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Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Baptismal Love Letter

My Lord and my God!"
(John 20:19-31)
A Baptismal Love Letter to Keira Olivia Lenninger
Easter II, April 15, 2006
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Keira,

Let me begin with a confession: I’m always concerned when parents want their children baptized on the Sunday after Easter. Why? Well, first of all, it’s notoriously known – in clergy circles, anyway – as “low Sunday.” As in “low attendance.” That’s not exactly true, but compared to all the people who come to church on Easter Day for their once-a-year visit, it can seem like very low attendance, indeed.

The first Sunday after Easter is also known as “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – because the gospel selection is always this passage from John. That’s not so bad, really, except that Thomas has traditionally gotten a bad rap in the church for “doubting” the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas was sort of the Bishop Spong of his day. Jack Spong, like Thomas, gets a bad rap for questioning and touching into old wounds, and insisting on facts and answers.

You know, Keira, unlike what some Christians will tell you, doubting and questioning are very important to an active and lively journey in faith. I write these Baptismal Love Letters to all the babies and children I baptize, hoping that your parents will keep them someplace special so that, as you prepare for Confirmation, you’ll know just how important is this day, the day of your Baptism. I hope this will give you some things to consider, some difficult questions to ask, some answers to insist on so that your faith may be real and lively and satisfying to your soul. Because if it’s not then, frankly, why bother?

So, let me begin by pointing out a few things about Thomas. The first is that, after Jesus was crucified, the disciples went into hiding. Who could blame them? I mean, if you had just witnessed the horrible things that had happened to Jesus, someone you knew and loved, and you were one of his followers, you would be in hiding too. I’m willing to bet that the first thing on your mind would be, “Well, it’s just a matter of time before the authorities will be coming to kill me.”

It’s no real surprise that they were hiding with the doors locked, so Jesus breathed on them and said, “Peace be with you.” Well, not all of them were hiding. Thomas was not with them when Jesus first appeared to him. Which does not mean, necessarily, that he was hiding someplace else.

In fact, that would be absolutely the opposite reaction from what we’ve come to expect from Thomas. John has previously reported that Thomas is quite brave and bold. When word comes to Jesus and the disciples that his friend Lazarus is dead, Jesus says “Let us go to him.” And Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This is not a statement of cynicism, but rather, one of courageous loyalty. (See John 11:5-16)

No, I suspect that Thomas was not hiding in that room or anywhere else. I suspect Thomas was already out in the world – checking things out, waiting to see when the time was right to bring his fellow disciples back out into the world to begin spreading the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

You see, Thomas gets it. He knows that there are worst things than death. What could be worse than death, you ask? Well, for me it would be never having fully lived at all. Like living your whole life ruled by anxiety and fear, instead of having it filled with hope and possibility. Yes, of course there’s danger in that. Possibility is a very dangerous thing. When you believe in possibility, and you put your belief into action, well, you might make a mistake. In fact, you could make a whole lot of mistakes. You might open your mouth and unintentionally hurt yourself – or, someone else. Or, do something that has unintended and unexpected outcomes.

Your plan might not all go exactly as planned. But, where would you be if you hadn’t tried? If you hadn’t been bold enough to risk coming out of what is safe and secure and trying to live what it is you say you believe?

Yes, of course, there is danger out there in the world. Thomas is not ruled by fear but by hope. He knows that the life of a disciple is hopeful and fully engaged with the world. But, Thomas is onto something even more important. When Thomas stands before the Risen Lord, he wants to touch him. That’s because Thomas knows that the risen Jesus is the real Jesus, and the real Jesus is a wounded Jesus. We know the authentic Jesus not by choirs of angels singing ‘round his throne, or rose petals falling all around him like soft rain from the sky, and a voice over by Charlton Heston saying, “This is Jesus, the Christ.”

Thomas knows that it is by his wounds that we know Jesus. If you want to see the real Jesus, if you want to know that Jesus is alive and at work in the world to touch and heal, look for the wounds. The wounds are the surest sign that this stranger is really the risen Christ. Thomas gets that. He gets that he’s going to know the risen Christ when he seeks to touch the wounded Christ.

