Sunday, 19 April 2009

Without Doubt

John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:
‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

It is difficult to know what to say about this Gospel that hasn't been said before . Every Easter, Thomas the Doubter is given to us as a person of doubt the 'everyman' who, after this encounter with the Risen Lord, is able to make the great proclaimation of faith 'My Lord and My God'.

But, I have found, that Scripture always has something else to say - so I had to read it again and actually the person I am having problems with this year is Jesus.

For a couple of reasons which will prove what a hedgerow scholar of theology I really am - but here we go:-

John, you may know, is the poet of the Gospels, the wordsmith. Like me, he never uses one word when a verse will do. And he is clever- he uses words with more than one meaning - he plays on our understanding. One of the words he most like to play with is 'see' - given that it can mean; physical seeing with the eyes, knowing and understanding, or spiritual encountering.

In spiritual encountering there are many levels but two you may have heard of are consolation and desolation. Very briefly these are the times when we are spiritually and often physically and emotionally aware of the presence or absence of God. The presence - consolation - is pure gift and grace - because after that there is no 'doubt' and, so, even when desolation comes - the sense of absence - you know who is absent. The absence may cause distress but the sheer fact that you miss God means that God exists.

John is writing to 'after the event' Christians. People who will never 'see' Jesus with their eyes, their fingers and their hands. So maybe this is a bad translation and should mean that
'blessed are those who have not had physical contact with Jesus and yet believe'?
Which given many of our translations is more than likely.

Otherwise, Jesus, the truth is - there won't be many happy people.
I play a game in school where I tell the students that I don't believe that Australia exists. They have families there, they have visited, they show me artifacts, they find it on the internet, they send me postcards and they become great evangelists and I 'start to think I might believe'. But I know that believing and knowing about Australia will never be as good as 'seeing' it.

And actually, we cannot believe in a Jesus we have not seen, any of us. We can learn the words, read the stories, follow the instructions. We can hope and we can pray. And we can do that every day, all of our lives. We can be active for social justice, we can live in a Christian culture, we can belong and be involved in a parish - all very good, all very human. Perhaps to believe in the human Jesus - the Nazarene - is enough to make us want to just be better people - as he was 'the best of us'.

We don't need to believe in a Risen Christ for that. But to take the journey that step further - to enter into God, for God to enter into me - I have to see - encounter the Cosmic everythingness of Christ. And that is not just with eyes, fingers, hands but with heart and soul and every atom of who I am. Even just once, to know the Presence, to recognise the Absence. To be happy to believe.


No comments: