Thomas Encounters Jesus!

15 Apr
(John 20:19-31)
Susan R.
Andrews writes when I was a student: “When I was in seminary, Doubting
Thomas was my soul mate. Jesus kept “appearing ” to my fellow
students within the rich stories of the Christian tradition. But like Thomas, I
never seemed to be there when Jesus arrived.”
Oh, I
know what she means. Jesus seemed to be appearing in prayer, bible readings,
silence for every other person in the training college, they all had great
tales to tell of being touched by Jesus.
Not me.
He seemed to take a detour when he came my way. For me faith was more like
looking through a dust and bug spattered windscreen of an eighteen wheel road
train in the Gibber Desert, I knew Jesus was out there some where, but like the
road he was hard to see, let alone feel.
An
encounter with Jesus is not something you can import from another person, book
or song. You have to encounter Jesus yourself. People can tell you all about
their experiences, but if it’s not happening for you, its not happening.
Thomas
missed the first time Jesus appeared. It was 8 days after Jesus death and Thomas
joins them in the room. No doubt he was quizzed and pestered to believe. But
Thomas maintained his integrity. He had given this whole scenario some deep and
critical thought. Yes, he wanted it to be true but logic mediated against it
being true.
Modern
people need proof. It has to be true, true meaning provable, testable,
concrete, not the unchangeable meaning of being sitting underneath our
treasured rationality. True here means something like to be certain. It is what
our young people want and we want it because it gives a sense of being in
control of our lives. Nothing uncertain can be countenanced because it can’t be
true.
Thomas,
though, simply wants to own his faith for himself and puts himself in the place
to test his logic, in the room where Jesus had appeared before. He was not
closed to the idea, and in the best critical thinking practice, was prepared to
dialogue with the possibility that Jesus was alive.
And Jesus
Turns Up. The truth is that Jesus just keeps turning up for those who genuinely
desire to know him.
Elisabeth Johnson writes: ” As he came
back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his
gathered disciples — in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine — not
wanting any to miss out on the life and peace he gives.” And we know, from
experience, how real that is. It is what draws us back here every week. It is
not about the liturgy, although the liturgy is important. It is not about
others in the congregation, though they are important, it is not about the
choir though the choir is important and it is not about the priest, though he
or she is important. It is about the fact that Jesus keeps turning up and I,
you, discover something new about the resurrected Jesus, just by being here.
Jesus doesn’t chastise Thomas. He doesn’t tell Peter to excommunicate
him for his lack of faith. He doesn’t leave Thomas hanging out to dry, another
failure to put beside Judas. No, Jesus turns up and offers his presence and his
body for Thomas to inspect. He doesn’t. He doesn’t have to touch Jesus. He
knows without needing the evidence he said he needed.
When truth comes, we know. We don’t have to test it, try it out or prove
it. It just is. Thomas gets it and abandons his need for scientific proof
saying, “My Lord and my God!” 
This
Encounter Reminds Us That Bodies Matter.
Christianity
has a poor record with bodies. In the philosophical duality we bring to our
world, western people have seen the material as an opposite to the spiritual
and body as inferior to soul or spirit. Many early forms of Christianity
treated the senses of the body as evil and something to beaten down. There was
no room for the body in a religion that was focussed almost entirely on the
hereafter. Even the great St Francis of Assisi, the father of ecological
spirituality commented that he had wished he had treated the donkey better. The
donkey was what he called his body.
Yet the
body plays a major role in spirituality. Greg Carey suggests: “The
resurrection story implies that bodies matter. Jesus’ resurrection is not
merely a spiritual thing – the apparition of his ghost, or his ongoing
spiritual influence. The Gospels all insist that the resurrection includes
Jesus’ body.”
The medieval mystics, particularly the women mystics such as Julian of
Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Mechtild along side John of the Cross and Meister
Eckhart recognised the role bodies played in encountering God. Julian of
Norwich’s classic work, Shewings, is simply the record of her encounter
with Jesus as a result of illness and its impact on her body. Bodies are not be
worshipped, sculpted to the point of the ridiculous as is the modern trend.
They are to be respected as the receptacle of the spiritual.
Bodies, our bodies, the bodies of those we live with, of those in agony
or in exile carry scars, just like the body of Jesus. And they are important.
Wesley White writes: “Wherever there is a wound, Christ calls us to find
belief by putting our finger there and to energise that belief with a life
lived to reveal what is behind the wound.” That is the reason for our
scars and was the reason for the scars Jesus carried with him. They are not
trophies of survival but testimonies to the truth that we are human, alive and
infused with life to share so others to can live.
Thomas was far from a doubter who needed to touch the body. He saw. Not
physically. His was a Spiritual Seeing which sees beyond the body. I am
consequently amazed at the prevalence of such a seeing in our world, despite
the fear many Christians have that it has disappeared.
We were sitting discussing the eucharist. These were my secular monks,
year 9 & 10 students. They were having great difficulty with the idea of
‘eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood.’ Understandable really. Suddenly
Corey, eyes wide with insight said, ‘I get it. It’s about respect, awesome
respect for who he is!’ Spiritual seeing isn’t limited to those who believe. It
is the providence of all, including Thomas, Corey and each one of us. It is
beyond our vision and we see within reality what is hidden from those that only
look for what can be seen physically.
David Ewart suggests: “John doesn’t care what we see with our
eyeballs. He wants us to SEE with our inner eye who Jesus really is. That in
SEEing, we might believe; and in believing, we might have the life that is in
Jesus.”
Thomas sees with his spiritual self. There is no need to touch the
wounds. Yes the body is important. But it is what we see that counts. We can
look at another and see only a behaviour, a stereotype, a prejudice (all
defined by us) and fail to see what is within, the true person. We fail to see
the scars and ponder where they came from. We fail to see the possibility for
both us in the connection of bodies. 

Jesus does. He keeps coming back, as he did for Thomas, to encourage us,
to show us how to look beyond the surface and to encounter the real. It is a
challenge, one we will fail over and over again, but when we get it right we
will discover, as Thomas did, ‘My Lord and my God”.

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