32 - St Thomas Sunday, April 11, 2010

Acts 5:12-20

John 20:19-31

The Gospel proclaimed by the Church is the mystery hidden for ages in God but now revealed to His saints.[1] The Spirit of Christ indicated it to the prophets when they inquired of the Spirit that was in them what person or time was indicated when they were predicting the sufferings of Christ and His subsequent glory. It is the mystery of God that angels longed to look into.[2]

This mystery hidden for ages in God, which the Church proclaims, is this: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” This Gospel of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ comes from the Spirit of God who is sent from the Father in heaven; and it proclaims a great secret hidden from before the ages, revealed (not to religious academics but) to the saints. It is a revelation, a vision of the world that reveals the principle of all that exists to be altogether different, fundamentally and essentially, from anything taught in any of the world’s religions or religious philosophies. None of the world’s religions or philosophies has seen it, none has proclaimed it.

There are myths of dying and rising virgin born sons (and daughters) of God that you’ll find in the religions of the world, myths whose origins extend into the mists of pre-history. In the ancient Mediterranean world, the many variations of this universal myth came together in the syncretistic mysteries of Eleusis, of which many of the ancient philosophers were initiates and mystagogues themselves. But if the Gospel of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ were but a Jewish variant of this ancient universal myth, if Christ were but the Jewish version of Osiris or Dionysios, Marduk or Tammuz or Brimos, as many religious academics believe, one would expect that the philosophers of Athens would have said to St Paul when he proclaimed the Gospel to them on Mars Hill: “Ah, yes! We recognize this. It is but a Jewish version of what we celebrate in the Eleusinian mysteries.” But they did not say this. Their response, instead, was: “This is a new teaching you are presenting to us.”[3] And most of them did not accept it. They ridiculed the Gospel proclaimed by St Paul there on the Areopagus because it preached a resurrection from the dead – and this is significant, because the Eleusinian mysteries to which many of them doubtless belonged, was centered on the death and resurrection of a virgin born son of god. Their rejection of St Paul’s Gospel proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is clear evidence that the Church’s Gospel concerning the resurrection of Jesus from the dead does not express some archetypal mythologem that originates from the subconscious layers of the psyche and which comes to expression in different ways in dreams or in myths; neither does it originate from some mystical mathematical calculations, and certainly not from any scientific measurements. The resurrection of Christ is a singular event that shatters and transcends all human religious, philosophical and scientific expectations. It reveals a vision of human nature and destiny that no worldly philosophy and no worldly religion has seen; for it is the transcendent mystery hidden for ages in God and now revealed to His saints by the Holy Spirit sent from the Father in Heaven. It is the Word of Life that was from the beginning, which the holy disciples saw with their eyes and heard with their ears and handled with their hands. In other words, it was revealed to them from outside their own mental reasonings and psychological feelings. They did not, for example, gather together after the death of Jesus and talk about it and conclude that He must be risen because the impact of His teaching was still vividly alive in their memories, as some modern so-called theologians like to say.

The significance of this morning’s Gospel, which tells us the story of St Thomas passing over from unbelief to belief, lies in part in the fact that it exposes the spiritual origin of this academic nonsense that passes for theology in the academic institutions of the world. It is not from the Spirit of God sent from heaven, but from the same spirit that led the Jews to concoct the tale that the body of Jesus was stolen away by His disciples, and the same spirit that led the philosophers in the arrogance of their intellectual ignorance to reject and mock the Gospel proclamation of St Paul on Mars Hill.

Of course, we hear tales of others who have been raised from the dead: the young boy who was raised from the dead by Elijah, for example; the son of the widow and Lazarus who were raised from the dead by the Savior. But Jesus’ resurrection is not like theirs. His is a resurrection from a death that has destroyed death and given life not just to one person, but to all those in the tombs. His is a resurrection in the same body that was crucified and that was laid in the tomb dead as a corpse, which now truly lives even in its corporeality, subject to death no longer, not as one of the living dead like a zombie, not as a vampire (for He gives Life; He does not take it away) but in a heavenly and spiritual manner. It appears and disappears at the Lord’s will; it passes through doors and walls.

It is precisely because the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is altogether unprecedented and altogether different from what one encounters in historical reports or in mythology or religious philosophy that none of the disciples believed the report of Christ’s resurrection until they saw Him with their own eyes, and heard Him with their own ears. Even then, some doubted still. So we are told by St Matthew.[4]

I submit that St Thomas doubted the report of Christ’s resurrection for the same reason everyone else doubted it: it is altogether unprecedented. It is an absolutely and a fundamentally new reality that has never before been seen or heard or proclaimed in the history of the world – except by the prophets of the OT, who themselves saw it only dimly and in shadow and only by the Spirit of Christ who was in them. But, I submit that when St Thomas falls to his knees in worship and calls out, “My Lord and my God!” he is calling out to Him as though he suddenly and for the first time recognizes Him intuitively as the forgotten and deepest principle of the human heart, the Lord God who is immediately, intuitively and absolutely familiar to every human soul even in His unfamiliarity. In the presence of the risen Lord, one suddenly sees clearly that we have forgotten God and become altogether ignorant of Him. We have fallen away from the Light of Christ God, in whom we were originally created, and into the darkness.

But what makes it so marvelous is this: He stands before us in His Holy Resurrection in His crucified and risen body that is of the same nature as ours, glorified now in Him in the unspeakable radiance of His holy Resurrection. Whatever His Resurrection means, it means that for us!

My hope this morning is to stir us out of our complacency and to set before us why we should be dumbfounded, puzzled, doubtful, confused by the Church’s Gospel proclamation. We have so accommodated ourselves to the world and become so worldly, that the cosmic enormity of the Gospel proclamation altogether eludes us. Indeed, it hardly interests us. For all practical purposes, we reduce it to a myth and dismiss it as a fantastic religious tale, just as did the philosophers on Mars Hill. Pascha comes and goes, and we hasten back to our worldly pre-occupations. If we grasped even a little bit of what the Gospel is proclaiming to us, I think our reaction would be closer to the myrrh-bearing women: afraid out of our wits (ekstasis is the Greek word), utterly disoriented, puzzled, confused – for what is being revealed to us is the real principle of the world that has been hidden in God as the great mystery of the world from before the ages; and it is altogether unlike anything we have been led to expect or believe from the religious philosophies and scientific theories of world history.

And yet, in the Eucharistic worship of the Church, if we are mindful, if we have come with hearts that are tuned attentively to the Word of Life who is “in our midst”, we may glimpse and even feel something of the joy and the beauty of this Gospel proclamation enough that there should stir in our souls a desire to learn how we can pass over from earth to heaven, from death to life, and enter into the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection that He has accomplished for us in His own incarnate body that is of the same nature as ours. I submit that these next eight weeks of Pascha are all about teaching us this new thing that has been hidden in God from the ages, so that we can now begin preparing ourselves for the Feast of Pentecost to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, so that we might behold the crucified and risen Christ and clearly hear Him say, “Rejoice!” and in the power and the grace of the Holy Spirit that raised Him from the dead, go out into our world to proclaim in word and deed what God has done for the world in His beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and what blessings are in store for those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and who take up their cross to die in Him and to be united to Him in that same life-creating death of His by which He has destroyed death by death and given life to those in the tombs. Amen.

[1] Cf. Rom 16:25; Eph 3:9; Col 1:26

[2] I Pet 1:10-12

[3] Acts 17:18ff.

[4] Matt 28:17