A Sermon for the First Eucharist of Sarah Dawson
Habakkuk 2.1-4; Ephesians 2.19-end; John 20.24-29
It is a great pleasure and an enormous privilege to be here this morning. I bring you greetings from Derby Cathedral, where I minister. Thank you to Joabe for the invitation. Thank you also to Sarah. I’ve known Sarah since I was 11. She and I have laughed, cried and gossiped our way together through our lives for a long time now. It is a real joy and delight to be here when she presides at the Eucharist for the first time.
Some words from the Gospel this morning: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Today we gather to celebrate with Sarah, to share bread and wine, which are for us the body and blood of Christ. And we also gather to thank God for St Thomas, one of Jesus’ first disciples and an apostle of the church. In the midst of all of this, we hear Jesus talking about seeing and believing. Seeing and believing are still things that are important in our world today. Seeing and believing are things that we encounter as we hold in our hands and taste on our lips the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Seeing and believing are bound up with what it means for Sarah to be a priest. Seeing and believing are bound up with what it means for all of us to be Christians.
We know Thomas, above all as one who doubts. ‘I won’t believe until I see’, he says. Today we thank God for Thomas and so we thank God for doubters. Thank God for those who doubt, for those who ask questions, for those who don’t accept things at face value. Thank God because they are the ones who enlarge our vision, they are the ones who save us from falling into the traps of easy solutions to difficult problems; they are the ones who make us question ourselves. Thank God for doubts and questions. We all have them. We all need them. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is an important part of how our faith develops and grows. Sarah’s role as priest here is to ask questions, and sometimes to ask uncomfortable questions. That is how she will help us to grow in faith. Your role is to ask Sarah questions, and sometimes they will be uncomfortable questions. That is how we help Sarah to grow in faith. Thank God for doubts and questions, they enlarge our faith and they help us to see more of God.
Thomas doubts and asks questions. When he meets Jesus, he is shown the scars of the cross. ‘Put your finger here and touch my hands and my side’, says Jesus. ‘Touch my scars.’ Today we thank God for Thomas, and so we thank God for scars. The scars I have on my body are part of my story. There is the scar on my ankle from where I trod on a saw at Scout camp; the scar on my wrist where my friend’s dog bit me. And I have other scars, invisible, but no less part of my story and who I am. I am not unique in this, and my scars are not bad ones. We all have scars, visible and invisible. Scars are not wounds. Scars were wounds, but they have healed. Scars, visible or invisible, give us hope that what wounds us now can be healed. Scars stop us pretending that in life, or in the Christian life, we won’t get hurt. We do and we will. In that hurt that has been healed there is a gift that we bring to others who hurt and need healing. Sarah too bears scars. They are gifts, not to Sarah, but to all of us who receive her healing ministry. But a health warning for us all, do not mistake wounds for scars. Wounds need treatment, and if you are wounded you should get that treatment. We can be gifts to one another if we bring our scars, as hope that wounds can be healed and to stop us pretending that we have no wounds. Thank God for scars, they are hope and honesty for a wounded world. They help the wounded and the hurting see God.
We thank God for Thomas, and so we thank God for doubts that enlarge our faith and we thank God for scars that give us hope for healing. When Thomas speaks to Jesus, his words are ‘My Lord and my God.’ As we thank God for Thomas, we thank God for Jesus. The lives of the saints are windows through which we see the life of Jesus. That’s why we celebrate St Thomas, St Barnabas and all the saints. As Sarah stands behind the altar to preside at the Eucharist, she is not there just as Sarah. She is there to help us to encounter Jesus, to touch and taste and see Jesus. The American theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that Christians should live lives that only make sense if the resurrection of Jesus is true. Our lives should only make sense if the resurrection of Jesus is true. Our prayers, our generosity, our love, how we deal with our enemies, how we speak, how we listen. All of these things are ways in which Jesus is part of our lives. Jesus lives in us. Thank God for that. St Paul tells us that we are ‘a dwelling place for God’. All of our lives are windows through which Jesus can be seen. So thank God for Jesus, who lives in us and who can be seen in our lives.
Today we thank God for Thomas, and we thank God for doubts, for scars and for Jesus. And then Jesus tells Thomas ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ It is not enough to see Jesus, we have to make Jesus known for those who do not see him. Christianity is not a religion of clever words and holy people. It is a religion that stems from the way that God came to live among us and share the stuff of our life. We do not bring Jesus to people in words, we help people find Jesus in the stuff of their lives. It is not enough to see Jesus, we are to make Jesus known to those who do not see him. That is a priestly task. It is a task for Sarah, as she presides at the Eucharist, helps us to see Jesus in bread and wine that are for us the body and blood of Jesus. It is a task for all of us, as we help a broken and damaged world, see Jesus in the stuff of their lives. That will need our doubts and our questions; that will need our scars; that will need our lives as windows in which Jesus can be seen.
Thank God for Sarah, for his work in her life and the gifts that she brings to us. Pray for her and look after her. Thank God for Thomas, Apostle of Jesus. May his story help and enrich our stories. Thank God for doubts and questions, which help us see more of God. Thank God for scars, which give us hope for healing and honesty about our woundedness. Thank God for Jesus, who lives in and is seen through our lives. And let us take all of this to the altar where we meet Jesus in bread and wine, and are sent to help others see Jesus in their lives. Amen.
First given at St Barnabas, Micham 3.7.16.