Matthew, Mark, and Luke are what’s known in Greek as the “synoptik” gospels, which means “seen together.” There are so many similarities that we know they were taken from the same source document, simply called “Q.” My friend Knives, who has been one of my Atheist friends for years, posted a picture on my Facebook page that had me laughing for days (even though Mark was left out… pity). I had to admit to him that the only reason I got the joke is that I learned he played “Discord” in the new My Little Pony series, so I watched the documentary Bronies on Netflix… and that’s how I learned who he was on Star Trek. I have never been a true Trekker… I’ve only seen a couple of episodes, most notably The Trouble with Tribbles. Loved it, but have never really gotten on the bandwagon of watching every series, even though more than one person has said, “I envy you getting to experience it all for the first time.” One of the pastors I admire, Chuck Currie, manages to work Star Trek into his sermons a lot, for the simple reason that most episodes are morality plays. The first episode I ever watched was Kirk inviting one of his best friends onto The Enterprise, only to learn that he had become evil and the pain it caused him. He was in denial most of the episode, because he had to see to believe.
You would think that our gospel reading today would also be found in the synoptik gospels, because it is an important one… yet nowhere in Matthew, Mark, or Luke are these words to be found… Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. It is as if Thomas was in denial the entire episode, because he had to see it.
I believe that this is one of the pericopes that clearly separate the synoptik from the gnostic. The synoptiks are mostly facts, but in John, it’s all about feelings. Knowing God comes from deep within, and not the need to prove that Jesus was the Messiah through evangelizing his Davidic heritage. This is not to say that feelings are absent, just not as mystic.
Jesus’ reaction is pragmatic… sure, touch me. I don’t care. If that’s what you need, I’m all for it. But he also calls Thomas out on the carpet by blessing those who believe without seeing… Perhaps a little passive-aggressive, but very effective. In the Gospel of John, it is not about seeing with your eyes. It is about seeing with your heart.
Thomas, however, was not really trying to be a jackass… or at least, that is what I choose to believe. We all have these moments in our lives when something seems impossible, and we are not jaded… just trying to wrap our brains around something that can’t be put together without more information. We wander around, thinking and overthinking, ruminating (or as Aaron and I call it, “mooing”) on how the puzzle pieces can possibly fit together.
Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the sheer hugeness or complexity of something. We can’t get our arms around it. We can’t get it figured out. We are unable to organize it or to bring it under control. We are overwhelmed in a way that makes us feel small, weak and inadequate (congregationalresources.org).
Think of the days in between the crucifixion and the resurrection… Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In Proverbs 29:18 KJV, it says, where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. The glue that held the disciples together was gone. The rules and conventions they lived by fell by the wayside in the midst of overwhelming grief. Feeling small, weak, and inadequate must have hit the nail on the head (maybe THAT was a poor choice of words). For a long time, I have called Acts “The Gospel of Holy Shit, What Do We Do Now?” The disciples were lost, alone, afraid… hiding from the Jews that they knew were after them, next, because it was thought they were just as guilty of sedition as Jesus.
But that is not the end of their movie. In the time between the resurrection and the ascension, I can only think of Obi Wan Kenobi… if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Søren Kierkegaard had the same thought in the 19th century: the tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins. If you’ve ever been to church camp, I assure you that you know these words… it only takes a spark to get a fire going.
Jesus’ appearance to the disciples can only be described as imbuing them with holy authority once again, to let them know that they were capable preachers despite the fact that he would now love and direct them from the cloud rather than on the ground. I can imagine their pain and suffering as they knew they would only have him for a few more days, and regretting every moment they did not spend with Jesus while they had him on earth. He warned them that he was not long for this world, but I’m not sure the disciples could wrap their brains around that, either. There was no way that they could have absorbed the horrible reality that their leader, mediator, paraclete and advocate was going to be murdered as a common criminal. Jesus’ appearance was a spark of motivation.
