Sunday April 28, 2019
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
On Good Friday, a number of children gathered here in the church to walk a children’s way of the cross. Afterwards, one of them called Felix and not quite five years old asked Mother Turner a question: “Mother Turner, how is Jesus alive?”
I have a sermon illustration that I used once or twice at the Choir School at Exeter with the children. I used to take a can of braised steak and gravy and remove its label. I would then carefully steam off the label from a similar sized can of dog food and glue it back on to the can of braised steak and gravy. Then, during my homily, I would produce the can of ‘dog food’ and I would open it and offer it, with a spoon, to some of the choristers. Of course, the smell was enough to cause disgust but the best bit was the disbelief as I carried on talking and munching my way through the can of ‘dog food!’ “Now,” I used to say, “when your parents ask you what you did at school today, you will tell them that Canon Turner ate a can of dog food in the choir stalls and they will not believe you.” “But we saw you!” they would retort. “Exactly!” I would say.
‘But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”’
He wanted proof. But “How is Jesus alive?” is not really the right question.
When Jesus rose from the dead, his resurrected body was not a resuscitated corpse but a different kind of body. The disciples do not meet a ghost - the resurrected Jesus eats a fish; he can be handled; he has flesh and bones; he lights a fire and cooks breakfast; he breaks the bread; he can pass through closed doors – it was as different kind of body, but he did not encourage them to cling to that body.
Jesus said to Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus is talking about you and me. We cannot put our fingers into the marks of the nails or our hands into the wounded side of Christ but, did you notice as you heard the Gospel reading today, we are not told if Thomas did either! Instead, once he received the invitation to handle the resurrected body of Jesus he simply fell to his knees and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”
There is a beautiful old tradition that when the priest raises the host or the chalice in the Eucharistic Prayer, the people say, like Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
Faith is a gift from God and sometimes our faith may feel dim or very small. We should pray that God will deepen our faith so that what we believe takes root in our lives and we become agents of change in the world just like those first disciples. The last verses of John’s Gospel, following on from the story of Thomas meeting Jesus are crucial to the mission of the Church, Christ’s body on earth:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
After each service our choir says a prayer as they put their music away; “Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives.”
That belief changes my world view and the way I live my life. Writing to the Philippians, Paul said this: “our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:21). Thus, I live in hope. Through the breaking of the bread and the prayers we, as a community of faith, experience the power of the risen Christ.
On Friday, we honored the memory of Staff Sergeant Chris Slutman, US Marine and Firefighter. He was not only a man of immense courage; he was also a man of great faith. As we heard tribute after tribute and looked at his widow, Shannon, and his three little girls aged 4, 8, and 10, bravely and resolutely participating in the service, one could feel the power of the Risen Christ tempering our sadness: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The great spiritual director, Henri Nouwen, who was so formative in my own spiritual journey, once spent some time in a L’Arche community. L’Arche is an international community centered on people with physical or mental disabilities living in community with more able-bodied people, but as equals; the ‘able-bodied’ are not caregivers. They attempt to be a community which is truly the body of Christ. Writing about the Easter Vigil one year, Nouwen reflected on a young man called Philippe:
“Philippe’s body is severely distorted. He cannot speak, walk, dress or feed himself and needs help every second of his waking hours…when I saw Philippe in Nathan’s arms I suddenly realized what we were proclaiming on this Easter Vigil. Philippe’s body is a body destined to a new life, resurrected life. In his new body he will carry the signs of his suffering, just as Jesus carried the wounds of the crucifixion into his glory. And yet he will no longer be suffering, but will join the saints around the altar of the Lamb…What a faith! What a hope! What a love! The body is not a prison to escape from, but a temple in which God already dwells, and in which God’s glory will be fully manifested on the day of resurrection.” (Show me the Way, pp 127-128)
“Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”