Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Easter 2 Sermon

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Thomas said, “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."
It is the mystery of touch. Thomas wanted to see it and touch it, to know it is real.

We might call him a visual learner. He is much like us. He wanted to visually process the resurrection. He didn’t want to just hear the other disciples experience. He wanted an experience for himself. He simply wanted to touch and see.

Whenever I picture this scene, I see it through The Incredulity of Saint Thomas a painting by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio that dates to around 1602. Jesus is guiding Thomas hand to touch the wounds, as a surprised Thomas watches him. Two other disciples take it all in.
“For Thomas, the days between the news of the resurrection and his own encounter with Jesus must have been anguished. He wanted to believe, of course; he wanted to see his old friend back to life, to see death defeated before his eyes. But the texture of reality around him breathed a different spirit: cold, earthly, indifferent, often cruel. Thomas saw the world turning gray on that Friday afternoon, his friend crucified on a cross and his hope crucified within. The touch of Jesus’ cold body must have lingered on his fingers, the touch of incarnated goodness now reduced to a static corpse, violated and beaten.

But then Jesus appears to him, seemingly beyond logic, and Thomas’ finger is warmed by new life, not the lifeless corpse he had touched before. Caravaggio amplifies the drama of this encounter with a technique, which he had learned from Leonardo da Vinci: the background is dark, and light is poured on Jesus’ body.

To Thomas this scene is more concrete and physical than anything around them. In fact, this moment will illuminate his life from now on: it will be the clarity which makes sense of this dark world, the understanding that will reshape his fears and hopes and loves and desires.” (RenĂ© Breuel)
I think of a poem by DH Lawrence who puts it this way:
The future of religion is in the mystery of touch.
The mind is touchless, so is the will, so is the spirit.
First comes the death, then the pure aloneness,
which is permanent then the resurrection into touch.
It is that resurrection into touch, that Thomas is a part of. Touch and see and believe. Thomas did! But Thomas too often gets a bad rap for his insistence on having a resurrection experience. But don’t we all? He simply wanted to touch. So do we. We want to have and see such faith.

We all struggle to have that experience, the touch, the sight of Jesus before us. Author and priest Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

“Nobody recognizes Jesus immediately.
They think he is the gardener, a stranger, or a ghost.
But when a familiar gesture is there again –
breaking bread,
inviting the disciples to try for another catch,
calling them by name –
[showing them the wounds, having them touch]
his friends know he is there for them.

Absence and presence are touching each other.
The old Jesus is gone.
They can no longer be with him as before.

The new Jesus, the risen Lord, is there, intimately, more intimately than ever. It is an empowering presence. “Do not cling to me . . . but go . . . and tell” (John 20: 17).

The resurrection stories reveal the always-present tension
between coming and leaving,
intimacy and distance,
holding and letting go,
at-homeness and mission,
presence and absence.

We face that tension every day.
It puts us on the journey to the full realization
of the promise given to us.
“Do not cling to me” might mean
"This is not heaven yet”
but also
“I am now within you
and empower you for a spiritual task in the world,
Continuing what I have begun.
You are the living Christ.”

While many question whether the resurrection really took place,
I wonder if it doesn’t take place every day
If we have the eyes to see and ears to see.”
(Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey) Amen.

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