Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is Seeing Really Believing?

Homily for Easter II, Year A, 2008
Preached at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
Sunday, March 30, 2008
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Hebrews 11:1, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:24-29

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.”
Hebrews 11:1

Thomas demands a sign. He demands to know if the one spoken of by his fellows is truly his Lord and his master. If my Lord walks again, then he shall bear the wounds of his passion. Show me the wounds of Christ, show me the marks of his death, and then I shall proclaim, “He lives.” He demands no more or less than any of his fellows. When Mary Magdalene met her Lord in the garden, Peter refused to believe her word and only a face-to-face encounter would allay his doubt. The other disciples, too, demanded to see him. Is Thomas any different from the rest; is Thomas any different from us? Let me touch the Lord with my hands and I shall know he lives.

“My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back,” writes the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. Thomas did not shrink back. In spite of his pain and sadness and the wound of loss that he carried within his soul, he did not shrink back. And like the prophets of old about which St. Peter speaks, he sought out his salvation by “careful searching and inquiry.” The Gospel of St. John is known as a Gospel of signs. Jesus travels around the countryside giving signs to the people of Galilee and Judea that he is sent from the Father. Thomas is a good student, and having learned to look for a sign, he demands it. “Show me the marks of his death and I shall believe.” Show me the body. But is it enough simply to see the body, even if it walks?

The body of Jesus that the disciples encounter behind the locked doors of that house in Jerusalem is a body still bearing the marks of the crucifixion. It is a wounded body; it is a broken body. When the disciples meet their Risen Lord they meet the man who gave his life for many and in beholding his hands and his side, there can be no doubt that this is Jesus who died. This is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken for you.
The body of Jesus that the disciples encounter behind the locked doors of that house in Jerusalem is also a body that has been transformed in its Resurrection. While it still bears the marks of the Crucifixion, it is also a body that is no longer constrained by the mechanisms of humanly manufactured locks and keys. It is a body that moves through walls and ascends on high. It is a body that miraculously appears to his disciples, on the seashore, in the garden, in a locked house. It is a mystical body – a body of which we are invited to be part; a body that we are to feed on in our hearts by faith and thanksgiving, preserving our bodies and souls unto everlasting life.

Thomas beholds the body of his Lord with his hands and cries out “My Lord and My God.” The strongest, boldest, most revolutionary claim for the Messiahship, nay, the divine kingship of Jesus in the entire New Testament, is given here, found on the lips of the so-called doubting apostle.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for...”

Thomas hoped beyond hope that what he would encounter would be his master and friend, once again present to him. Thomas hoped beyond hope that what others had witnessed would be real to him, too.

“Faith is the conviction of things unseen...”

What did Thomas see? He saw a man who supposedly died a week before standing before him. He felt the wound on his side and the marks on his hands and beheld the marks of Jesus’ passion. But what did he really see. Would the appearance of a man thought dead convince any of us that he was God among us, the Word Incarnate? Could this not be a trick? What did Thomas really see, beyond the wounds, beyond the man?

The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. Thomas saw and believed. Thomas saw a promise, the promise of his Lord, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” He saw a promise fulfilled that his Lord would not leave him, that his Lord comes to him even in his darkest moment of sadness, doubt and despair – Lo! I am with you, Thomas.

What did he see? What did he feel? What did he know in his heart? “Peace” says Jesus, “my peace I give to you and my peace I leave with you.” That is the conviction of things unseen, beyond the wounds, beyond the man, the very peace of God which passeth all understanding. The Risen Jesus stood not only before him, but within him, Thomas feeding on his Lord by faith, with thanksgiving.

The assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. For Thomas and the others, seeing was believing. But St. John, knowing that the time would come when seeing would no longer be possible, committed to writing the story of Thomas, and so many other stories, written, in his own words, “that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that in believing, we might have life.” And so it is true for us, as St. Peter wrote so long ago, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribably and glorious joy!”

We may not see him as Thomas, Mary Magdalene or Peter beheld him, but oh, we do meet him. For week by week we feed on the bread of life and that life is the light of all people. As we take the bread in our hands, the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, we behold, inwardly by faith, his head, his hands, his side, the sorrow and the blood. But as we receive the sacrament of his passion we also become filled joy, with the light of the Lord. The Word made flesh enters into us raising us to new life, in this world and the next. As we behold our Lord in our hands, we draw near with faith. We draw near even in our own fear, with our own doubts, with our own wounds and in our own sadnesss, and we dare not shrink back, because we know him in our hearts -- he stands risen, not only before us, but also within us -- the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. And we, like Thomas, feel moved to shout with all assurance and with all conviction, “My Lord and my God.”

Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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