by The Rev. Fr. Ian Elliott Davies
St. John 20:24-29
Legend has it that the Reverend Thomas Charles, the gifted Welsh preacher who abandoned the Anglican Church in favour of Methodism in the eighteenth century used to preach in the open air on Market Day in the Welsh town of Bala. He would place his top hat on the ground and shout at the very top of his voice, “it’s alive, it’s alive, I saw it move!” Of course curious crowds would gather around and wonder what on earth this clergyman was yelling about. “It’s alive and it moves,” and then he’d pick up his top hat and reveal a Holy Bible and he’d proclaim, “the Word of God is alive and moves in the hearts of men, women and children to this day!”
Something similar is happening in this twentieth chapter of St John’s Gospel. The Evangelist, St John, is proclaiming through the account of St Thomas our Apostolic Patron and Protector moving from skepticism and doubt and coming to faith, freedom and grace.
So we read that doubt gives way to vision and St Thomas responds to the Resurrection presence, “My Lord and my God.” Domitian, the infamous Roman Emperor at the time of the writing of the Fourth Gospel, was known as ‘dominus et deus noster,’ “our lord and our god.” So the Apostolic confession of Christ as “My Lord and My God” is both a statement of faith in the Resurrection and a polemic against the imperial usurping of the divine.
St John is almost saying “I could have written a lot more about the Christ.” “I could have preached all night. But what I have written I have written, that you might believe that he is who he said he is: the Messiah, the very Son of God, and that believing you might have life in his name.”
It is strangely comforting, you know, this encounter, there is opportunity, there is possibility- and that careful observer of human nature Garrison Keillor says, “We always have a backstage view of ourselves.” We tend to let the audience see only the neatly arranged stage, the front. But behind the curtain all kinds of things are lying around: old failures, old hurts, guilt, perplexity and shame. We are told that we are living in a shameless society, that people are no longer bothered by shame. But I don’t believe it, neither does Mr. Keillor. Shame plagues our spirits and souls. Psychologists tell us that shame sweeps over us when we overstep our abilities, or when our fantasy about who we would like to be encounters the backstage reality of who we actually, really are.
At the centre of the proclamation of the Word of life is an encounter: Jesus Christ has come looking for us, he enters through the locked doors and sees us in our backstage state. According to St John, he walks right through the locked door to find us. He shows us his wounds from the cross- which are the marks of our forgiveness, not nails held him there but love, eternal love held Christ to the cross. He breathes into our spirits, “Peace be with you.” You are forgiven, peace is restored to your troubled soul, and you are set free, freedom to let go, to unburden your weary spirit.
The word for forgiveness in Greek can be translated “to free,” or “to let go.” Thus, the proclamation is always a call to freedom. To those whose sin was obvious, and who had become outcasts Christ says, “Your sins are forgiven. Be restored.”
We wonder in our hearts, “How can I ever get to that place of giving up overwhelming hurt?” But we are not on our own in this. Christ breathes the Holy Ghost upon us. The work of the Spirit is to bind us, to unite us to the Community of the Body of Christ- where wounds, hurts, failures, worries, anxiety, doubts- all of these find a place of healing in the Community of new life.
We are called to open that which is locked- to ease open the door- to have the courage to learn to grow, to change, to abide in grace.
“Look on the rising sun: there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives His heat away,
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.
“And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.
“For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear His voice,
Saying, ‘Come out from the grove, my love and care
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.”
Posted by: The Parish