Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
RCL – Easter 2 C – Sunday 11 April 2010
Hallelujah, the Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Hallelujah!
My Lord and my God, our Lord and our God, we thank you for the Beloved Disciple. We thank you for his account of your life, death and resurrection. We thank you for his writing audacity.
He shows us the disciples, the founders of our Christian community as faltering in their faith and understanding of you. Even in your resurrected, incarnated presence, they needed help. In the end, just like them, we can only draw our next breath and rely on your Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Advocate, to help us live in faith.
It is Sunday evening, the disciples, most of them, are cowering in a house they hope is safe. For good measure, they have locked the doors. They are afraid and frazzled. They are wondering about so many things.
Will someone denounce them to the authorities as the followers of Yeshua of Nazareth who was executed 2 days ago? Will someone accuse them of stealing his body from his tomb? That crime alone would call for death under roman law. Why is Mary Magdalene saying she saw the Lord alive? What did she really see? Is Jesus really alive? Didn't he mention that he would come back from the dead?
The disciples are living in fear and guilt. Then Mary Magdalene's witness is suddenly validated when Jesus is amongst them. "Peace to you" he says to them. As if to assuage their enduring doubts, he shows them his wounds. This is the man some of them saw die on the cross. And yet he is alive amongst them. "Peace to you" Jesus breathes on them. And suddenly, a certainty dawns on them. They know this is Jesus without the shadow of a doubt. A new creation is happening in them.
Later, after Jesus is no longer with them, Thomas returns to them. This disciple whose name is a nickname meaning "The Twin" is not a timorous disciple. While his friends live under the siege of their own fears, he is out and about. Is he ministering to others in the Jesus community? This is the disciple who answered "Let us also go that we might die with him" when Jesus turned towards Jerusalem. This is the disciple whom the tradition says will cross the Persian empire and reach India to evangelize people on his way.
He is a man of his time and a man ahead of his time by several centuries. He does not explicitly disbelieve that his fellow disciples have seen a risen Jesus. In that, he is a man of his time. A modern person would self-censor themselves to not possibly believe such a thing that goes against accepted rationality and is possibly the result of emotions and impressions. But Thomas does not reject the witness of his friends. He demands empirical verification. He will believe on his terms. How modern is that?
Now Thomas is not alone in his phase of conditional belief. That morning, Peter visited the empty tomb. He saw the linens that had been deliberately put aside. And Peter went home puzzled but not believing in the risen Jesus yet.
Mary Magdalene visited the empty tomb too. She saw angels there. Yet she still functioned on rationalizations: "someone, somehow must have moved his body, but where?" She only came to belief once her name was called out by the resurrected One standing in front of her. Mary Magdalene, not unlike Thomas, also wanted to touch Jesus, even to cling to him.
After she goes home to tell the tale, the locked-up disciples don't give credence to Mary Magdalene's account of the risen Jesus; they doubt her, they doubt Jesus. Even risen from the dead, Jesus has to work on the disciples. They don't abandon fear and disbelief so easily to move into faith and peace.
If Thomas is more guilty than any other disciple, it is not for his doubt, but for his pride in enouncing his methodology for arriving at faith.
And a week later, Jesus graciously offers Thomas the possibility to put his methodology to use. "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side." But Jesus also adds: "Do not doubt but believe." Some translators argue that the greek verb should actually be rendered: "Do not doubt but continue believing." A much less contrasted enjoinder and one that reflects more of our own Christian experience, I suspect. In any case, it is an invitation most of us need to hear again and again: "Do not doubt but believe, continue believing."
It seems likely that Thomas desists from testing Jesus' wounds. In all likelihood, Thomas also received the Holy Spirit in Jesus' words and did not need any further help to believe. On the contrary, Thomas now makes a portentous theological statement. He recognizes both natures of Jesus; "My Lord and my God." Thomas recognizes the human master he has followed all these years, even to the risk of his life. And he recognizes the divine master who is one with God.
With God's help, Thomas has transcended his own rationalism to arrive to faith. As the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud will write much later in his prose poem "Bad Blood": "I am no prisoner of my own reason. I have said: God!"
And so, it is important to see how Jesus helps these frazzled, fearful, unbelieving founders of our faith community. He gives them the experience necessary for them to come to terms with his divinity. And through the evangelist, Jesus reaches through the ages to you and I when he says to Thomas: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Leo the Great said (in his sermon #74 "of the Lord's Ascension):
" In a mysterious way (Christ) began to be more present to (the disciples) in his godhead once he had become more distant in his humanity... The faith of the believer was being drawn to touch, not with the hand of the flesh but with the understanding of the Spirit, the only-begotten Son, the equal of his Father. "Within a generation or two of the scene we have just relived, no follower of Jesus would any longer have the experiential knowledge of the physical Jesus. Christians could no longer rely upon such experience to prop up their faith.
You and I can no longer use our senses to experience the living Jesus, or can we?
In community, in worship, in prayer and in mission, Christ is alive. You can taste and see the Lord if you do not doubt but continue believing. And know that you cannot do that on your own but that the Holy Spirit is always with you to enable you to continue believing, if only you will let it help you.
Shortly, you will come forward to partake of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Taste and see. Jesus was, is and always shall be with you. And you will take Him wherever you go.
As Teresa of Avila prayed:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours;
yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion looks out on the world,
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.
And so, my Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe that Jesus is alive and is the Son of God. Through believing may you have life in his name. Peace to you from the Lord Jesus, the Creator of All and the Holy Spirit.