Easter 2 B April 15, 2012
Acts 4:32-35; Ps. 133
1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
St. Thomas feels like a really familiar person to me. St. Thomas feels like someone who wants things just so. He edges into the perfectionist column on personality tests. He’s like what people used to say about Missouri: he is from the “show me” state. He’s got to touch it and smell it and pick it up with his own hands in order to believe it. Jesus was killed. Buried in a tomb. He’s over here, in this box, in this category. I’ve got my world all together. Maybe it’s not too great but I can understand it. Things used to be good, then they got bad, now they are not much better, but at least I know where things are right now. I know what is going on. I can make this work.
Thomas has got it so much “just so” that he wouldn’t know resurrection unless it hit him in the head. Until, of course, it does. It takes a little longer than the other disciples for Thomas to relinquish his hold on reality, his sense of control and perfection and order. It took a great big sign, but he did get it. What was absolutely incomprehensible had happened. Death, that ultimate control freak, was overturned. Life, in all its messy, complicated, sloppy, disorderly and miraculous, had won the day.
From the get-go of the resurrection, it seems, things get really sloppy. The abundance of new life just spills all over the place. The Acts of the Apostles is full of these ridiculous stories of extraordinary abundance.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
This is not easy to understand, this kind of abundance and profligacy. It really does not make sense to give up private property, to share everything we own, to eliminate need by redistributing the wealth. This has been tried, you know, and it doesn’t always go very well. Little human tendencies like greed and jealously and even perfectionism get in the way of living this wild, post-resurrection life.
In his novel, My Name is Legion*, the English writer A.N. Wilson puts this speech in the mouth of an elderly priest:
… our faith went to the Garden in the darkness of dawn three days later. Our faith did not find explanations, not did it find fake consolations. It found a new God.
This “new God,” Wilson has the priest go on to say,
… was to be found not in control, but in loss of control; not in strength but in weakness. He was no longer an explanation for what happens.
The priest, then, seems to be reflecting not only on the that ephemeral experience of the resurrected Jesus but always what happened to the Apostles, on the very real and very historical Church of the Apostles:
… we can no longer look to an imaginary God to hand out morality, to feed the poor, to heal the sick, to refashion the world along just and equitable lines. That is our responsibility now, and if it seems like a Godless world, we shall be judged – we, not God.
Thomas, and all of us, who want the world to be tidy and predictable and orderly -- even the world in its most terrible should be that way – are really in for a shock on this 8th day after the resurrection. God has come even closer to us than he was when he was a baby in a barn. The wise teacher who did no wrong, who walked and talked among us, is now seen, to quote A.N. Wilson again,
… not in the highest heavens and heaven of heavens but in a wounded human body: in bleeding hands, and pierced feet, and wounded side.
It is hard indeed for us to get back to that house with the locked doors, hard to stand there with Thomas. We know his skepticism, but find it harder to feel the mystery of what happens next.
But there is one way we can know it: in what we do together: in the hungry people we feed, in the community we create, in the love we share. Those things, however mundane, simple and everyday, are signs, just as glorious, of a new day, a new life, a new world.
* A.N. Wilson, My Name is Legion (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004) pp. 300-301