Sunday, April 23, 2017
Second Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Thomas is always called Doubting Thomas but really he should be called Believing Thomas. Earlier in the Gospel of John he’s the first to say he will die for Jesus—just says it, confidently, boldly (11:16)—and here, in this passage today, he is the only person in any of the gospels to call Jesus God, to name him as divine: “my Lord and my God!” he says.
But of course, Thomas has the great advantage of knowing Jesus in the flesh and being with Jesus and touching Jesus and seeing Jesus, while you and I are here in the 21st century, stuck in our ordinary daily grind, just one gray day after another. No miracles. No revelations.
Or so it seems at first. Because Jesus is speaking to us all the time really, indirectly, subtly, quietly, and more than that, exactly because of this subtlety, exactly because of this indirectness, Jesus says that we are particularly blessed, are even better off than Thomas. “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.”
Peter says the same thing, that we are blessed when we don’t see, and he hints at the reason, that we’re like gold “tested by fire.”
Jennifer Hubbard is a writer who lives in Newtown, Connecticut, the mother of two children, one whom, Catherine Violet, was a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 when a disturbed young man killed so many children in that one terrible, unimaginable moment, and now Hubbard has to live with that knowledge and in the wake of that knowledge every day of her life.
Where was Jesus then? Why didn’t he come through those locked doors? Why didn’t he save those children?
We’re the doubting Thomas’s, and no wonder: we have all the reasons in the world.
But here’s what Jennifer Hubbard recently wrote in a reflection on her life now, five years later.
She used to be very organized, Hubbard says, keeping a calendar and making lists and defining her life by all the things she got done. But after her daughter was killed the master list went blank and stayed blank. “I walked blindly into an uncharted future,” as she puts it, “with nothing to offer but an empty vessel clinging to a mustard seed of hope.” Slowly, day by day, she survived. Things didn’t get better, but they did change, and now and then she’d feel a sense of hope, of life.
And here’s the paragraph that really stays with me:
Days have turned into years, and the page where the list would reside remains blank. I can now see that it is in setting aside my will that I am better able to see his. I see that each day is a blank slate in which he will provide what I need to live his purpose. While I may not see the purpose in its entirety, it is fulfilling his will for the right now that breathes life anew and settles my soul.
What I so admire about Hubbard is that she has surrendered her will to God’s will. She hasn’t given up her faith. She has given up her need to understand it. There is this terrible darkness—the death of her daughter, the death of all the others, the death of so many every day—and yet God exists and God is good. Both. And it’s not up to us to figure how these two things go together or to reduce the one to the other.
No master list for the year, because God is the master.
No need to control each day, because Hubbard knows that God will come into it and is always coming into it, just in the quiet ways. Our moments are smaller than Thomas’s moment, when he touches the wounds of the Lord himself, but they are moments, they are real, and what I so admire about Hubbard is her openness to them, her capacity to see them and value them and trust in them, and her ability to let them go, her knowledge that these moments are always fleeting, and never earned, and never explicable, and that the darkness and the tedium and the ordinary life that exists in between them are to teach us patience and to teach us humility and to teach us our need for God’s grace.
Thomas is standing in line at the coffee shop, and the light is shining through the dusty windows.
Thomas is talking to a student, she has come to see him, and he discovers that she isn’t sullen and indifferent as he thought she was but a thinking human being, a complicated, interesting person, doing the best she can.
Thomas is sitting in his living room reading a book and a sentence in the book catches his attention, it seems to be written in bold face, and for a moment his mind empties and his heart lifts: my Lord and my God!
Thomas is driving to the airport, and he is lonely and afraid.
Thomas is doing the dishes. Taking out the garbage. Mowing the lawn.
My Lord and my God!
The tomb is empty. “He’s not here,” the angels keep telling us.
“Though we once knew Christ according to the flesh,” St. Paul says in Second Corinthians, “we know him thus no longer” (5:16).
But this is a good thing. A very good thing.
As we mature in the spiritual life, the Trappist Michael Casey says, “the public face of Christ fades from view, as it were, and the person is introduced into a mysterious intimacy with the incarnate Word.”
Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead, he ascended into heaven. And he didn’t just ascend, he sent his Spirit to fill all things—every corner, every moment.
This is the advantage we have over St. Thomas, that for him Jesus was in one place, in time, fixed, but that for us he is diffused, he is distributed, he is everywhere and in everything, however subtly, and he always has been, really, if only, like Jennifer Hubbard, we can open ourselves and humble ourselves and see. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and all things were made through him and for him, which is to say that every week is Holy Week, every molecule and every quark is charged with his love and his creativity from the beginning of time.
And nothing is ever lost, not the little girl in the shadow of the gunman, not all the little girls and all the little boys in the shadow of the bombs and in the shadow of the hunger and indifference and neglect of the world, not any of us, but everything is taken up into the arms of God, and no gunmen, and no sadness, and no gray empty day can ever take away from us our faith that this is true.