35 - St Thomas Sunday, May 12, 2013

The holy apostle and evangelist, John the Theologian, tells us in his holy Gospel that, although there are many more signs that Jesus did, he has recorded these signs for us, ending with this moving story of St Thomas worshipping the risen Jesus who was crucified as Lord and God, as sufficient for us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing that, that we might have life in His Name. In his first epistle, the same apostle and evangelist John proclaims to us what he and the other disciples heard, what they saw with their eyes, what they beheld, and what their hands touched and handled. It was the Word of Life who is in the bosom of the Father, who is in the beginning with the Father, who is Himself fully God, Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, who became flesh and dwelt among us, was crucified and buried and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. St John writes in his first epistle that he proclaims this so that we might have communion with them, whose communion is in the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son; and in that communion, that our joy might be full.

This is the proclamation of Christ’s holy Church, calling out to us to “come and see!” that we might be illumined by the glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection and transfigure our life on this earth into an ascent from death to life, from darkness to light in the beauty of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom.

But, how do we believe this proclamation of the Church of Christ’s Holy Resurrection – a fantastic, even incredible claim – when we can’t see Him or hear Him, as did the holy apostles?

“You believe,” the risen Lord says to St Thomas, “because you have seen; but, blessed are those who do not see and believe.”

This word of the Savior to St Thomas is all the more striking because it seems to be the opposite of His word to the two disciples of St John the Baptist. Hearing the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus, they followed Him. He turned around and asked them, “What do you seek?” They answered, “Teacher, where do you abide?” He said: “Come and see!” This Gospel story continues: “They came and they saw where He did abide, and they abode with Him from that very hour, which was about the tenth hour.” (Jn 1:39)

Three things strike me about this story of the Baptist’s disciples and Jesus, which I think illumine the Lord’s word to St Thomas: “Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” First, one notes that the disciples do not ask Jesus: What is the street address of the house you are staying in; but simply, Where do you abide? Given the theological importance of this word, abide, there seems clearly to be a theological meaning to their question. It takes us to Jesus’ words to His disciples in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal and arrest. Jesus says:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:4-5)

To abide in the vine and to produce fruit is an image of death and resurrection, as the Lord makes clear when He says: “Unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth fruit.” (Jn 12:24)

So, when Andrew and Simon Peter, the Baptist’s two disciples, ask Jesus where He abides, and when it says that they came and saw where Jesus did abide, it seems clearly to carry Paschal meaning. For, where does the Lord abide, according to His own word? He abides not only with the Father in His divinity as the Son of God; in His humanity, He abides as the corn of wheat in the ground; i.e., in the tomb; i.e., in the heart and soul of those who receive Him through faith – and this, of course, is a mystery, that cannot be seen except in an unseeing way, i.e., by the inner experience of faith.

The second thing that strikes me is that the Paschal character of this exchange between Jesus and the Baptist’s disciples makes the time of day when this occurred suddenly theologically meaningful: “it was about the tenth hour.” In other words, the hour that immediately follows the ninth hour, when Jesus died on the Cross, as we say in the prayer of the Ninth Hour: O Lord, who at the Ninth Hour didst destroy the power of death by Thy death. In other words, this exchange between Jesus and the two disciples of St John the Baptist is taking place in the shadow – or rather, let’s say, in the glorious light of the Cross.

And this takes us to the third thing that catches my eye in this exchange between Jesus and the Baptist’s disciples. “They came and saw where He abides.” This is the same word to describe St John entering the tomb of the Savior on the day of His Resurrection: “He went into [the sepulcher] and he saw and he believed.” (Jn 20:8) Note how this seeing and believing is associated with the empty tomb. St John saw, but what did he see? He saw nothing; that is to say, he saw no body, only the napkin and linen clothes that had clothed the Lord’s body. What did he believe from this? That the Lord was risen?

Note as well that, in the Greek, this word for “seeing” is the same word in this morning’s Gospel, when the disciples see the risen Jesus, and when Jesus says: “Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” Is it significant that the disciples see the risen Lord in the Upper Room, which is not unlike a sealed tomb; and, that the risen Lord, when He appears in their midst, shows them His hands and His feet, where the nails had pierced, and His side, which the sword had pierced? And, that St Thomas, too, believes when the Lord appears and shows him his hands and his side, and invites him to put his hand into the place where the nails pierced the Lord’s hands, and into the place where the sword pierced the Lord’s side. In effect, He directs St Thomas to make the sign of the Cross over His body; and then He says to St Thomas: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Do you see how each of these three things that I have noted from the exchange between the Baptist’s disciples and Jesus directs us to the tomb of Christ; and from there, to the Upper Room where the risen Lord appears to the disciples on the Eighth Day, i.e., on Sunday, the day of His Resurrection?

The tomb of Christ is where the crucified Christ is buried, like the corn of wheat sown in the ground. But, in the Gospel, the tomb of Christ opens onto the Upper Room where the Lord appears to the disciples in His Resurrection. The tomb is our heart where we are dead in our sins and trespasses. But, the tomb becomes the Upper Room, even the Bridal Chamber, where Christ is seen in His Resurrection when we follow Him in the practice of His commandments and, taking up our cross, unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death.

The Savior said to Nicodemus when Nicodemus visited Him by night, “The Spirit blows wherever it wants to. You hear the sound of its voice. But, you do not see where it comes from or where it goes.” You do not see: it is the same word we find in Jesus’ words to St Thomas: “Blessed are those who do not see andbelieve.” You do not see the Spirit because it is immaterial, and so invisible; but, I wonder if we can also say that you cannot see the Spirit, where it comes from and where it goes, because it comes from the tomb of Christ’s Holy Resurrection; it comes from beyond the grave; it comes from the mystery of God that was hidden before the ages until it was made manifest in the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God in whom we have our origin and our end.

I think that these words of Jesus to St Thomas might be the transfiguration, the glorification of His word to those who would follow Him: “Whoever would be My disciple, let Him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me.” One cannot follow Christ and not be crucified with Him on His Cross, or buried with Him in His tomb. To be crucified and buried with Christ is to live no more for the flesh which can be seen, but which passes away; it is to live for the Spirit, which is joy and life eternal because it comes from the Father.

These words of Jesus to St Thomas, I think might give meaning to His invitation to the Baptist’s disciples, and to the invitation Philip gave to Nathaniel: “Come and see” the mystery that cannot be seen; it is the mystery of Christ who has destroyed death – the death that is in you – by His death and given life to those in the tombs. It is the mystery of you. It is the glorious proclamation of who you really are and why you are. You are more than flesh and blood. You are soul, you are spirit. You have an inner identity known to God, because you were made in His image; you were made to abide in Him in eternal life and in the joy of the communion of His Holy Spirit.

Blessed are those who do not see and believe. Blessed are those who follow Christ to the tomb in the practice of His commandments and who, in Christ, die to their worldly self, which can be seen but which passes away; for through the Cross of Christ, they will come to the Upper Room of His Resurrection to see their true spiritual identity, which cannot be seen, the part of us that is of the Spirit, created in the image of God. Abide in the death of Christ. Trace over your life the sign of Christ’s Holy Cross, and so you will abide in the Spirit of the risen Christ, and so you will come to see the mystery of the Spirit of Christ in you that cannot be seen, and so you come to be like Christ when, in your death that destroys death, you will see Him as He is. That is to say, you will see it in the fruits of the Spirit that are produced in you from taking up your cross and dying with Christ to your worldly self: the fruits of your spiritual self in the resurrection of Christ: joy and eternal life in the love of God the Father, the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.