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PreachMarch 31, 2024
Photo courtesy of iStock.

“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!” This is how Kim Harris starts her homily for the Second Sunday of Easter—in joyous song. “When Thomas first the tidings heard / How they had seen the risen Lord / He doubted the disciples’ word. Alleluia!...”

Such daring from the ambo has long struck a controversial chord with preachers and liturgists alike, prompting “Preach” host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., to ask his guest about her choice to start her homily in song. Kim, the assistant professor of African American Religious Thought and Practice at Loyola Marymount University, swiftly responds.

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“Not only am I a singer,” explains Kim, who is also a cantor, composer, recording artist and liturgical consultant for the Office of Black Ministry in the Archdiocese of New York. “But also, the idea of a preacher who sings as a part of their homily is part of many African American cultural traditions,” she adds. “The songs carry so many of our stories, hopes, and beliefs, and what we’re thinking about and believing and preaching about.”

That is the reason why one might consider singing in the homily. “Use it for a very specific purpose to tell a specific story,” Kim advises. Sometimes you sing because the song offers a pithier and more memorable summation of a Scripture passage that’s instantly recognizable. “The story is right there in the song,” she explains. “And then sometimes, you’ll hear people use a bit of a song at the end of a homily to just kind of go back and lift up a main point.”

Listen to “Preach” as Kim shares her strategies for approaching well-known biblical narratives, such as Doubting Thomas in today’s Scriptures, in a fresh and insightful manner. She also offers guidance on interpreting Scripture with reverence for its historical context while remaining sensitive to contemporary challenges, like ableism, that confront congregations today.

The early Christian communities “were telling these stories to each other, and then eventually writing down these stories from their context,” Kim says. “But we, in our context, do think about it in a wider kind of way—do want to bring together so many different people who we are now recognizing in a way that we haven’t recognized through the years.”

Scripture Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Second Reading: 1 Jn 5:1-6
Gospel: Jn 20:19-31

You can find the full text of the readings here.

A homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B, by Kim Harris

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! / When Thomas first the tidings heard / How they had seen the risen Lord / He doubted the disciples’ word, alleluia!

That is one of my favorite songs for the Easter season. And when we think about this story of so-called Doubting Thomas, we know that the disciples had emphatically said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” Now in Jesus’ time, news had to be passed from person to person, word of mouth. Now, maybe there was a scroll that a traveler could carry with them, or even a codex. Now, my students at Loyola Marymount University, they love that, when I say to them, “Remember, back in those days a scroll or a codex (sort of a Roman form of a book)—that was the social media of their day.” And my students get a big kick outta that. But that’s how news had to spread. And it took a while for news to spread. 

You all remember that Emmaus story that we also hear during the Easter season? You know, Luke 24:13-35, remember that story? And how the travelers walking along the road asked Jesus, who they did not yet recognize, they say: “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Well, in our time, it’s much different. We can hear and sometimes even see things almost instantaneously. And our friend Thomas, in the story that we hear in today's Gospel—well, he didn't have the advantages that we have.

You probably remember the story of Darnella Frazier, who courageously filmed the murder of George Floyd on her phone. Images that went out so quickly around the world and sparked protests around the world. You, of course, know of that footage that we see day by day of the wars in Ukraine, of what’s happening in Gaza, in the Sudan, in Haiti, and tragically, so many other places. We can see those things so quickly. And you probably remember watching the insurrection right here in the United States in real time. I remember sitting at the TV with tears streaming down my face, watching the Capitol being overrun. We can see it all so quickly in stark and heartbreaking images. Images from which we often want to and need to and have to turn away. So that’s why, when I hear this story about Thomas, I don’t blame him at all. Because, you know, he heard about what had been going on.

He heard about that state-sponsored execution, that crucifixion of Jesus. And he knew that there were crucifixions going on all the time, because unfortunately, that was the reality in occupied Judea at the time of Jesus—and all over the Roman Empire. He also heard that story from his friends who were still hiding in that upstairs room, talking about how they had seen the Lord. So I don’t blame Thomas for wanting some kind of proof. I mean, you all know how word of mouth can often be notoriously unreliable. 

Now, actually, in our day, right now, I have come to admire Thomas. After he finally saw and touched Jesus, he believed and said, “My Lord and my God!” In our time, when we can so easily hear and see, we so often still don’t believe. We often don’t believe the fear under which so many oppressed peoples have to live day-to-day-to-day.

We so often don’t believe about those who are underserved by our society, who have poor healthcare and disproportionately die from diseases that have long since had easily available remedies. We see, and yet we don’t believe—about food deserts or poisoned drinking water in poor education systems. We see, and yet we don't believe, even as right up to this very moment, we watch famine develop in real time. We’re more likely to believe in the coming solar eclipse, even though not all of us will get to see it because of our locations or cloud cover. Yet we hear about that and we believe. But we have to—we must—believe and remember: What is a tenant of our faith?

A tenet that we hear earlier in the Gospel of John, right there in John 1:14 where it says, “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” And we must believe the truth. 

So we must know in this Easter season, in our time, that the risen Christ is still among us, showing us his wounded hands and feet and side. We must believe that the risen Christ is still among us in the wounds of so many people in our world. We must believe that the risen Christ is among us in the wounds of so much in our natural world. 

Now, as I grew up, I remember always saying that I did not want to be like doubting Thomas. I wanted to be among the blessed who did not see and yet believed. But now I think that I—I think that we need to be more like Thomas to follow his lead and to say, “My Lord and my God!” 

In our day, in our time, we have so much ability to see “everything everywhere all at once,” as they say. And so we must put away our unbelief and know that we are seeing Jesus in the wounds of the poor and oppressed. We are seeing Jesus in the wounds of refugees and migrants. We are seeing Jesus as we see those who are living through and dying because of the ravages of war and famine. And in them and through them, we are seeing the Lord. And we must not only say “My Lord and my God,” but we must take our belief out into the world through our actions for justice, for righteousness and for peace. And we must believe and proclaim what we sing once again in this Easter season and throughout most of the rest of the liturgical year about God’s glory—glory to God in the highest! And we must remember and live out in our words, in our thoughts, in our hearts and in our actions those first words that Jesus said to his friends when he came to them in that upstairs room, even though the doors were locked. What did he say? “Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. Salaam. Shalom.”

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