Friday, July 30, 2010

Easter 2 Evensong, 2010--St. Mark's Church, Berkeley

“Blessed are they who have not seen
and yet have come to believe.”

(John 20:29)
Year A: Easter 2

Genesis 8:6-16; 9:8-16
Psalm 118:19-24
John 20:19-31

Jan Robitscher
St. Mark’s Church

April 11, 2010

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

This day has several names: It is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Sometimes it is called “Low Sunday” because of low attendance after Easter. But it is also known as the Second Sunday of Easter, or “Thomas Sunday”, in honor of our Gospel reading, which is always heard on this day.

Maybe it should be called “Doubting Thomas Sunday”. After all, it was Thomas who insisted on seeing and touching Jesus for himself if he was going to believe that the Lord was truly risen from the dead. But I think Thomas gets a bad rap. Doubt--the ability to ask questions (or even to demand signs) is not the same thing as unbelief--willfully rejecting one’s faith. The opposite of faith is fear--not doubt.

Which reminds me of an occasion some 30 years ago. I can still picture the scene. While a student at the University of Notre Dame, I sat in the office of my spiritual director, the Dean the Episcopal Cathedral. We were talking about perceiving Jesus’ presence in Communion and in our daily lives and I blurted out, I WANT TO SEE JESUS!”

This was my “Doubting Thomas” moment. Wisely, the Dean did not panic! Instead, he remained calm and I still remember what he said:
“I understand that you want to see Jesus, but
it is not given to us to see Him physically in
this life.”

Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he told Thomas:
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet
have come to believe.”

Jesus’ words came at the end of the story, but let’s back up a bit. Thomas, who was not present the first time Jesus appeared in resurrection form, wanted to be sure that the Jesus he was now seeing was the same one whose Passion he had witnessed. And he was looking for something quite specific; the wounds of Jesus. Why should this make a difference in his ability to believe?

The only way for him to tell was to see and touch the wounds. He did indeed see them, though the Scripture never tells us that he touched them. Perhaps it was enough for him to hear Jesus’ invitation to do so. Thomas response was to acclaim Jesus’ divinity--that God was in their very midst.

All well and good for Thomas! But I wanted to say as a retort to the Dean’s gentle reply, “IT’S NOT FAIR! THOMAS GOT TO SEE JESUS!”

Like Thomas, we want to see Jesus; to relate to him physically as our earthly Master. But if Thomas is our model in doubt, he must also be our model in faith. Thomas was invited by Jesus into a transformation as remarkable as Jesus’ own resurrection.

Moreover, Jesus wanted to relate to the disciples, to Thomas--and to us--in a spiritual way, as a friend, even as he said (seemingly) so long ago:
“I do not call you servants any longer, because
the servant does not know what the master is doing;
but I have called you friends, because I have made
known to you everything that I have heard from
my Father.” (Jn. 15:15)


“Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet
have come to believe.” (Jn 20:29)

So what are we to do? We must come to faith the same way Thomas did, except that we do not have the benefit of being able to see Jesus. How do we do this?

First, we must KNOW the wounds of Jesus. This is not as easy as it sounds. We seem to be much better at keeping the disciplines of Lent than the joys of Easter, but I am not sure we can really celebrate Easter if we do not really KNOW the wounds of Jesus; meditate on them, look beyond our own roundedness to them. Remember, it was by his wounds that Thomas recognized Jesus.

We don’t hear much about sharing in Jesus’ sufferings in our own roundedness. This is a hard process, but a vital one if we are to know Jesus as a friend--and this is important. But looking beyond our own wounds, both individually and as a community, will lead us to share in Jesus’ sufferings as we share in the sufferings of others, whether family or friends, the hungry we feed here at St. Mark’s or those who are suffering around the world. Perhaps the most remarkable reversal of all is that we cannot look beyond our own wounds to KNOW the wounds of Jesus unless we allow him to touch them. Jesus must be able to touch our wounds in order for us to touch his--or at least to hear his invitation as Thomas did.

Then we can--we must--allow the risen Christ to raise us up after we have known the wounds (that is, God’s pain) and felt them in ourselves and in others. Then we can acclaim with Thomas:

May this Easter Season be a time for us to risk doubt that we might come to a deeper faith; to know God’s wounds that we nay be healed; to be willing to share in Jesus’ sufferings in ourselves and in the sufferings of others; to come to believe without having to see Jesus--and all that we may have life in His name. Amen.

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