|34 - The Sign of the Nail-prints, April 26 2020
Fr Paul's Sermon was recorded on the St Herman's YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/7xi9wZNHh_I
How many of us experience a let-down after Pascha, maybe even depression if not something of a crisis of belief? Note, then, that the Church in no way shrinks from or chastens Thomas for his unbelief. To the contrary, setting it before us on the first Sunday after Pascha, the Church seems to encourage the kind of disbelief shown by Thomas: “Unless I see the print of the nails in His hands, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.”
The LORD Himself, when He comes into the midst of the disciples in the Upper Room, far from rebuking Thomas, calls on him to “Come, place your finger here and look at my hands, and place your hand into my side, and become no longer an unbeliever but a believer.”
The Gospel does not call us to a cheap faith. It does not demand us to believe an assertion. Nor is biblical faith the faith of Hollywood: ‘believing in what common sense tells you not to.’ The Church calls us to knowledge. She sings out, for example, at the Matins for this morning, that the risen LORD Himself proves the disbelief of Thomas to be the ‘mother of belief’ for us (Pentecostarion 76a); and, again, at Vespers: “O blessed unbelief of Thomas! It leads the hearts of the faithful to knowledge.” (P, 67a)
I think we begin to get a sense of how profound this is when we stop to note how Thomas passes over from disbelief to knowledge. It’s not that St Thomas comes to knowledge, to biblical faith, simply by seeing the risen Jesus or simply by touching Jesus’ Body. It catches me that Thomas comes to knowledge by placing his own hands into the wounds of the LORD’s Body.
I think it certain that the point of seeing the nail prints in the risen LORD’s hands and the wound from the spear in His rib was to verify that this was the same LORD who was crucified and that His resurrection was not a mirage, not in appearance only, that He was not a ghost. It is bodily. It is concretely real. Jesus was risen, not reincarnated. He did not simply pass over into a different body. Nor is the risen Jesus but a religious concept. A religious concept has no power over death. The risen Jesus has conquered death by His death.
But, I have a gut feeling that this is but the veil of a much profounder reality lying beneath it. I think that’s what the last two verses of our Gospel this morning are telling us.
St John writes: “Many other signs Jesus did in the presence of His disciples, His ‘students’, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you might have eternal life in His Name.”
This, I think, is pointing us back directly to the LORD calling Thomas to place his hands into the wounds of the LORD’s Body as one of the many other signs Jesus did, maybe even the definitive sign; for it was by placing his own hands into the wounds of the LORD’s Body that Thomas came to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. In that biblical faith, he came to true knowledge; knowledge, I would say, of the ‘really real,’ knowledge of the principle that determines how creation exists and how it moves, knowledge of the principle of human nature and destiny.
Thomas placed the hands of his own body, which was still subject to death and corruption, into the wounds of the LORD’s Body in which the LORD has destroyed death and overcome corruption. Thomas touched the LORD’s Body, the LORD’s visible ‘outer man’ with the hands of his own ‘outer man,’ and he came to faith, to knowledge in his ‘inner man’. That means, it seems to me, that Thomas’ ‘inner man’ touched the ‘inner Man’ of the LORD’s Body. That is, Thomas’ soul touched the Holy Spirit that dwelt in the LORD’s visible outer Man, the LORD’s Body. Should we say that when Thomas placed his own hands into the wounded hands of the LORD, he was placing his own wounds, the wounds of his own soul, of his ‘inner man,’ wounded and broken by sins and by the fear of death, into the wounds of the LORD’s Body, and it was this that brought him to the knowledge of biblical faith?
