Paradigm shift

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Watching for the Morning of April 3, 2016

Year C

The Second Sunday of Easter

The shock and awe of the first Easter morning gives way to celebration and even triumph as the apostles preach and John of Patmos exults in the risen Christ. The psalm celebrates the wondrous work of God: “This is the LORD’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” And the followers of Jesus proclaim his resurrection to Thomas.

But in the texts lies also the tension between faith and unbelief. The Jerusalem leaders seek to silence the apostolic witness, and Thomas will not trust the testimony of those who have seen and heard.

When you look carefully at the Biblical record there is a lot of uncertainty. The apostles in Luke don’t believe the women returning from the tomb (24:11). The disciples on the road to Emmaus are unable to comprehend what has happened (24:25). and when Jesus appears to the whole community there respond with a mix of joy and disbelief (24:41). At the climactic scene in Matthew when Jesus ascends into the heavens, the evangelist records: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (28:17). And, of course, Mark ends his Gospel with the women in fear and silence (16:8).

The Easter message is not a simple one. No one expected the story to go like this. It takes some time to get their minds around it. It takes some time to get their hearts around it. This is far more than a spectacular comeback from a nearly defeated team. This asks us to recognize a different narrative of God and the world. The story is not about a world ending in a general resurrection and judgment with the righteous blessed and the wicked condemned. The story is about the new creation invading this world of tears and summoning us to live that new creation now. It is not a story of God judging the world but healing it.

It’s not easy to change one’s picture of God and the world. It takes some time – and the breath of the Spirit – and some searching of scripture – a rereading of the Biblical story – but, in the end, there is Jesus showing us his wounds and inviting us to join the story.  Thomas Kuhn called it a paradigm shift.* When you recognize that the earth goes around the sun, the world will never look the same.

The Prayer for April 3, 2016

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 you live and reign,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for April 3, 2016

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.

 

*Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASolar-system.png  By Dave Jarvis (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

My Lord and my God

Saturday

John 20

File:Santo Domingo de Silos Relief 092.jpg27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.

This translation “put your finger here” is perfectly fine, but I think it misses something sweet and important in the text. The Greek word is usually translated ‘carry’ or ‘bring’, suggesting something more like “Bring your finger here.” “Bring that here” can be no less a harsh command than “put it here”, but here the word ‘bring’ seems to involve the drawing near of the person, not just the object – it is Thomas who is being called to Jesus, not just his finger.

In the same way, Jesus doesn’t say, “reach out your hand” but “bring your hand and put it in my side.” Thomas is being drawn to Jesus; he is not being subjected to proofs. This encounter with Jesus is, after all, not an exercise in rational thought; it is a summons to trust.

It is a shame we translate the Greek words here as ‘doubt’ and ‘believe’. I cannot help but think our modern sense of those words distorts the message of the text. The word translated ‘doubt’ is the negative prefix ‘a’ with the word for faith. It works like the pair of words moral and amoral. The words here are ‘with faith’ and ‘without faith’, faithful and faithless. The issue is not whether God can raise the dead. The issue is whether the testimony of the disciples will be trusted – whether the voice of Jesus carried into the world by his followers will be trusted. Thomas didn’t trust it.

It is no small thing to refuse the message spoken from God through his agents. It is like the president of Botswana saying to the U.S. Ambassador, I won’t trust a thing you say unless your president shows up and tells me himself. Such a response is likely to antagonize the president. In the ancient world it would make the king your enemy. It is an affront, a curt rejection of the king’s appointed representative and so a rejection of the king.

But Jesus responds with grace, not wrath. He comes for Thomas, not to defend his pride. He comes to draw Thomas to himself, not to elevate himself. He comes that Thomas may ‘see’; see not just the scars, see not just that this Jesus is the same Jesus he had known, but to see the truth of Jesus. See like Nicodemus should have seen. See like the blind man or the woman at the well. See the divine glory present to the world. See the way and the truth and the life.

And through the word of Jesus Thomas does see, for he falls before Jesus declaring “My Lord and my God.”

These are not abstract concepts; they are personal. Thomas speaks not of ideas but a relationship: “My lord and my God.” He is no longer faithless; he is faithful.

Jesus does not come for each of us as he came for Thomas; we do not get to see the hands and the side. Yet still he comes. In the witness of the first believers. In the witness of the believing community. In narratives like this. Jesus comes. Jesus speaks. Jesus calls us into faithfulness – and as for Thomas so for us. His presence bears fruit. His word draws forth faith. And we acclaim “My Lord and my God.”

Seeing and believing

Watching for the morning of April 27

Year A

The Second Sunday of Easter

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Doubting Thomas Figure above the south door of St.Thomas’ church. Portland Stone carving showing St.Thomas kneeling to the risen Christ, by Philip Pape in 1956

Every year on the Sunday after Easter we hear of Thomas – Thomas who was absent that first Easter evening and did not see; Thomas, for whom the witness of the others is unable to bring him to faithful allegiance; Thomas who, in his unbelief, nevertheless remains a part of the community, giving him the opportunity to see; Thomas whom the risen Christ sees; Thomas who comes to see.

This is not the only text to speak to us on Sunday. We hear a portion of Peter’s Pentecost message. We sing the psalm that Peter cites to bear witness to the resurrection. And we hear the opening of 1 Peter speak of our new birth and living hope. But Thomas is the gravitational center of the morning, for here is found the blessing upon us and every generation since that first: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Blessed, happy, honorable, at peace with God and the world, are those who have not seen (with their physical eyes) but yet truly see.

The Prayer for April 27, 2014

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 faithfulness.
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 you live and reign,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for April 27, 2014

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32
“This man… you crucified … But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost who have been drawn by the sound of a mighty rushing wind.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“You do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.” – a hymn of praise and trust in which the first witnesses of the resurrection found a prophetic word pointing to Jesus’ resurrection.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” –
a rich, beautiful homily on baptism offering a word of encouragement to the Christian community.

Gospel: John 20:19-31
“Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” – 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 faith.