Faithless and faithful

File:La Tour-St Thomas.jpg

St. Thomas. Tradition holds that he was martyred by being pierced with spears.

Watching for the Morning of April 28, 2019

Year C

The Second Sunday of Easter

Sunday tells the story of “Doubting Thomas,” but faithless and faithful are better words for understanding the Biblical idea than faith and doubt or belief and unbelief.

What does it mean for the followers of Jesus to stand on this side of Good Friday? What does it mean to have seen the one they revered as good and true be judged wicked and false? What does it mean to have seen the one in whom they hoped be revealed as weak and helpless? Is their allegiance to his vision, his promise, his teaching about a world renewed and a faithfulness towards all now a fool’s errand? Does power rule? Does the world belong to cruelty and violence? Are the terrorists correct that we should fight fire with fire? Or the Pharisees, that God will not come to deliver us until we become a ritually pure people? Can you remain faithful to a man who was such a spectacular failure?

The women at the tomb say yes. Those gathered behind locked doors on that first Easter evening are encountered by one who lives, whose word abides, whose work is accomplished, who is revealed as true.

But Thomas wasn’t there. And we weren’t there. We haven’t seen the wounded hands and side. We haven’t shared the vision. We haven’t heard the word of peace or felt the breath of his Spirit.

Or have we?

Have we not seen his presence? Have we not felt his Spirit? In the community gathered, in the acts of kindness, in the work of healing, in the grace of the table? Have we not heard his word and seen his wounds in the sorrows of the world? Have we not recognized him in acts of courage and lives of faithfulness?

We have not seen what those first disciples saw; but we have seen. And we continue to see. And like Thomas we are drawn into faithfulness.

So Sunday we will hear the followers of Jesus, threatened by the ruling powers who murdered Jesus, declaring boldly “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” We will sing with the psalmist about the rock the builders rejecting becoming the chief cornerstone. And we will hear the prophet John begin his letter with its collection of visions, greeting us “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead.” The crucified one is the living one. He is the faithful witness to the heart of God and he comes to breathe upon us his Spirit and call us ever into faithfulness.

The Prayer for April 28, 2019

Gracious Lord Jesus,
in your mercy you did not leave Thomas in his unbelief,
but came to him, revealing your hands and your side,
and calling him into faith.
So come to us wherever we are in our doubt and uncertainty
and by your word reveal yourself to us anew as our living Lord,
who with the Father and Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 28, 2019

First Reading: Acts 5:21b-32 (appointed: 5:27-32)
“We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” – Having been arrested for saying that God had raised Jesus (and thus condemning the rulers for condemning him), the apostles are released from prison by an angel and told to return to the temple to preach. There they are arrested again and brought before the ruling council.

Psalmody: Psalm 118:14-16, 22-23, 26-27, 29 (appointed: Psalm 118:14-29)
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” – We continue in this foundational psalm that was so influential for the early Christian community in interpreting what happened to Jesus. The psalm celebrates the king, returning in triumph from an unexpected victory.

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4-8
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
– The opening salutation of the Book of Revelation (written in the form of a letter).

Gospel: John 20:19-31
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” – Jesus appears to his followers on Easter Evening and commissions them with the gift of the Holy Spirit, then appears again, the following Sunday, to summon Thomas into faithfulness.

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My apologies to those who follow this site and have missed the last several weeks. During the season of Lent I was writing and posting reflections for the Lenten Season at Holy Seasons.

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Image: Georges de La Tour [Public domain]

“So you are a king?”

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Watching for the Morning of November 22, 2015

Christ the King:
Proper 29 / Lectionary 34

Year B

“So you are a king?!” Pilate must imagine himself to be immensely clever. He, the shrewd and powerful politician, he the noble and cultured Roman amidst these unsophisticated provincials, has gotten this Galilean peasant to admit his pretensions to kingship. But like everything in John’s Gospel, there are two layers of meaning to this admission. Pilate hears a zealot messiah, someone who thinks he has been granted the kingship of Judea by God. Another of the many such rabble who seem to be roaming these hills. One of the many such deluded crusaders that will bring this nation to destruction thirty years later – just as Caiaphas feared. But what Pilate seems unable to hear is that Jesus’ kingship is unlike the kingships of this world.

Pilate is a Roman version of Nicodemus, who puzzled over the literal and wondered how to get back into the womb. Only Pilate isn’t seeking truth. Pilate just hopes to get out of this rebellious and godforsaken corner of the empire with his career intact. Pilate may be a sycophant, but he understands power. He is a child of imperial Rome. Rule comes from Roman legions. The twelfth legion, in his case.

But here before him is a king unlike the kings of this world. He doesn’t take up the sword; he endures it. He doesn’t take life; he gives it. He doesn’t slay his enemies; he forgives them, reconciles them. His show of strength is hidden in frail human flesh, bleeding. He witnesses to the truth at the heart of the universe.

This Sunday is the feast day of Christ the King. Such a title could lend itself to triumphalism if it were not hidden in the mystery of the crucified.

So we read Daniel, whose vision of four beastly kingdoms rising out of the sea moves towards its climactic vision of God’s judgment of those beastly kingdoms and the arrival of a new kingdom, “one like a human being,” coming “on the clouds of heaven” – from the realm of divine not the primal chaos. And this humane kingdom is eternal.

We hear the psalmist sing, “The LORD is king!” but its exultant cry is shaped by Jesus before Pilate and by John’s witness that it is the pierced one who is ruler of the kings of the earth.

Dominion, true dominion, everlasting dominion belongs to God – a reign embodied in the one Pilate cannot see: The one who does not answer hate with hate. The one who does not answer violence with violence. The one who answers cruelty with mercy, and curses with blessing. The one who answers power with service. The one who answers our deceits with truth. The one who embodies the truth of God.

The prayer for November 22, 2015

Almighty and ever-living God,
source and goal of all that is:
in your Son, Jesus, the world is met by its true king.
Grant us ears to listen to his voice
and ever abide in your truth
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The texts for November 22, 2015

First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
“As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne.”
– The prophet’s vision of four beastly kingdoms concludes with his vision of God upon the throne and dominion given to “one like a human being” (a “son of man”).

Psalmody: Psalm 93
“The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty.” – A hymn celebrating God’s reign over all creation.

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8
“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” – The Revelation to St. John begins as a letter with its central theme of the coming of Christ Jesus to reign.

Gospel: John 18:33-38a
“My kingdom is not from this world.” – Jesus stands before Pilate accused of being a royal pretender.


Image: James Tissot, Jesus Before Pilate, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons