Year C Easter 2 John 20
You may be interested to know that in the first three gospels we are told absolutely nothing at all about Thomas. It is in John's Gospel that he emerges as a distinct personality, but even then there are only 155 words about him. There is not a lot about this disciple in the Bible but there is more than one description.
When Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem the disciples thought that it would be certain death for all of them. Surprisingly, it was Thomas who said: Then let us go so that we may die with him. It was a courageous statement, yet we don't remember him for that. We also fail to point out that in this story of Thomas' doubt we have the one place in the all the Gospels where the Divinity of Christ is bluntly and unequivocally stated. It is interesting, is it not, that the story that gives Thomas his infamous nickname, is the same story that has Thomas making an earth shattering confession of faith? Look at his confession, "My Lord, and my God." Not teacher. Not Lord. Not Messiah. But God! It is the only place where Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. It is uttered with conviction as if Thomas was simply recognizing a fact, just as 2 + 2 = 4, and the sun is in the sky. You are my Lord and my God! These are certainly not the words of a doubter.
Unfortunately history has remembered him for this scene where the resurrected Christ made an appearance to the disciples in a home in Jerusalem. Thomas was not present and when he heard about the event he refused to believe it. Maybe he was the forerunner of modern day cynicism. Maybe the news simply sounded too good to be true. Thomas said: Unless I feel the nail prints in his hands I will not believe.
Now I cannot help but notice that Thomas has separated himself from the disciples and therefore, in his solitude, missed the resurrection appearance. I think that john is suggesting to us that Christ appears most often within the community of believers that we call the church, and when we separate ourselves from the church we take a chance on missing his unique presence.
But the story doesn't end here. The second time Jesus made his appearance Thomas was present with the disciples and this time he too witnessed the event. This time he believed. What can we learn from the life of Thomas?
- Jesus did not blame him.
- The most endearing things in life can never be proven.
- We must move beyond doubt to faith.
The God Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is To Come
It has always bothered me that the symbol for Easter is a rodent. It is bad enough that the symbol for Pentecost is a dove, a fancy name for a white pigeon, or a trash bird. But the high and holy festival of Easter -- a rodent?
Okay, okay. Technically, no longer are rabbits classified as rodents. As of 1912, rabbits and hares went from being classified in the order Rodentia to a new order, Lagomorpha, which also includes pikas. But up until 1912 rabbits were rodents.
Most kids have rodents as pets at some point in their lives. Hamster? Gerbil? It might as well be a rat or a mouse. [At this point if you can showcase and storyboard one or more cages of pet hamsters or gerbils, and even get their "owners" to tell something about them, so much the better.]
As a one-time parent of a child with a pet rodent, I can testify to a middle-of-the-night sound that used to drive me crazy until I got used to it. This is the constant squeak and rattle of the running wheel in the rodent's cage. With no place to expend all their energy, they frantically race their way to nowhere inside that spinning wheel.
Can you think of a kinder invention ever devised for our furry captives than this clear plastic exercise ball? Safely ensconced in the ball the critter can’t actually "escape" to anywhere. But at least there is a feeling of making "progress" to somewhere.
The human version of a rodent's running wheel is a treadmill, a Stairmaster, or some other stationary exercise machine. Our bodies go through the motions of running or climbing or rowing — but we don't actually go anywhere. Fancier versions of these machines now take pity on the poor human-gerbil-in-the-wheel.
Many now come with a video screen. You can pick what kind of beautiful scenery you are not actually running through. You cannot really run along the beach. You cannot really run in the mountains. You cannot really run beside a pristine lake. You can look at real pretty fakery, but you are still getting nowhere. Getting nowhere faster than you did yesterday. But still getting nowhere.
One of the things that makes human beings unique is we can simultaneously live in three dimensions of time. Of course, don't ask what "time" is. St. Augustine confessed about time that "I know well enough what it is, provided nobody asks me; but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled." So don't ask me what time is.
But let's try to describe it from our text this morning. Raymond Tallis, in The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Fantastical Journey around Your Head (Atlantic Books, 2008), puts it like this: "animals live their lives, humans lead theirs." Only humans, he says, have an explicit concept or idea of the past, the present and the future: which is both a tremendous advantage and a terrible burden...