Saturday, April 14, 2012

We Are Thomas

A Sermon Preached on the Second Sunday of Easter
15 April, 2012, Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB

Lections for Year B: Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." (John 20:29)

You may have seen this or a similar scene in any number of action movies or shows:

It's late in the film, the rescue scene. The hero has fought past hazards, moved immovable obstacles, defeated enemies, and when he/she finally arrives, the rescuee opens their (I'm trying to make this less sexist than action movies themselves are) eyes and says in a faint voice, "I knew you'd come".

Now think about the Easter story as an action movie (which is a cool thing to do, because it is an action story, really). Jesus has defeated death (no trivial opponent), come back from the grave (no small journey) including getting pasr a giant stone, and comes to rescue his friends the disciples from grief, hopelessness, and from their despairing thoughts that God maybe cannot do wonderful things after all. He appears in the room where they are gathered.

Does anyone say "Jesus, we knew you'd come"??

Nope. Not one. Not even in a faint voice.

In the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples in today's gospel reading from John, words of faith and certainty in Jesus' return are conspicuously absent. Sure the disciples rejoice, but they are surprised. Jesus has to show them his wounds before they rejoice. All the words that Jesus said about coming back to them after death apparently washed over them and were forgotten. As David Lose writes of this scene, "No one ... anticipates Jesus return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone."

All of this preamble is to take the heat of poor Thomas, the fellow missing from the first appearance of the risen Christ, who, when he learns about it, basically says "Risen? Are you guys NUTS? I won't believe it until I see it!" And for this he is labelled for all eterninty as "Doubting Thomas" and innumberable sermons have admonished congregations to "be faithful, and don't be a doubter like Thomas". Give the guy a break.

Has anyone been so full of faith that they didn't have doubts? I've known people, even clergy, who called themselves followers of Jesus but didn't think they had to believe that he had risen from the dead. And what if you do believe, somehwere inside, that Jesus rose, but have trouble connecting with the resurrection in moments of stress, or grief, or a feeling that God is distant, or amidst a culture that can be very hostile to Christianity? Aren't we all Thomas in those moments?

So what if the message of today is that it's ok to be a Thomas, even a blessing to be a Thomas? After Thomas gets his proof, Jesus says "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (John 20:19).

Who are those words addressed to? The first sentence, "Have you believed because you have seen me", seems to be addressed to Thomas, but the second sentence is open ended. It is as if Jesus is speaking to everyone, to all those across the gulf of time and places from the Jerusalem of Pilate's day to our own day and time. And what is he saying? Words of blessing, certainly. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe".

In his first appearance in today's gospel, when Jesus gives his peace to the disciples and breathes his spirit into them, he does so fully aware of their doubts and shaky faith. He knows, as he has known all along, that he is dealing with imperfect, ordinary people, and he blessed them anyway. In breathing on them, Jesus repeats the action of God in giving life to Adam in Genesis, and repeats the vision of Ezekiel, when God breathed life into the dry bones of Israel. That echo of creation suggests that the resurrection is bigger than Jesus. It suggests that resurrection is an act of recreation that Jesus wants to share with his followers.

If you are burdened by the idea that Easter is about not being a Doubting Thomas, then I encourage you to let that idea go. I don't think Easter is about having to believe in an abstract principle, that Jesus rose from the dead. I suggest instead that Easter is about God's desire to recreate his people and to breathe life into us, despite out doubts and fears.

In finishing his story, John states that he has written the story of Thomas, like many others, "so that you may come to believe". Note that John doesn't say "you must believe" but "so you may come to believe". That suggests to me a gradual process. I think faith is a process or a journey, something that we come to gradually and over time. Perhaps that is why the church observes six weeks of Easter, as a reminder that the resurrection is not a once for all event but an ongoing process.

For the rest of Easter, I will be focusing on the idea the resurrection as an ongoing process. I want to think a bit more about Jesus' last words today, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe", and how the blessing of Easter as re-creation might work in our lives.


Conrad Kinch said...

An engaging, well argued and written sermon. Not cruel enough to be called Swiftian, edging towards a Keble perhaps?

Mrs. Kinch was very impressed.

mad padre said...

My dear Kinch:

Your good opinion, and that of the most estimable Mrs. Kinch, that pearl amongst women, is most gratefully received. I suspect Keble might find my grammer and turns of phrase rather crude, but I would be honoured to be placed anywhere near him in man's estimation.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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