Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
It’s a familiar text and yet there’s something elusive. Hearing it again, at first, I feel perplexed, as though I’m yet to hear it. The text appears to pull in two directions. One reading is critical of Thomas’ disbelief and stresses the words of Jesus – as words addressed to readers, to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This reading chides Thomas for his proud individualism. Alluding to John’s image of the vine as a symbol of community, it teaches: “No individual is a free agent, but is one branch of an encircling and intertwining vine whose fruitfulness depends on abiding with Jesus” (O’Day). The testimony of others ought to be sufficient for Thomas; he ought not put conditions on faith … Another reading, however, lauds Thomas for honesty – perhaps for bravery (he is not cowering with the Ten behind locked doors when the risen Christ first appears). This reading stresses that Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas for knowing what he needs. It also delights in Thomas’ confession – given, as it happens, without touching the scars of Jesus’ hands and side – the high Christological confession of the Gospels: “My Saviour and my God!” Which reading for you today is the more compelling, the more appealing? God be with you …
Perhaps the two readings, the two strands, are important. A weaver might refer to the warp and weft of the story’s fabric. It’s interesting that Thomas is nicknamed Didymus or “Twin” – there are two of him! The sceptical one and the bold one. Some commentators point out that faith in the risen Christ is no simple matter. Faith doesn’t come easily for any one of the disciples, not really – not for Mary Magdalene, not for the Eleven male disciples to whom she bears witness, not for the Ten who remain in fear, behind locked doors, despite seeing the risen Christ and receiving the Spirit.
Perhaps what we’re given here is not so unlike our own experiences of conversion – ambiguous, dynamic, part-
Uniting Church scholar Dorothy Lee refers to John 20 in terms of “vivid signs of the Spirit’s activity”. She sees the text as a kind of web – a web of faith and life: “By identifying with the faith of Mary Magdalene, readers are drawn into the centre, where, in company with the gathered disciples, they meet the risen Christ behind locked doors, hear the words of peace, see the wounds, receive the Spirit, and are given the mandate for mission and the authority to forgive sins. The reader encounters the symbols of Easter faith and is invited to reinterpret his or her own struggle with death from a radically new perspective” (Dorothy Lee, Flesh and Glory, p. 226).
What I appreciate today is the space given that all might know salvation, or “life in Jesus’ Name” as John has it. The text, the fabric, the vine, the web – is meant to “help”, is meant to be helpful, that all might believe – the sceptical and the bold, the fearful and the courageous, the ashamed and the forgiven – that all might imagine a kindom of peace, or, as we pray, a “rule of love” that “renews the earth”. There’s a Spirit at work on the eighth day!
The eighth day is today …
As we continue to seek the risen Christ – in prayer, and in hearing the word and sharing at the altar-
All of us are on a journey, and no two of us experience conversion in precisely the same way. As Thomas experienced, Jesus comes to us in our fears and responds to our doubts that we might have the faith to take the next step. And just as happened for Thomas, the conversion of our lives leads us into the mission of transforming the world, for we too, with all the uncertainty and ambiguity of our experience of the risen Christ, are the ones to whom he gives his Holy Spirit of healing and reconciliation.
In what way is your story like that of Thomas? Sharing your story of conversion, your testimony, can offer encouragement and hope to others … Amen.