On the first Sunday after Easter, we heard the 20th Chapter of the Gospel according to John, recounting the events of the Resurrection. Jesus appears to his disciples in a locked room where they had been hidden away in fear.
There was only one problem: Thomas was absent. We are not told where he was or what he was doing, no “hall pass” offered. Thomas was missing in action.
When he did return to the group, his fellow disciples excitedly told him about Jesus’ appearance to them. Thomas’ response was that he needed to see him for himself, not just rely on the experience of others. He wanted to see this Risen Jesus for himself, to touch him. For this natural desire to see his rabbi, Thomas was given the appellation of the Doubter…Doubting Thomas.
He was not so much the Doubter as he was Driven, driven to experience the Resurrection for himself.
Thomas was late for Easter. Fortunately, Thomas was there when Jesus made another appearance, inviting Thomas to touch his wounds to make sure it was really the Crucified One, now the Risen One.
And Thomas did reach out and discovered for himself the Jesus had risen…risen indeed! His response are words that have resounded through Christian history: “My Lord and My God!”.
Allow me two side tracks.
First, my ordaining bishop, Judson Child, had a holy habit of voicing those words every time he elevated the consecrated bread and wine at the altar. Only, Judson used the Latin form: Dominus Meus, Deus Meus!”. My Lord and My God!
Working alongside Bishop Child at the Episcopal Cathedral of Atlanta, I heard and witnessed this act of piety as he celebrated Holy Communion, with me by his side, a young priest in formation. It should come as no surprise that I followed his lead by using these words of adoration as I celebrated the rite of Holy Communion. It gave, and gives me a sense of connection with Judson and with Thomas, which I value deeply.
Secondly, it is not by chance that my firstborn is named Thomas. The name was what we call “over-determined” by a variety of connections. One was the monk that I mentioned a few weeks ago, Father Tom Francis, who has served as my long-time spiritual director. And then there is Tom Malone, my therapist and teacher, who schooled me in the art of intimacy. And, my original spiritual siren who pulled me toward the contemplative life, Thomas Merton. Those three, my spiritual trinity.
But underneath it all was my native attraction to Thomas, the Disciple. His refusal to be satisfied by listening to others’ experiences, and his drive for his own encounter with the Holy. Thomas gave me a place to be in the Church. He provided me permission to bring my questions and reservations.
Just a thought: Why not follow Thomas as an example of faith? He was driven to experience the Easter moment, not just going along with what others said.
Much of what I saw in the Church was people merely socialized into a tepid agreement with the belief system of whatever religion they happened to grow up in. They grew up in a church, were taught certain beliefs and practices by their parents and families, and simply continued the tradition in their generation. My friend, John Westerhoff called this “inherited faith”. In the faith development world, we called it Conventional Faith, in which one sort of fell into following a line of belief and action. There had been no moment of decision, of choosing a faith in which to stand.
Thomas bids us to do better, to dive deeper.
Clearly, we all stand within a tradition of stories that tell us about others’ experience of God, of what Jesus taught and did. And yet, we are asked to make it our own, to decide what this Easter event means to us, what it demands of us. We have to make it our own.
So, if you were like Thomas, and were late for Easter, don’t settle for just going along with the crowd. Make an intentional decision to pursue this faith question with a passion and honesty that might make you, and others, uncomfortable for a minute, but will yield a faith that is your own.
It’s not the easy way, but it is the way Jesus took for himself in his forty days in the wilderness, hammering out his vision of the realm of God, wrought from the very stuff of his inherited faith of Judaism. And then, there is the climatic scene in Gethsemane where Jesus’ struggle comes to a head, but he finds the resolve to follow through with his commitment, even unto death. For me, it’s the essential moment of Jesus’ identification with our humanity, my humanity.
It’s what Thomas committed to do in a most uncomfortable moment in a crowd, “I have to see for myself.”. It’s what people of faith have been doing ever since, even if they happen to be late for Easter. Blessings.
One thought on “Late for Easter”
Drive deeper, not satisfied by what we’ve been told by others but what we have touched ourselves.
That will preach!