In the Name...
A few years ago, a friend of mine in the funeral business told me that when an atheist - someone who doesn't believe God exists - dies and is laid out for the viewing, he's all dressed up with nowhere to go. An agnostic, on the other hand - someone who doubts that God exists - is all dressed up and waiting to be asked out.
This morning's Gospel from John, describing Jesus' appearances in the Upper Room, is traditionally read every year on this Sunday right after Easter Day and, because of the incident with Thomas, we sometimes hear this day referred to as "Doubting Thomas Sunday." It's a pity, though, because Thomas has become something of a comical figure in the popular mind, a less than faithful disciple.
But, he deserves to be remembered better than this. Thomas did not refuse to believe. He wanted to believe. In fact, it was because of his faith, his obedience, that Jesus gave him a sign and that sign did not create belief in Thomas, it merely released the belief that was already in him.
You see, Thomas is no doubter when it comes to Jesus. He made that clear earlier in John's Gospel. When Jesus insisted on going to Judea, while others advised him not to for his own safety, it was Thomas who spoke up, "Let us also go with him that we may die with him." And it is Thomas, alone of all the disciples, who today correctly identifies who Jesus really is - My Lord and my God.
You and I are reading this story a full week after Easter and we've all gone to work or school or done other things as we've gotten on with the routine of our lives, but, we need to remember that, for the disciples, this was all part of the same day, the evening of the morning. The day after the week that had gone from the heady triumph of Palm Sunday to the crashing horror of Good Friday.
Emotions are all over the place. Shock, depression, betrayal, empty tombs, hysterical women, wild stories. This was their life and it was a mess. No wonder Thomas went outside to clear his head and connect with the reality of the city. Hello, guys, there's a world outside the Upper Room. He actually seems to be the most sensible of the lot.
It's true that when the other disciples tell Thomas, "We have seen the Lord", Thomas doubts them, and why not? They're not exactly the most stable bunch. And what does it mean to "see", anyway? The "seeing" of the disciples could be a mental, not physical, experience. They might be deluded. Mass hysteria. They've been under severe strain.
Lest we underestimate the power of hallucination, by the way, we may recall the Nobel Prize winning economist John Nash shared a college dorm room and worked every day for years with a close friend who existed only in his “beautiful mind.”
It is Thomas who clears up the matter for us in no uncertain terms. It is Thomas who lays to rest any charge that this is some trickery or mirage. The proof that Jesus has risen is the proof that he had died - the marks, the jagged, gaping gashes, left by the nails and spear. And so, he identifies Jesus, for the first time by anyone in the Gospels, "My Lord and my God". Not even Peter made that leap.
True, Peter had once asserted that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God, but, lots of people had different ideas about the Messiah, who he would be and where he would come from and what he would do, and Jesus himself noted in debates with the Pharisees that there were lots of interpretations of the phrase "Son of God" floating around. Messiah and Son of God could mean anything, really. Thomas, however, gets right to the point. Jesus is God and there's no finessing that.
The story is told of one of the great monastic saints. One evening while meditating in his cell, he experienced a vision of Christ in all his glory and majesty, gold crown, Eucharistic robes, radiating bright light, and this splendiferous Christ in the vision said, "Bow down and worship me." The great saint was about to when he paused and asked, "Show me the wounds." And, at that instant, the vision vanished. Satan, you see, is a deceiver, and he can imitate many things, but, he cannot imitate love, the love which took Jesus to the Cross, the love and the marks of which, Thomas seems to have understood at a deeper level than the others.
Thomas knows exactly what to look for because the wounds are what our God is all about and any god without them is no God at all, but, a golden calf. The wounds mean that our God not only knows our pain, but, is in our pain. Our God not only understands our suffering and grief, he is in them, with us.
When we are confronted by the death of a loved one, Christ is in the midst of it. When we, or others we know, face depression, sickness, loneliness, injustice, abuse, whatever, we know that Christ is in the midst of it. Our wounds are very much part of us and Christ bears them eternally so that we don't have to.
"My Lord and my God" is the earliest creedal statement in the Church's life. Creedal statement. We usually think of a creed in terms of the Nicene or Apostles', a statement of belief written by theologians, but, the Latin roots of the word "creed", "credo", are not far removed from the word "cardio" or "heart." The things in which I say I believe are the things to which I give my heart and there is no doubting that is exactly what Thomas did. He gave his heart to the One who gave us his Sacred Heart, his divine love.
We live in a world that desperately needs to know the heart of God. We often hear that 90% of Americans believe in God and 85% call themselves Christians and that's nice. But, various polls show that only about 7 out of 10 Christians say they really believe that Jesus is God. That means half the people in this country have doubts about Christ and it's up to us to show them the wounds, the love of God, and the peace and hope we receive in return.
When we come to the altar, we encounter Jesus in the flesh just as Thomas did. In the Eucharist, we reach out our wounded hands to hold his wounded body and that's when we see him as Thomas did. So hold him. Touch him. Feel him breathe on you the Holy Spirit. And then let him send you so that others will know him as we know him, "My Lord and my God."
It seems there's lot of people waiting to be asked out. No doubt about that. So, let's ask them in.
In the Name...