Acts 5.12-20

John 20.19-31

Our Gospel this morning recounts how St Thomas does not believe Christ is risen until he sees the risen Christ with his eyes and handles Him with his hands. And so St John’s testimony in his first epistle includes St Thomas: ‘What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and handled with our hands is the WORD, or the principle or the meaning [logos], of Life that was from the beginning.’ That is, this Jesus whom St Thomas saw with his eyes and handled with his hands is none other than the Eternal Life who was with the Father from the beginning (Jn 1.1), and who has manifested Himself to us (1 Jn 1.1-2) in the flesh (Jn 1.14), in His Body that is like ours, (Phil 2.6-7, Heb 2.14) that was crucified, dead, and buried and is now risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

That this Jesus is the Eternal Life who was with the Father from the beginning takes us to Jn 1.1: ‘In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with the Father, and the WORD was God. In Him all things came to be.’ And this in turn takes us to Jn 1.18: ‘No one has ever seen the Father; the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known.’ And this, ‘He Who Is,’ in Jn 1.18 takes us to Exodus 3.14, when the LORD manifests Himself visibly to Moses as the Fire burning in the Bush (the image of the Most Beloved Virgin Panagia Theotokos) and not consuming it; for that is where the LORD reveals His Name to Moses: ‘I am He Who Is’ [o wn, it says in the LXX].

I believe it is here on the Holy Mountain with Moses at the Bush burning with yet not consumed by the Fire of God that we come to the ‘root’ of our Gospel’s lesson this morning. For the pre-incarnate LORD Jesus is manifesting Himself to Moses in the Bush for the purpose of preparing Moses to lead the children of Israel on their Exodus from their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt to the ‘Land of their Inheritance.’ This tells us that the risen LORD Jesus in our Gospel this morning, manifesting Himself to St Thomas and the other disciples as He manifested Himself to Moses in the Bush, must mean that the true Exodus, the Inner Exodus of the Gospel from death to eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, has begun!

Just as the LORD Jesus is the Fire of God, the Glory of God, that was burning in the bush and not consuming it, so also is He the Glory of God who is burning in His Body that was crucified, dead and buried, and far from consuming it, He makes it new in His Holy Resurrection.

I wonder if at least one meaning of St Thomas placing his finger in the print of the nails and his hand in the LORD’s side pierced by a spear is to show that the body of the risen Christ is a human body of flesh and blood, of the same nature as our body; and that He is not risen as a ghost, nor is He risen in a different body. He is risen in the same body that was crucified, dead and buried. It is our body in which we are subject to the corruption of death through lust, i.e., through idolatry, our worship of false gods (2 Pt 1.4). And now Christ in His Resurrection has made our body new; in Christ, our body burns with Resurrection and Life and is not consumed, just like the Bush that burned and was not consumed.

And this takes us again back to the OT prophets. Our body, our whole human nature, was not made for death. We were made to burn with the fire of immortality, for we were made in the image of God’s own eternity (Wisd 2.23). What St Thomas saw and handled with his hands, then, was our own humanity restored to its original beauty in the Brilliance of God’s Eternal Wisdom, Jesus Christ risen from the dead! Those in whom this risen LORD Jesus dwells are made new, for they are raised from death not to live again in the biological life of the dust that returns to the dust, but to live in the radiant Fire of divine Wisdom who came down from heaven to become a partaker of our nature that was enslaved to corruption and death, and who, as the uncreated Fire of God the Father, was crucified, dead and buried, and who rose from the dead in the same Body, in our body that He made new in the fiery Glory of His Resurrection. In the Savior’s death and resurrection, what is consumed is not our nature, not our body of flesh and blood. What is consumed are the bonds of death that held us captive to sin and corruption (Heb 2.15).

We unite ourselves to the Body of Christ burning with His Glory in our baptism, and when we are raised from the Font, we are clothed with the fiery Glory of Christ as with a garment. We are restored to our original nature: bushes burning with the Fire of God yet not consumed but made new. And, when, out of our longing for Christ, we take up the Cross given us by the Church – the Church’s ascetical disciplines – in order to put to death all that is earthly in us, our joy begins to become full because in the suffering that inevitably comes from putting what is earthly in us to death, we are becoming one with Christ; we are beginning to share in His sufferings that He suffered out of His love for us; and so, we are beginning already to become partakers of His divine nature that was united to His human nature.

The LORD said to Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb: ‘Those who believe in Me, even though they die, yet shall they live.’ What dies in us when we unite ourselves to Christ is our death; and this is not a theory; it is our experience: in the instant that we choose to die in Christ in the likeness of His death by putting to death what is earthly in us, in that very instant we begin to share in His Holy Resurrection, and the pledge that we are becoming partakers of His Resurrection is the joy we feel in the cleansing that our soul begins to experience.

At the beginning of my sermon, I led you on a path of biblical texts to what I believe may be the root of our Gospel this morning: the LORD manifesting Himself to Moses in the Burning Bush on the Holy Mountain. And I said that if this is the root of our Gospel this morning, then the LORD Jesus manifesting Himself to St Thomas and to the other disciples as He revealed Himself to Moses in the Burning Bush means that the New Exodus seen by all the prophets has begun! We see it beginning where the old Exodus of Israel ended: in the Tomb of the King of Israel, the LORD Jesus Christ! Those, therefore, who unite themselves to Christ in Holy Baptism, and who rise from the Font to take up their Cross in order to follow Him as He commands, they become members of His Body that has trampled down death by His death. They join the New Israel on the New Exodus of the Gospel that leads us from death to life in the LORD’s Heavenly Kingdom. And these are they to whom the LORD is referring when He says, ‘Blessed are those who believe without seeing.’ They believe without seeing because, putting to death what is earthly in them, their senses are purified and the LORD Jesus Christ, the New Covenant foreseen by the prophets, is becoming the Law of their minds written on their hearts, so that no more do they need to be taught to know LORD, because they know Him’ (Jer 31.31-34) from seeing Him in an unseeing way (St John Climacus), shining in their hearts in the unapproachable light of His Resurrection to give the knowledge of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4.6; Ode I Pascha Matins). For having denied themselves and taken up their Cross and having lost their life for the sake of Christ, they have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer they who live but Christ who lives in them (Gal 2.20). He is their Life, He is the longing of their soul, and they are coming to know Him as the Bride knows her Spouse (Wisd 8.2). They do not know about Him. They know Him immediately and directly through faith; they know Him in their love for the Heavenly Bridegroom who first loved us (1 Jn 4.19).

Do you need to put your finger in the print of the nails and your hand in His side that was pierced by a spear in order to believe in Christ risen from the dead? Come with the disciples to the Upper Room. Flee the corruption that is in the world through lust, and flee to the Church, the Body of Christ made visible and audible and tangible to our senses! Do as the LORD commands: deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Christ by obeying His commandments, repent and purify your senses. I.e., seek Truth and Beauty and Goodness with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. I.e., set yourself on the Path of the inner Exodus of the Gospel! It begins within you. It is to descend with your mind into your heart in the ascetical discipline of prayer in the way of the Church. Seek the LORD diligently, for the LORD loves those who love Him, and those who seek Him diligently will find Him. And when they find Him, they will find themselves restored to their original beauty as beautiful bushes ablaze with the Glory of God and yet not consumed, but rather made new. Amen!