Sermon 23rd April 2017

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 23 Apr 2017, Easter 2

Listen here: https://youtu.be/ixB_I0SDl28

 

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side
. John 20:19-20

 

The first day – empty tombs and familiar strangers in the garden;

Mary, called by name, bearing, breaking news to the disciples.

Then on the evening of that first day

behind closed doors, dreading fates,

comparable to that of their Master;

Jesus comes to that still-frightened company.

Into their confusion – suddenly, jaw-droppingly, quietly – he is there.

 

And his first words?

After death. After resurrection.

Neither stony silence; nor anger

that they went AWOL on the eve of the battle.

Instead, “Peace be with you.”

A bridge – from guilt to mercy, despair to hope, fear to courage.

Peace be with you – greeting and gift, restoration and command.

 

Re-formed, the disciples are swiftly commissioned:

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

“A boat is safe in the harbour, but that’s not what boats are for.”

 

Readied for sending , they are resourced –

acknowledgement that a disciple of Jesus cannot, nor is asked,

to do this on his/her own.

or dependent only on our own gifts and capabilities.

When he had said this he breathed on them saying,

Receive the Holy Spirit.”

 

So the Church is midwifed into being,

delivered and welcomed into the light

by the forgiveness and breath of the resurrected Jesus.

 

Famously, like a father caught in traffic,

Thomas is late for the birth; misses it.

He hears about these extraordinary things

but demands more than make believe, to make believe.

 

Thomas is the questioner; an icon, for a sceptical age,

that finds it hard to believe, or trust the word of others.

He does not pretend.

He does not ask for greater proof than his peers –

they, after all, had similarly been shown the scars by Jesus.

Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, I will not believe.”

(Believe, in the sense of trust.)

 

Thomas’ integrity endures a longer empty tomb,

but the shepherd comes back for the left-behind sheep –

just as he promised he would.

Unknowing blossoms into “My Lord and my God.”

 

Some years ago, the world was shocked

when it was revealed that Mother Teresa of Calcutta,

that paragon of Christian commitment,

had faced periods of massive doubt and darkness

from the earliest days of her founding of the Sisters of Charity.

In 2007 her private journals, entitled, Come be my light. were published.

 

In them she spoke of:

untold darkness – loneliness – this continual longing for God –

the place of God in my soul is blank – there is no God in me –

I just long and long for God – and then it is that I feel – He does not want me –

He is not there – I just hear my own heart cry out – My god and nothing else comes –

 

Some pounced on this as evidence that all faith is nonsense;

some criticized her lack of faith.

But Mother Teresa’s story is surely a powerful endorsement,

that doubt can be part of a life lived very close to God.

 

The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.

Our creeds provide a vital role in guiding us,

but no creed can contain God’s mystery.

As St Paul gave us: For now, we see in a glass darkly –

(darkly – word associated with enigma/riddle)

Not knowing everything is the mark of a strong believer, not a failing one.

In difficult times the question is not so much:

How do you explain this? As Where is God in it?

 

Earlier this week I sat at a bedside.

The first words addressed to me:

“I want to die.”

Restricted now by age and ill health, this gentle and loving person,

blessed with family and friends,

is enduring a hard and dispiriting final furlong.

“I feel I have been abandoned – by God.”

 

There are some who might give a more direct answer,

an assurance that that is not the case.

But as my friend spoke I brought to mind and tentatively offered

the experience of returning from Iraq in 2003 as an Army chaplain,

following the first months of war in that region.

My Spiritual Director – a wise nun – asked:

“Where was God in this experience?”

My answer: That I didn’t want to be there.

To my surprise, she answered: “Good. That sounds authentic.”

Then she said: “Think of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane – I don’t want to be here.”

 

Is this just pious talk, Jesus enduring his own agony,

somehow paralleling the sufferings of our own world?

Is it just virtual opium, peddled by preachers, to sedate those in pain?

Or is woundedness, Jesus’ and our own,

doorway to something precious beyond our imagining – lives touching God?

 

For Thomas, the wounds were critical.

The scars were the continuity between the crucified one and the risen one;

Jesus’ identity so bound, so defined by the sacrifice he had made –

that if those scars were not real, then this was no Jesus.

But if they were? – “My Lord and my God.”

The risen one is the crucified one. Thus, hope endures.