Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sermon for March 30, Easter 2

Acts 2:14, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:91-31

Thomas Takes a Leap

We read that the doors were locked. They must have been afraid. Afraid of the authorities, who might round them up as well.

And I think afraid of Jesus too, because if the first report of the resurrection was true, they had no idea of what was going on, and in their guilt and shame of having deserted him they would have been afraid of him.

We read that Jesus passed through the doors. Don’t assume that he was insubstantial like a ghost. I think the opposite, that his resurrected body is of an even more substantial nature than anything else, that compared to him, the doors were soft as clouds, that his new creation makes the old one ghostly and vapid by comparison.

Our mental categories do not suffice to comprehend his resurrected body, but this we surmise: he is physical, and yet unlimited by his physicality; unbounded, so that he now enjoys a perfect unity of intention and action, of desire and result. Jesus is able to pass through the doors of their resistance, because he wants to. He is able.

We read that twice he said to them, "Peace be with you." One time for their outer fear of the authorities, and a second time for their inner fear from guilt and shame. He breathes on them to heal them inside and also to inspire them to face the uncertainties outside.

We read that on Easter evening Thomas was not there, and that during the week he did not believe what the others reported. We read that the next Sunday evening, Easter 2, the Thomas who was behind jumps out ahead by calling Jesus "my Lord and my God."

This is a wonder. No one had expected this, least of all Thomas. He was only looking for his rabbi returned, his leader brought back like Lazarus, and suddenly he finds himself leaping into something new, and jumping to a conclusion that no one had been looking for.

This is the first time anyone has come this far, recognizing Jesus as "Lord and God." He’s using the technical terms for God from the Torah. Thomas has just joined the ranks of Moses and Isaiah and Ezekiel, that he looks on God. Thomas is the first to land on the defining doctrine of Christianity, that this man Jesus, who suffered, died, and rose again, is also God.

This was Thomas – not a member of the inner circle, like Peter, James, and John. He was the skeptic of the twelve, the guy who always said, "yeah right." During the week he had said, "Maybe, guys, but seeing is believing." So then, what did this skeptic see in Jesus suddenly to make the leap to call him Lord and God?

If you saw God, how would you know it was God? By what signs would you recognize God? A burning bush, a pillar of fire, the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai, the burning wheels and four living creatures of Ezekiel, signs deserving of divinity. But Thomas looks on the signs deserving of degradation.

The open wounds in Jesus’ hands and side. They are obviously the proof that this is that same body that was killed, they are the proof that this is that same guy, but how are they the indicators of divinity? Signs of torture and abuse. Badges of suffering, of pain, of loss and grief. Emblems of sacrifice.

Well, I guess what Thomas intuits are that the wounds of love are the new signs of God’s glory. Can this be a wounded God? If this is God, what kind of God is this? For Thomas it’s not just a new vision of his rabbi, for Thomas it’s also a whole new vision of what God is like. And that will take some working out. The whole New Testament has to work that out. The little communities of Jesus’ followers have to work that out.

And look how kindly and patient this God is with us. Look how Jesus deals with Thomas. Jesus offers him the proofs he demanded. Jesus invites him, but he also challenges him. The invitations of Jesus are always challenges. He calls him to jump past his conditions. "Come on Thomas, don’t be unbelieving but believing." This is as much about you as it is about me.

So which is true, that seeing is believing, or that believing is seeing? That if you start from the open and vulnerable attitude of belief, you can see much more than you expect? Thomas sees more deeply into God than anyone had before, including Moses and Ezekiel. Here is a first class example of imagination achieving reality. Any scientist will tell you that is how it has to be.

This story is the climax of the gospel of John, and it specifically mentions us, who have not seen Jesus but who yet believe. This story ends by blessing us. We have to go one step further than Thomas did, we have to make an even further leap. We have to believe without seeing at all. We only get to see the text upon the page, and the only voice of Jesus that we hear is when he’s quoted by others in the church. Are you able to make the leap?

It is a weekly leap, a daily leap. It’s hardly automatic. But the goal of it is that once you land in this new spot, and you look around, everything else looks different too. You see the whole world from a new angle. This is the Christian version of enlightenment. It requires the energy of love.

Touching is good, seeing is better, believing is best.* Because we are animals we need to touch. Because we are primates, and up there with the chimpanzees and the parrots and dolphins and killer whales and whatever is the latest brilliant animal, we need to see. Because we are spiritual animals we need to believe.

It is in believing that we see the new creation that is begun in Jesus Christ, it is in believing that we can see other people in terms of forgiveness and peace, and we can touch the world with our hands to make new signs of reconciliation, the handicraft of healing and comforting and encouragement. It is in believing that we can bear the wounds in our hands and our bodies that we will get from working for reconciliation and for peace.

Touching is good, seeing is better, believing is best. What you touch you can see in terms of what you have heard about Jesus, and what you see you can imagine in terms of what you believe. By your belief you are transcendent, and you are blessed.

Copyright © 2008 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

*This line is from N T Wright.

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