Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Sermon Easter 2 2015

Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1.1-2.2
John 20:19-31

Poor Thomas, I think posterity has been unkind to him. We are used, of course, to calling him “doubting Thomas” as though he was the only disciple who ever had any doubts. Let’s put him into context.
The whole of John’s Gospel from the empty tomb onwards is about journeying into faith, and describes the particular journeys made by various disciples. So we have the beloved disciple, who entered the empty tomb and we are told, “he saw and believed”.
And then Mary Magdalene, whose journey is from grief, through clinging on to the past, into faith, as she meets Jesus in the garden.
And then a whole group of disciples together in the upper room who were locked in fear until the risen Lord appeared to them, and then “they rejoiced”.
In the final chapter of John we read Peter’s story, the one who had denied Jesus three times and is brought back into faith by a threefold affirmation of love.
So Thomas’ story is part of this pattern of people moving into a living faith in the living Lord, and leaving behind whatever had been holding them back from that.
So what is holding Thomas back? What is the obstacle to faith that he has to overcome?
Perhaps it is that Thomas is unable to imagine a world not bounded by death. Already we have had a hint of this. When Jesus told the disciples that their friend Lazarus was dead, but he was “going to wake him”, Thomas could make no sense of this. His comment at the time was “let us go too, and die with him”. You can almost see the shrug of the shoulders, what is the point of chasing after dead men?
Now Thomas says, “‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
So it is still death that is the obstacle to belief for Thomas. And specifically the death of someone who was supposed to be the Messiah. The idea that someone who ended up on a Roman cross could really be God’s chosen anointed leader, the one who would save his people and inaugurate a new reality of life and freedom under God’s rule. Well, that Thomas could not believe. His imagination was bounded by death. Death ends everything, so it ends any hope that Jesus could be the Messiah, and therefore that there could be any hope. Following Jesus had all been a waste of time, as he had long suspected.
And yet Thomas, like all the other disciples, is in the end able to move beyond his stumbling block and into faith. And for Thomas as for all of them what makes the difference is meeting the risen Lord. He is not able to move himself on from unbelief to faith. By himself, he is stuck. So Jesus comes to him where he is. And that changes everything.
Faith emerges in these stories as a living relationship with the living Lord. It is that living relationship that transforms Thomas and all the others. You notice how Thomas’ response of faith does not mirror his initial problem. He begins with a problem of how someone who has failed and been killed could possibly be the Messiah.
But when he has seen the Lord, he does not say, “oh, that’s alright then, you’ve solved that for me.” No; he says, “my Lord and my God.” His profession of faith is not a response to his previous problem; it is an expression of a new relationship. Thomas’ faith is in a different place from his doubt. He has found in the risen Lord the one he loves, serves and worships; because of that, he has moved on past the stumbling block. He has met Jesus, risen from the dead. Therefore, Jesus is the Messiah, therefore the path of suffering and death he has followed must have been part of what the Messiah is and does.
You can’t get round a stumbling block. You can only get over it by being raised to a new level of understanding and consciousness. By being raised to new life in the living relationship with the living Lord. And the Lord in his love and mercy and forgiveness gives us more than we could ever have imagined.
Because of his doubt, Thomas is closer to the Lord than he has ever been before. Indeed, he is closer than he would have been had he never doubted. His doubt, his failure to understand, his resistance to the way God works, all these have actually helped to bring him closer to Jesus than he would have been otherwise. Thomas receives the astounding invitation, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
With what intimacy Jesus reaches out to him! Thomas alone of all the disciples places his hand in Jesus’ side, from which blood and water had flowed on the cross, the sacramental tide of baptism and the Eucharist giving birth to the Church. Thomas is drawn closest of all to that source of grace and mercy and love, and not in spite of his doubts, but precisely because he is the one who has doubted. The heart of Jesus, from which poured blood and water, is the source of all mercy. And those who have the greatest need are drawn closest to that heart, and know it best.
This is how the love and mercy of God work. God takes our sins and failures and transforms them into grace, so that had we not sinned we would never have known the greatness of his love. In his resurrection appearances Jesus bears out the teaching he gave in his life, that he has not come to call the righteous but sinners, and those love much who have been forgiven much. It was the prodigal son, and not the dutiful stay-at-home one, who knew how much his father loved him.
Thomas, in meeting the risen Lord, finds himself loved and forgiven in ways he could never have imagined. This is not a grudging second chance, but the discovery that he is loved in precisely the way that his sin and failure need. His new relationship with the Lord is made possible by the very ways in which he has failed.
That love and mercy are held out to us as well. We too are called, with our stumbling blocks and sins and failures, to meet the Lord who opens his heart to us, his heart that pours out grace and love and mercy without limit. And this is not in spite of our sins, but because of them. The Franciscan Richard Rohr has written:
Sin and salvation are correlative terms. Salvation is not sin perfectly avoided, as the ego would prefer; but in fact, salvation is sin turned on its head and used in our favour. That is how transformative divine love is.

The resurrection of Christ is mercy for all. Everything is made new. His loving heart is open to all to draw near. Because of that, with Thomas, we too can move from failure and sin into a new and living relationship with Christ. Christ comes to meet us in the place of our sin to raise us up to a new relationship we could never have imagined. Because of that, we too can say, with Thomas, “my Lord and my God”.

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