest demands with compassion and presence.

This year – wherever we are in this process of receiving the good news, wherever we are emotionally at this moment – what if we demand that God show up? In our fear, or doubt, or lament, or even our fierce witness to the risen Christ – what if we demand that God show up, and bring our pandemic-weary world some resurrection hope?

We have plenty to lament at this moment as a people surrounded by sickness, fear, and sheltering in place. But we’ve also witnessed God’s saving acts, we know what God has done for us, for all of God’s people throughout history. We know what God can do. In faithful witness to all that we know God can do, and has done, we can demand that God show up now. Meet us here in this place – and be present with our hurting, sick, unemployed, grieving, lonely world. Demand that God show up and stand with us in this place. For ourselves, for others and those we love. For those in desperate need, for those who are at the mercy of this unseen force, for those who are sick and those who care for them, for those who don’t have our resources, or our capacity to shelter safely in place.

Friends, as we move fully into Easter – let’s remind God of what God can do. Lament. Testify. Witness. There’s nothing more faithful than responding to this moment with conviction that God will show up and be God. In our deep and abiding faith, let’s demand that God show up right now; that the good news of Christ’s resurrection may bring tangible hope – true resurrection hope to us all. Amen.


[1] Cameron Howard, “Demanding that God Show Up,” Sunday, April 12, 2020 11:05 PM, workingpreacher.org
[2] Joy J. Moore, Commentary on John 20:19-31, workingpreacher.org, April 19, 2020
[3] Cameron Howard, “Demanding that God Show Up,” Sunday, April 12, 2020 11:05 PM, workingpreacher.org
[4] Cameron Howard, “Demanding that God Show Up,” Sunday, April 12, 2020 11:05 PM, workingpreacher.org
[5] Cameron Howard, “Demanding that God Show Up,” Sunday, April 12, 2020 11:05 PM, workingpreacher.org