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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 2, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 11, 2021

John 20:19-31

‘The belief of Thomas’

Orthodox icons of Saint Thomas depict him as a beardless youth (young at heart, bold, adventurous). Sometimes he holds in his hands his great confession of Christ as “Saviour and God”. The Slavonic inscription reads, “The Belief of Thomas”.

According to philosopher Richard Kearney, Thomas was also a healer-educator of Jesus. He was the disciple who helped his master resist the erasure of scars in a Glorious Body that is no body at all. He refused the lure of excarnation.

The risen Jesus heeds Thomas’ challenge in the Upper Room to remain true to his wounds, to keep his promise of ongoing incarnation as a recurring Christ who returns again and again, every time a stranger gives or receives food …

This repetition of Christ as infinitely returning stranger – in the reversible guise of host/guest – is what Kearney calls anacarnation (from the Greek prefix ana- meaning “again”, “anew” in time and space). It is a story of endless carnal reanimation, captured in the verse of Gerard Manley Hopkins: “… Christ plays in ten thousand places,/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his …”

Anacarnation is the multiple repeat-act of incarnation in history. Resurrecting not only in the future after Christ but also in the past before Christ, through countless identifications with wounded strangers, forgotten or remembered. It signals the tangible reiteration of Christ, bringing Jesus back to earth in a continuous community of solidarity and compassion. “Your kindom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

And by this reading, Thomas ceases to be a “servant” and becomes a “friend”, even “mentor”, of Jesus – a doctor-teacher who holds Jesus to his word made flesh, ensuring he remains faithful to his carnality.

Thomas, hailed as patron saint of medicine in India, has no time for supersensible erasure or one-way ascension into heaven. In short, Thomas acts in keeping with the Samaritan woman at the well and the Syro-Phoenician woman at the table – all outsiders from the margins, teachers from the basement, reminding Jesus that his divinity is in his tangible humanity, that the right place for the infinite is in-the-finite.

Otherwise, Christian in-carnation becomes ex-carnation, a fundamental betrayal of Word made flesh. Thomas will have none of it: he climbs to the Upper Room to bring Jesus back to earth.

In Christ, as the first letter of John tells us, God became a person “that we can touch with our hands”. To forget this is to forget the message: “I come to bring life and bring it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

The history of Christianity is a story of being in and out of touch with flesh. It is out of touch when it betrays the truth of Word-made-flesh, veering toward notions of anti-carnal Gnosticism and puritanism. Witch-hunting and the inquisitorial persecution of “pagan” earth religions and sensuality were symptoms of such puritanical zeal.

The resultant pathologies of sexual repression and abuse, misogyny and repudiation of bodily joy tell their own story. But it is only half the story …

The Good News and Power of God has to do with healing touch.

As we continue to emerge from isolation and apprehension ...

As we embrace our opportunities for ministry and community partnership ...

As we practise and refine the art of healing touch — vulnerability, sensitivity, tact ...

As we allow the world around us to touch and move and change us ...

Praised be holy intimacy, holy friendship, creaturely companionship. Amen.

See Richard Kearney, Touch: Recovering Our Most Vital Sense, CUP, New York, 2021.