2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER
3RD APRIL 2016
Rev Tony van Vuuren
Whenever we come together for Mass we come to remember Jesus.
Our presence and participation in the Eucharist is a celebration of faith – an act of personal faith and an act of shared faith. In praying together we also help one another believe, hope and love more strongly. So we become a stronger Christian community. More so, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, where members of two communities have come together to worship.
Our shared faith is above all faith in Jesus Christ. We believe that he has risen from the dead, that he is alive in himself and alive in us. But nobody can do our believing for us. This is powerfully illustrated in our gospel story today.
For to-day’s story-teller John, Easter Sunday is Pentecost, and the gift of the Spirit is the breath of the Risen Christ. The disciples breathe in the Spirit and the Spirit becomes part of their lives. Soon they will leave the Upper Room changed persons – fearless and courageous, energetic and zealous people. In short they will leave as persons animated and fired up by the Holy Spirit to go and tell the good news that is Jesus.
But one of their group is missing. His name is Thomas; and thank God for Thomas! He’s one of the apostles, part of the group. But he’s also a distinct, independent self; a real rugged individual who was not afraid to be seen with Jesus and once said, “Let us all go to die with him.” He cannot be both loyal to the group and disloyal to his own inner self though. That would make his loyalty deceitful and worthless.
For Thomas, honesty and sincerity are, in fact, more important than loyalty and belonging. So when the others say, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he declares strongly and emphatically that before he is willing to believe that Jesus is really risen and alive he must see and test the evidence for himself. He won’t accept that claim just on their say-so. He is saying that no one else can “believe for me.”
So it’s his honesty that makes him doubt and leads to him being called ever afterwards ‘Doubting Thomas’.
We learn from the gospel story that Thomas comes to believe in the Risen Jesus in the same way as the other disciples, eight days later, when he eventually sees the Lord for himself. The Gospel text never clarifies if Thomas actually touched Jesus. Perhaps he did not see the need to move a muscle other than his tongue; “My Lord, My God.” But in the way John tells the story Thomas stands for all those who have not yet seen the Lord in the flesh but who are called to believe in him just the same. That’s where we come into the story. We are among those many generations of believers ever afterwards of whom it may be said: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
Like Thomas we are called to believe based on the word of others.
That’s something we can’t do on our own. But, as with those disciples, Jesus has breathed his Spirit into us at our baptism and our confirmation and subsequently at every Eucharist we celebrate. Now we too have an experience of the Lord, even though we can’t see him. Instead, like Thomas, we have an experience of the risen Christ in our communities of faith. So, we keep our eyes and ears open and in the surprising and least likely people and places we will meet the risen Lord.
The Spirit which Jesus gives is the Spirit of truth. It’s the same Spirit that empowers us to say to Jesus with Thomas: ‘My Lord and my God!’
“My Lord and my God.” Every miracle Jesus performed; every teaching Jesus gave, points to these words. Every revelation of God’s mercy and love points to who Jesus is and how he wants us to see him. St Faustina, the great apostle of Divine Mercy, records that God stressed to her that no one should fear to draw near to Him for whatever reason.
Our faith is one of the main gifts the Spirit has given us. But it is not a one-off gift that we lock away in a safe like some precious jewel.
As a form of life we must let our faith grow and mature. On the other hand, like other forms of life, our faith can wither and die from neglect and lack of exercise. We need to pray about our faith, think about our faith, and express it in works of mercy and love. Through the power of grace we will grow. If we, no; when we stumble or run low or out of energy, Jesus will come to us in some way; his healing power will renew us and bring us back to believing.
Let us consider though that Thomas would not have insisted on seeing for himself, touching and being touched, if he only had doubt. It is faith that assures him that he deserves to see and touch and know the same as the other disciples. Because Thomas believes that he too needs and wants a unique encounter with Jesus. Jesus returns to the upper room; Just for Thomas! We learn from him not to hesitate to speak up and say what we need. We need not be ashamed of the mixture of doubt and faith within us, or of our aching desire for a personal experience of God. In fact Thomas’s doubt and scepticism can be seen as a comfort to believers who don’t see why one should leave your brains at the door when you come into church. Faith in Jesus shouldn’t be shallow, uncritical or unthinking.
We are in need, like Thomas of touching Jesus; of seeing Him and hearing Him, of receiving his mercy; of opening ourselves to His Spirit.
Thank God for Thomas!