Sunday, April 7, 2013

There is a "Doubting Thomas" in Each One of Us

2nd Sunday of Easter

Gospel John 20:19-38

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

 The gospel for today is so important that it is used every year on this 2nd Sunday of Easter. It is the Good News of Forgiveness and Mission and Faith. The Gospel begins with the account of the locked doors to remind us that despite our locked (mental and spiritual) doors , God is always trying to break through to us--to offer us freedom, healing and salvation. Jesus, having passed through the locked doors of the Upper Room on the evening of his Resurrection, stands in the midst of His hiding, fearful friends, and offers them a blessing: "Peace be with you".

These are the first words that the Risen Jesus speaks to anyone, and he speaks it to them, most of whom have deserted him and one who has outright denied him -- They are highly unlikely words -- for certainly the terrified group must have been expecting a reprimand instead--These words are so unlikely, in fact, that Jesus had to give His greeting of Peace 3x for them to get it, and with each repetition, He offers them (and us) a different gift .. With His first greeting, Jesus silences the disciples' guilt and their apologies before they even have a chance to utter them...By speaking pre-emptively, Jesus is telling us that he holds none of our flaws and failings against us, that all is forgiven, that he really meant his last words from the Cross "forgive them for they know not what they do."., and that as often as we have true sorrow in our hearts for our offenses, He is there, offering forgiveness and mercy, giving us the peace which only He can give. And immediately after proving to those gathered that it was really He, by showing them His wounded hands and side, Jesus at once gives them the great commission to continue his saving work. "As the Parent God has sent me, so I send you...."

Just as the Trinitarian God breathed on the waters of chaos at creation, Jesus breathes His life-giving Spirit on his confused followers with an immediate creative effect, imparting to them the power to create reconciliation, the power in Him to build and hold community together. Jesus makes his disciples responsible for continuing the work of Love and Mercy that God began in sending the Son. It is fitting to consider, with Holocaust Remembrance Day being tomorrow, the degree to which we are to forgive, the magnitude of the mission we have been given [this prayer was found by side of a dead child at a concentration camp at the end of WWII]:

"O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but all those of ill will. Do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us; but remember the fruits we have wrought thanks to this suffering--our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart, which has grown out of all of this. And when they come to judgment, let these fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen." [In Search of Belief, Joan Chittister, p. 190]

Having seen the Risen Lord with their own eyes, the privileged few of today's Gospel can hardly dis-believe Jesus' Rising from the dead, but, as we've heard, they had little success in persuading Thomas who wanted to see for himself. If I had been a disciple in that Room, I'm sure I would have been a doubter right along with Thomas, and indeed there have been many times in my life when I have had my doubts about the ability of the Good to permanently win over evil. And that is alright, for as we see, Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for his skepticism, and is willing to give him every opportunity to restore his faith...

You may recall that, when Jesus decided to travel to Bethany to raise Lazarus, all the disciples knew then, that Jesus' traveling so close to Jerusalem meant that he would meet his destined death, and it was Thomas on that occasion (acting all brave), who said, "Let us go too and be killed along with him.".... But, of course, after Jesus' excruciating, terrible death, Thomas understandably suffered a crisis of faith (again, something we all have repeated bouts with in our lives), and so we can easily identify with his sorrow and sense of humiliation at meeting the glorified Christ face to face, whereupon he falls to his knees, crying aloud, "My Lord and My God!"

Jesus understood Thomas' (and our) faith struggles because He himself, dying on the cross, felt forsaken, too. Jesus honored Thomas' doubts because Jesus could see that once Thomas worked through them, he would be one of the surest voices of the faith, and would eventually found 7 churches in India before being martyred for what remains to this day the Syro-Malabar Christian faith. In just 6 short weeks before He left this earth, Jesus succeeded in changing not only Thomas but many other cowardly disciples into fearless evangelists, and this is the most convincing evidence for the Resurrection.

It is astounding to consider that although there was a only a handful of followers hiding in the Upper Room the night of the Resurrection, by the Ascension 40 days later (according to Acts 1:15) there are 120 people awaiting the Spirit of Pentecost, by Acts 2 we read that 3,000 people were asking for Baptism in response to Peter's Pentecost sermon and after that, witnesses were proclaiming Christ openly in the streets, in jail cells, in the catacombs, and in the Colosseum awaiting their deaths. (this is no conspiracy, for while many people will lie to keep themselves out of trouble, no one makes up a story to get themselves tortured and killed)

We today, two thousand years later, believe in Jesus' Resurrection not because we have seen, but because we know historically as well as from first-hand experience, the power of faith-filled Love in others who have believed. "Blessed are they who have not seen and still believe." This is Jesus' 9th Beatitude ...his final prescription for happiness...which is to say.... Happy are they who have faith in God, faith in the future which is eternal, and faith in their ability to overcome the challenges before them. For they are at peace. We do not touch the Lord’s hands and side as Thomas did, but we believe that Jesus is alive and that he touches us. "We believe that we shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" [Ps 27:13] --the 'land of the living' being both the here and now and the ever-after. We believe, Lord, help our unbelief.

Written by Associate Pastor Mary Wagner

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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