Where do you see the Risen Christ?
So here we are my friends…
eight days after the Resurrection.
Though the Resurrection stories vary, the bottom line is this…
several of the disciples have seen the Risen Christ…
Mary Magdalene first and then others behind locked doors which were no barrier to his presence.
In today’s gospel, Jesus comes again,
just as he did before
through locked doors appearing before the disciples…
but in this story Thomas (whose name unfortunately is synonymous with doubting) is seeing his Lord for the first time.
Having stated clearly that he must see the marks of the nails in his hand and his side in order to believe, Thomas now sees the Risen Lord with his own eyes.
Thomas was not the first person in the Bible to doubt.
In fact, he is only one in a long line of doubters, if you think about it…from Moses to Mary people said to God “How can this be?” and “please don’t send me, I can’t do that!” and “that can’t be true.” And even “why have you forsaken me, Lord?”
We hear in last week’s gospel from Luke that the male disciples didn’t believe the women
(sounds like an idle tale, they said)
and in Luke’s telling of the disciples on the road to Emmaus they didn’t recognize Jesus.
Mary Magdalene at the tomb wanted to hold on to Jesus because she wanted to make sure it was her Lord, but he told her not to.
And in the gospel of Matthew just before the ascension as the disciples are with Jesus when he gives the Great Commission, we are told they are still doubting!!
How many times have you not recognized Jesus?
The Holy is often beyond our recognition, isn’t it?
But the human spirit is made with a thirst that only the holy can quench,
an emptiness that only God can fill.
And no matter how much we doubt and disbelieve, the Holy will prevail.
How many times has God called,
and you and I have said “no Lord, I can’t go there, I can’t do that.”
I can’t sit at the bedside of my dying mother,
I can’t ask for forgiveness or offer forgiveness.
I can’t admit my mistakes.
How many times have you ministered to a person who doubted her own abilities and then watched as she was transformed as if by experiencing a brush with God.
All of that doubt in our own ability
and the abilities of others
is a way of doubting God’s ability to work through us,
doubting God’s gift of Love which transcends all other ways of being.
We, like Peter and the apostles in today’s reading from Acts,
must obey God rather than human authority.
God’s love endures forever,
God’s kindness pierces through time.
Thomas refuses to believe what all the others announce
"We have seen the Lord!"
He has to see for himself, he has to see his friend in his own way with his own eyes.
One week later,
Jesus reappears and says:
"Peace to you.
Turning to Thomas he says:
"Put your fingers here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
Be not doubting but believe."
Isn’t it so moving to see how Jesus meets and accepts Thomas
just as he is,
just where he is?
Jesus accepts Thomas’ challenge without complaint or criticism.
He responds to Thomas' need and cry
even if this need comes from a lack of trust.
Moved to tears,
Thomas cries out, even without touching Jesus,
“My Lord and my God!"
the most explicit confession of Jesus’ identity in the gospels.
“Have you believed because you have seen me? said Jesus
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”
(This blessing is for you and me…we are those who have not seen but believe, each in our own way.)
The gospel is written so that we may believe and have
the very life of God
that flows from God.
“O happy fault of Thomas who did not believe,
so that our belief may be founded upon his doubts,
which called forth this new apparition of Jesus!”
Thomas shows us that doubt is acceptable,
in fact it is self-surrender,
giving over our inner being to the love of God…and God can handle it! The heart of Christian spirituality is surrender to God,
which paradoxically opens our lives to a greater freedom that we could otherwise never have imagined.
Even given the various facts and stories,
what we do know is this…
despite the myriad of ways the disciples encountered the Risen Christ, whether with their eyes,
whether they ran to see him or ran away for fear,
something happened that was life changing for them,
that caused “awe and wonder,”
and propelled others to create a community that changed the world.
Huston Smith describes that community in his book The Soul of Christianity when he explains one of the earliest observations we have by an outsider about Christians.
“See how those Christians love one another.”
Smith goes on to say there were two qualities in which the early Christians’ lives abounded.
The first of these was mutual regard
and the second was happiness.
And he says that what produced this love and joy was that three intolerable burdens had been lifted from their shoulders.
They were free from the fear of death,
released from guilt,
and free from the cramping confines of ego.
No matter how they came to believe in the Risen Christ,
the mystery of the Resurrection being different for all of us…
what people say about us is that they know us by our love,
by our love, by our love,
they will know we are Christians by our love.
One of the great thrills of being in parish ministry is witnessing the countless ways that a congregation lives that love!
Where have you seen the loving presence of the living God in the last few weeks?
Ask a friend!