Today is Low Sunday, the first after Easter, so called, it is often wrongly said, because after all the joy of Easter Sunday we are on the back foot, not quite sure how to go forward. Like the disciples we are in lockdown in that short period between the fulfilment of Christ’s mission at Easter and the full realisation of its meaning. Actually it is probably a simply a corruption of the word “laudes” meaning praise.
Our Gospel text today has much to say to us: the nature of faith, the nature of the resurrected Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But above all it speaks to me of the impossibility of trying to prove our faith in any other way than by living it.
Many years ago, I read a commentary on this passage which pointed out that Thomas’ desire to touch Christ’s scars was not actually fulfilled in the Gospel. Indeed, the very offer was enough to convince him of the authenticity of the resurrection sightings for which he had shown such scepticism. I choose to believe this. To be fair, John’s story IS ambiguous. Maybe this is true; maybe Thomas didn’t need to actually touch the risen Christ, but to me this speaks of the effect the very presence of Jesus can have in our lives.
Let’s take a step back. At the start of our reading the disciples are still locked away from the “Jews” (John’s shorthand for the authorities). They are in confusion since there are rumours, and rumours of rumours. Some claimed to have seen Jesus post-crucifixion, and yet not to have recognised him. Some to have seen the empty tomb. How can this make sense? Then Jesus appears – a real presence amongst them and greets them in a traditional Jewish way “Shalom aleichum – peace be with you”. They are even more confused, but Thomas is not present at that lockdown. Why, you might ask, is he not. Has he already decided that there was no future for them, and he was returning to his old life? He will never know but he is back later in the week, sharing and yet not sharing, their confusion. He wants proof, physical proof that this really is the Messiah returned to them whole and fully alive.
Is he not like so many of us? We need proof. We live in an age when evidence is needed for everything – statistics of economic downturn, of crime and above all today of illness and death. We have seen too that the demand for evidence and proof has got in the way of pure humanity, as we forget the actual concerns and fears not just of NHS and others working in that sector, but also of ordinary people, wary of passing people out exercising too close, wary of people.
Thomas’s acceptance of the truth of the rumours is based on a clear conditional argument: if X…then Y. And eight days after Thomas makes this pronouncement, his wish comes true. And then some. Jesus appears and speaks directly to him. Scripture doesn’t tell us that Thomas ever even touched the wounds. Again, you are free to use your imagination. Once Thomas gets a look at and feels the presence of the risen Lord, perhaps he forgets all his conditions. Perhaps the only thing he can spit out is, “My Lord and my God.” In other words, perhaps the presence of the risen Lord blots out Thomas’s petty scepticisms and puny proofs and arrogant arguments. This is the glory of the risen Lord, a real presence, and the only appropriate response is to confess him as Lord and God.
But at this point, Thomas moves from the most sceptical, indeed cynical of followers to the most perceptive. His proofs are superseded; he stands above the others in that room at that moment. True, Jesus has breathed over them instilling them with the Holy Spirit, but they are still not fully engaged, still searching for the truth of the events they can only just begin to understand. And in John’s account Jesus Christ acts there and then to make clear what their future mission must entail. It takes Thomas’ “My Lord and My God” to galvanise them into action. Perhaps that explains, if our critical age which always needs explanation why Luke tells the story of Pentecost with its symbolic period of waiting. Just maybe the Spirit was working within them all and erupted a few weeks later as we read in Acts chapter 2, part of which is set as a second reading today, in which Peter proclaims the Gospel following its dramatic settling on them all.
No: we are all like Thomas from time to time – impetuous, sceptical, full of enthusiasms which wax and wane. But we can learn that sometimes an innate understanding of Christ’s presence is enough A realisation that he is beside us, behind us, before us, and sometimes, carrying us, is all it takes to renew our faith and our hope, and to move us on in Christ-like love, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. At this difficult time in our history, we have seen these qualities in action, not just from church people, or even other “people of faith” but from folk for whom common humanity seems to be enough. Aren’t we all inspired by the testimony of those who have lost loved ones but who only speak of the dedication of their husbands, wives, fathers and mothers? Or of Tom Moore, at 99 who set out to raise £1000 for the NHS, and whose website crashed for a while on Thursday morning at over £13 million. This faith in humanity is our heritage, indeed our mission to pursue. Just as God had faith in humanity through our creation, so he renews that faith by our re-creation through the sacrifice of a man who bore his image on earth, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.
Peace be with you all! Amen