Easter II

I am often entertained by the things that people think are in Holy Scripture, but really aren’t. Most of it entered the modern canon by way of Ben Franklin, who had a knack for proverbs. Most of Franklin’s proverbs are pretty innocuous: my favorite, for obvious reasons, is “Never spare the parson’s wine, nor the baker’s pudding.” Some are less innocuous, like “God helps those who help themselves,” which is certainly not in Scripture and is in fact dangerously wrong. Some more of the less innocuous are “Everything in moderation,” and “Live a balanced life.” But moderation and balance, while admirable when it comes to diet or the drinking of alcohol, has nothing to do with the Christian life. The Christian life is one of transformation, and there is no such thing as the “moderately transformative.” Transformation drowns in the sea of moderation, and balance snuffs out the light of the Resurrection.

The Gospel lesson we just heard from St. John is anything but moderate or balanced. The account of Jesus, a few days after His death, just showing up and hanging out, is not a normal everyday story. The disciples, with the exception of Judas, have managed to live through the preceding days, presumably by placing themselves behind locked doors. Peter, Andrew, James and John, those Sons of Thunder, all huddled in a dark room for fear of the Jews, for fear of persecution, for fear of being crucified themselves. The Thunder, it seems, was buried along with their Master. And then, without lightning or tempest, without angels singing or heralds shouting, comes Jesus, and He stands in their midst. In case you missed that, in case we have heard this story a few too many times, in case Easter has become common to us, let me say that again. Into the midst of the disciples, behind locked doors, comes Jesus. The Way, the Truth, the Life, the Resurrection stands in the room, His wounds present and plainly seen, He who was despised and slain, was no longer in the tomb. And Thomas was not in the room.

We weren’t in the room either. How often we wish we were in the room, in the room to see and touch and be breathed upon. And how often our response is like that of Thomas, refusing to believe, demanding evidence, explaining away the witness of our friends. Poor Thomas just happened to be out of the room when Jesus first came, but we purposefully take ourselves out of the room. Thomas by accident of circumstance missed the miracle of the presence of the risen Lord, and responded with bold doubt. We miss the Lord by excusing miracles as mere circumstance, and respond with the bland hedging of bets. Through Holy Week we do our best to live into the scandal of Christ’s death, a scandal whose yoke sits awkwardly, whose weight is difficult to bear. More awkward and weightier still is the scandal of Christ’s life, the life we must now in Eastertide do our best to live into. And so we hedge our bets, we mitigate, we look for moderation and strive for balance. Our words betray us. “My prayer life” we say, or “I make time for God,” or “Church is a big part of my life.” And so we get faith in moderation, doubt in good balance, the Resurrection as part of this complete breakfast. Thank God this is not the end of the story, for Thomas or for us.

Poor Thomas, he missed it. He missed the Lord, wasn’t there to be breathed upon with the Holy Spirit. He didn’t believe the fantastical story his friends told him, and so he gets nothing but guff from Christians for the next 2000 years. But he’s not so much doubting Thomas as absent Thomas. And of course the Lord didn’t leave Thomas alone for long. St. John tells us that eight days after His first appearance, the Lord visits again, and this time the bold, usually absent Doubter is there. Jesus doesn’t ask Thomas where he was the first time, and John never gets around to telling us. I like to imagine he was out getting coffee. I also like to think that Thomas retained some of the bluster he had earlier in the Gospel, when Jesus is going off to raise Lazarus from the dead, and his disciples are wary of the plan to go back to Judea, for the Jews there had sought to stone Jesus to death. Thomas, not having it, rounds up the rest of the twelve and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” Either way, gutsiness or coffee, Thomas is present now for the Lord, and the Lord does not disappoint. “Reach forth thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side,” Jesus says, “and be not faithless, but believing.” Thomas got the proof he was looking for, but he didn’t really need it. Without touching His hands, he believed, without thrusting his hand into His side, he answered “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’ bold doubt is answered with bold proof, and his response is bold belief. Like the other apostles, Thomas is transformed, and except for death cannot be stopped from preaching the Gospel. Tradition has Thomas in Syria and then in India by the year AD46, where he converted King Gondophares, who stamped coins with Thomas’ image. Thomas is claimed by the Persians, the Chinese and Japanese, even the Mesoamericans of Central and South America. In a strange twist of circumstance, Thomas is said to be the only witness of the Assumption of Blessed Mary, and the other apostles didn’t believe him until he produced her girdle that fell from heaven. Bold doubt turned to bold belief, Thomas indeed not faithless but believing.

“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed,” Jesus tells Thomas, and contrary to common wisdom, this is not a rebuke but a cause for joy, both for Thomas and for us. Thomas must of known that he was being sent out to preach to scores of people who would never get to see Jesus so vividly, never get even the chance to put fingers in His hands or hands in His side, and Thomas would have rejoiced at the thought of blessings coming upon them. Thomas was transformed, his faith emboldened and his heart set on his Lord and his Lord’s people. We can be like that, fully transformed, not relegating our faith to one object petrified in some kind of balance, not moderated to the point where it cannot possibly cause change, in ourselves or in others. (Our transformation began at our baptism, and we are about to witness the transformation, the full regeneration, of little Abigail right there. She is about to be freed from the stain of original sin, her name is about to be written into the Book of Life. She is about to die with Christ and then given new life, a new life in God in the full light of the Resurrection. This for Abigail and her family is the fullness of joy, for) To live in the light of the Resurrection without seeking the shade of moderation or the weighing out a balance, to make the Resurrection the place where you stand, is the beginning and end of the Christian life, the place where our tepid faith is made bold, our dark path is illumined, our sorrows turned to great joy, the place where we with Thomas can behold the risen Christ and answer with him, “My Lord and my God.”

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