Thursday, 31 March 2016

Schooled in faith at the wounded hands of Christ


The 2nd Sunday of Easter

Year C
John 20:19-31

Thomas doesn't have much of a speaking part in the Gospel of John.

Thomas appears to decline each time he opens his mouth. His first words (John 11:16) were a pep-talk he gave to the other disciples when Jesus suggested a return to Judea where he and his disciples had already been threatened with mob violence. Thomas suggested that they should together go and die with him.  All very noble, this, and the very thing you'd expect an apostle to say.  But something happened to Thomas along the way.  A few chapters later Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them - a home in the heavenly places.  Thomas' response (John 14:5) shows not only that he seems a bit thick and has misunderstood the big picture of what Jesus is saying.  It reveals a deep dis-ease and uncertainty at the centre of his soul

Lord we don’t know where you are 
going, so how can we know the way?

Show me a map.  Explain how it will be.  Tell me where to put my feet.  Which is more or less how Thomas will later challenge the other disciples (John 20:24-29) when he finds himself among people who have witnessed the risen Christ where he himself has not and is asked to share their joy which he believes he cannot.  Show me the map, he says again.  Show me the prints of the nails.  Show me the wounds in the side. 

I will not believe unless…..

This is not a story where the Church mocks Thomas.  Rarely does the question boil down to a  binary issue of whether we have faith or whether we don't as if there were a lottery going on and the lucky among us scratch the little box that reveals with an exclamation mark that “Congratulations you have faith!” and others merely uncover the words “Better luck next time!”  Our Gospel reading this Sunday is a story about God’s active and continuing interest in bringing faith to the surface and nurturing it into visible reality – exactly as Jesus does for Thomas in the story. Faith is discovered by needing and using it and by finding that God indeed makes it possible.   

I've been at this for well over thirty years now and have sat next to all sorts of people facing things which led them to wonder if they had the faith necessary to get through the next month or even the next six hours.  Most of them proved themselves pillars.  Most of them would testify to the active support of something beyond themselves as and while they forged forward with a degree of faith they were not sure they had.

Later stories about Thomas, while in no way certain, are reasonably well-founded.  From his base in Edessa in western Turkey he is said to have then traveled to India.  We may reasonably assume he did so without a map.  He had been schooled in faith at an uncertain time at the wounded hands of Jesus.   You may have been so schooled yourselves.  You may yet be.   You should pray to be.