Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD
Acts 5.27-32 Psalm 118: 14-29 Revelation 1.4-8 John 20, 19-31
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This is the third year in a row that I’ve preached in this chapel on John’s account of so-called “Doubting Thomas.” And there have been other sermons in other places over the years that I’ve preached or listened to. It’s one of the few gospel lessons in our lectionary that doesn’t change from Year A to B to C. It’s always there – you just can’t get away from it.
On top of that I’ve never liked this gospel very much. I’m not sure why – maybe because it reminds me of the doubts that I carry deep within me and that I’d rather not acknowledge. Maybe I’m just a little too much like Thomas, with his skepticism, his demanding of evidence, asking why, wanting to verify facts. Thomas and I might both have made good investigative journalists. And another thing about Thomas and me – we both hate missing something – especially a momentous spiritual experience in our own community. We feel like we’ve missed something we can’t catch up with. Maybe there’s a little jealousy behind Thomas’s refusal to believe the testimony of the other disciples.
So that’s one thing I came face to face with this year – this business of Thomas being kind of a mirror of myself that I’d rather not admit.
And maybe that’s one reason we can’t get away from this reading. It’s like those people who make up the lectionary know we need to hear and confront it, over and over – at least once a year! We need to hold up Thomas as a mirror to our own skepticism, our own stubbornness, our own jealousy. We need to be confronted, regularly, with our own doubts and to ask the hard questions– not to dismiss them, not to feel guilty about them, but to bring them out into the light, to allow God to refresh our faith and to live honestly in our own time in history – that is living as authentic Christians in a secular world where religion is not only sidelined but hated by many, especially as the church becomes less trusted than our favourite news networks. And we need to ask the hard questions that open us to perceiving Jesus’ presence among us, to remember who we are as a minority in our society and how we share the gospel of love in that context.
How I would love to be part of some honest discussions among ourselves about this – what is each of our communities called to be, right now, in a time when the church seems to be sinking like the unsinkable Titanic. We can stand on the deck and sing “Nearer my God to thee” or we can ask questions. How can we reach out to those who are desperately seeking meaning in their lives but want to do it their own way, not necessarily in our chapel? How do we follow Jesus and share the gospel outside this building as well as in it?
Would anyone like to talk about Diana Butler-Bass’ recent blog about the table rather than the cross being the real point of Holy Week? I’d love to talk about contextual theology – how does the context in which we’re living now affect our understanding of the common cup, for instance? Can we share new wine in new wineskins, and what would that mean? How do we understand the atonement in an age when we are so sensitized to abuse? How does each of us deal with our vows when poverty and obedience mean such different things in the 21st century compared to Benedict in the sixth century. And how about chastity?
Oh, I have so many questions I’d like to sit down and just chat with you all about – not just in a formal context like Chapter, but in more informal, more intimate conversations, including our Xaviere sisters.
Thomas is a good model of what it means to believe, to ask the right questions, to share the gospel in a hostile world even as we explore the questions.
At the end of today’s passage, when Jesus had accommodated Thomas’ need for physical proof of the senses, he then adds, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Dean Robert Willis of Canterbury calls this the eighth Beatitude. But for me there is something missing that would make it a real beatitude. All the Beatitudes have a “results” clause added to the end: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” etc.
So I started thinking (continuing down this path of asking questions), why doesn’t that “blessed” have a results clause? Maybe because at this point in the narrative of Jesus’ life, we should know enough to be able to finish the sentence off with the “because” clause ourselves, in a way that addresses our own unique personality and context.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe, for they will sharpen their spiritual vision and deepen their faith.” Or “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe, for they will be able to share their faith with others who are also, like Thomas, dependent on their senses.”
Those are just a couple of suggestions that come out of my unique relationship with God. Each of you will have others. It would be a great spiritual exercise to try to finish that beatitude in a way that addresses your own spiritual place on your journey now, that helps open your own spiritual eyes.
I think that is exactly what all the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are about – they are about the blessings of believing without seeing physically, but rather opening our eyes to our spiritual senses, to be able to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, in the cooking of fish by the sea, in receiving a message of peace around the table with the disciples behind closed doors, having the scriptures opened by a stranger walking along a country road.
And especially in seeing Jesus in one another. All the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus happen in a community setting, with the possible exception of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene in the garden. Even there the disciples are not far off and she runs to tell them and gets Peter to come back with her. All the other resurrection stories have a group of women going to the tomb. In today’s reading, both appearances of Jesus happen in a closed room where the disciples have locked themselves in for fear of the authorities. In both stories of Peter and the disciples fishing, there is a group breakfast on the shore of the lake. In the Emmaus story, two disciples are walking along the road and when Jesus breaks the bread in that little group, they see him for who he is.
So open your spiritual eyes, because Jesus is going to show up at that table with us this morning as we follow his command to “do this in remembrance of me.” We will see him in the bread and wine, and we will see him in each other.