Where are the wounds of Christ in the world? How can you seek them yourself? Well, I can not predict the exact state of the world 12 or 13 years from now, but I can tell you that today, the world is filled with wounded members of the Body of Christ. There are over one million deaths every year – one child dead every thirty seconds – from malaria, a disease that can be prevented with a mosquito net costing two dollars and fifty cents. One in five people in the world survive – or don’t survive – on less than a dollar a day. One person in seven tries to stay alive without access to clean water. A child dies in extreme poverty every three seconds. Over one third of all the children in Newark live below the poverty line.

These are the wounds of Christ in the world today. But, you don’t have to go to the Global South or the inner city of Newark to see the wounds of Christ. All of Christ’s followers can touch the wounded Body of Christ because Christ’s risen Body consists of every one of us – every baby, every grandmother, every teenager, every woman and man and child – who is in Christ, has been baptized into the Body of Christ.

Every time we take someone’s hand as we exchange the Peace, we touch the risen, living wounded Body of Christ. And, whether or not we want – or chose – to admit it, we are all wounded. We all hurt. We all have been deeply hurt. That’s part of what brings many of us to church. To experience the healing that happens when our wounds are touched by someone in the love and peace of God in Christ.

A lot of us have had that experience here, at St. Paul’s. Around shared joys or tragedies, in a bouquet of flowers or a casserole or a phone call or a note in an hour of need from a friend or someone we barely know. We experience the Risen Lord in a moment of shared vulnerability in a discussion at Christian Education Class or Confirmation Class or at Coffee Hour or Bible Study. In all of these ways, we’ve seen and served the risen, wounded, triumphant Christ in each other.

This is the real gift of your Baptism, Keira, a gift you will claim as your own at your Confirmation. You will be a full member in the risen wounded body of Christ. It is an amazing company of people, Keira. I know your parents well enough to know that they love Jesus and want you and your two older brothers to get to know Him and love Him and serve Him, as they have when they were members of the Peace Corps and as they continue to do in their vocation as parents to your wonderful family.

So, rejoice that you are being baptized on Doubting Thomas Sunday! May you always question. May you always seek after answers. May you be bold and courageous and loyal to what you say it is you believe. Our world needs more Doubting Thomases, Keira – more people who are willing to come from behind closed doors of safety and security to touch and heal the wounds we have in each other and ourselves.

When we do these things, then it is that we, like Thomas, will find ourselves exclaiming, “My Lord and My God!”

With love,

Rev'd Elizabeth

5 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Lovely Baptism sermon, Elizabeth.

And, whether or not we want – or chose – to admit it, we are all wounded. We all hurt. We all have been deeply hurt.

Indeed, that is so. That's why my blog is called "Wounded Bird".

Congratulations on your selection as an "Additional Favorite" blog at the . I am in august company.

Lisa said...

I've only given your letter a cursory reading, and I need to come back for a more careful reading.

Meanwhile, my dear, you've been tagged with the Six Weird Things meme. Reveal your six weird things if you dare. I did. But it took some pondering.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, I meant to say "at the Episcopal Café", but my link went all bad.

Hiram said...

Would that Bp Spong came to a rock solid faith in Christ as Lord and God, as Thomas did. Thomas' doubt lasted a week, but Bp Spong is a professional doubter.

Jason Lee Steorts wrote a review of Spong's latest book, "Jesus for the Undecided." It is in the National Review, and can be seen at
http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OTNkMzBlMzQ0MjkyNDUzOWQyMTMwMWVkN2Q4MmU1NDA=&w=MA==

He does not think Spong's ideas hold water -- and he shows why.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

And, in so doing, just increased the book sales by 75%. Well done.

People who read Jack Spong don't care if other theologians take apart his arguments. Indeed, it only increases their interest in what he has to say.

Have you ever considered, Hiram, that you probably spend as much time reading about what Spong has written as those who actually read what Spong has written?

What do you think that's all about?