That is, the sign that Jesus did in the Upper Room in the presence of His disciples when He called on Thomas to place his hands in the wounds of His Body was the sign of the prophet Isaiah: “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed (saved).” (Isa 53.5)
This leads me to expect that all the signs the LORD did, and that He does still today, by which a person passes over from disbelief, or a ‘cheap faith’ to true biblical faith, all the signs the LORD does have this same character: they signify the mighty work of God on the Cross by which He heals our suffering by His suffering; He heals our passions by His Passion. By His wounds on the Cross, He heals our souls suffering from the wounds and bruises inflicted on us by sin, whether our own or that of others. That is to say, Thomas came to biblical faith not by coming to believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event, whether or not it could be proved historically, because he saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes. For, then, where would we be who do not see the risen Jesus with our own, physical eyes? Nor did Thomas come to biblical faith by coming to understand the resurrection as a religious symbol of some religious concept—for, again, if the resurrection of Jesus were but a symbol of some religious concept, it would not be a resurrection; for, no concept has power to destroy death, let alone to heal our broken souls.
I believe Thomas came to knowledge, to biblical faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, from the healing of his soul, from being ‘saved’, from being ‘made well’ and being ‘delivered’ from the ‘body of death’ (Rm 7.24) and from the devil who holds us in the fear of death (Heb 2.14) when he placed his hands, the wounds of his soul and body, into the wounds of the LORD’s crucified and risen Body. I believe we can say that the LORD’s healing penetrated to the division of Thomas’ soul and spirit and into the thoughts and intentions of his heart (Heb 4.12) where his soul yearns for eternal life in the living God (Ps 42.2).
And so also do any of us come to true knowledge, to true biblical faith, we who have not seen the LORD as did Thomas and the disciples. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not of the head or of sentimental, emotional, religious feeling. It is the knowledge of the heart where we are created by nature to receive God and to become one with Him, as He Himself demonstrated when He became flesh and shared with us in our flesh and blood to the point of becoming absolutely one with us in our death, so that we can become absolutely one with Him in His Resurrection. We cannot see the risen Jesus in the flesh as did Thomas and the disciples; but we can receive as did Thomas the healing of the wounds of our soul and spirit, and finally even of our body when we come to Him and place our wounds into His wounds. The sign, then, that Jesus performed for us in the Upper Room in the presence of His disciples was the sign that shows us how we come to knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We come to knowledge not by believing in Him as a religious assertion or concept but by placing the wounds of our soul into the wounds of His crucified and risen Body and finding ourselves in that healing joy that is native to our soul when we are abiding in the LORD and He is abiding in us in the life-giving power of His death and Resurrection.
This is as far as I can take you. As you can no doubt ‘see’, this is very deep. We have come as it were to the mouth of the LORD’s Tomb; and, if it appears to us dark inside it’s because the Light of His Holy Resurrection shines so brilliantly that it blinds us. If we are at the LORD’s Tomb, we are at the top of the mountain, for here is where our earthly life can go no farther without beginning to ascend into the deep beyond all things. Or, to change the metaphor, here, our earthly life leaves the surface and goes down into the ‘midst of the earth’ where the LORD God, our King from of old, is working His salvation (Ps 74.12) in the unseen depths of the human soul.
Each one of us has his or her own unique experience in this world enmeshed in cruelties, disorders, maladies of all kinds. I scarcely can see into my own depths; how can I possibly expect to see into yours? I am but a disciple, a student who needs a teacher, a guide to show me the way. How can I show you the way? But, this I feel I can do; I can point you toward the LORD who alone can heal us and save us; and I think I can point you to true faith—as the disciples did with St Thomas. It’s not from reading the books, but by learning from the Church, from the LORD Himself—for it is the LORD Himself who is calling us as He called to Thomas—how to come and look on Him whom they have pierced. Nothing prevents us from becoming a disciple, a student of the Savior. He will teach us how to come and place the wounds of our soul that lie beneath our depression, our unbelief, our crises of faith, our anger, our greed into the wounds of His Body. For, by His suffering our suffering is healed and transformed into the means of coming to true knowledge of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, and eternal life in the joy of the LORD’s Resurrection. Amen! Christ is risen!