For me, it’s like being family to a CIA agent. I can’t imagine what would have happened emotionally to the people that my great uncle Foster “read in,” because the concept of losing him was a constant reality, too big to wrap their brains around and especially the part where he supposedly died in a helicopter crash and “rose again” as a different identity that our family never knew. For all practical intents and purposes, he was dead to us… until years later, when we ACTUALLY got his personal effects… I am not close to that side of my family, so when I say “we,” I don’t actually mean “me,” but it is a family story that sticks with me every day. I am not allowed to go into the CIA building at Langley, because no one is…. and yet, I choose to believe that a star on the wall is his… one of those unnamed heroes that died in the line of duty… twice.
The difference between Jesus and my great uncle Foster is that he was allowed to tell no one of his resurrection. He was not allowed to appear to his family and friends to assure them that he was still alive, well, and doing what he loved… but to me, it is my real-life connection to what the disciples must have gone through, and I can connect to that experience in a visceral way. Their leader was gone. They were sorely afraid of their own deaths, because if the Sanhedrin had convicted Jesus and handed him over to the Romans, what was to stop them from doing it to everyone else? Judas was the only one to take the easy way out. He tried to get in good with the Romans for betraying Jesus, and then killed himself… partly, I think, because of his guilt, and partly because he didn’t think for a moment that “getting in good with the Romans” was going to work and he’d rather take his own life than let them get him. Of course, that is my own opinion, but venturing into fiction, seems entirely plausible. The Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah were out for blood to stop the coup they felt was happening and they were doing everything they could to quash the rebellion.
Jesus’ appearance to the disciples was a way to tell them to keep going in the face of their fears, because he knew how much it would cost them, and yet, how utterly important it was. The Sanhedrin was power over. Jesus’ was power with… a rising up by people who felt powerless and wanted to reclaim it. Needless to say, it worked, because thousands of years later, Jesus’ words are used for liberation all over the world… to lift people up and make them feel more worthy than the hell that’s being handed down. Now, Jesus is not a person, but a movement, and we are invited. Jesus made it clear that although he was the cornerstone, he was not the whole church.
Jesus sparked the disciples into action, and many preachers that followed after them, down to the very people we sit next to in the pews. Hear the words of Acts 5:27:32:
When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.
Christian is not an adjective. Christian is a verb. Just as “adulting” has become a thing, so should “Christianing.” We talk all the time about how adulting is hard. Why are we not saying the same thing about “Christianing?” Jesus’ message has been mangled in some denominations as wealth through the power of belief, when most of the time, belief is fraught with uncertainty. And yet, the Apostles refused to be beaten down, no matter how much it cost them, mostly the uncertainty that they would live.
To combat our own uncertainty, it is our job to feed hungry children, lift up the oppressed, believe #blacklivesmatter, support the entire queer community as they still battle discrimination every damn day despite the Supreme Court ruling that demands equality, and most of all, welcome the immigrants and the refugees. Christ was all about welcoming the stranger, the parable of The Good Samaritan written all over everywhere. It’s not our job to judge why people have chosen to come to this country illegally. It is our job to give them safe sanctuary…
Obviously, they’ve come here to escape something, and it shouldn’t matter what that something is to us. Jesus’ resurrection is in every time we look into a stranger’s eyes, feel that fear of not knowing them, and TAKING CARE OF THEM ANYWAY.
It is not our job to kick people while they’re already down, because if we are meant to be Christ in the world, it is our job to lift them up. Christianing is hard because you have to put away your judgmental crap, and I hear it all the time from conservative “Christians” who wouldn’t know the face of Christ if it was staring right at them. Mostly because he wouldn’t show up as the almighty Christian superhero they’ve invented. He would show up as a Syrian refugee, a woman that paid a coyote thousands of pesos to be able to lift herself out of poverty in a new life, a farm worker paid pennies on the dollar, a thirteen year old accused of a crime and stuck in the adult population.
You don’t have to be Thomas in this situation, because there is nothing to make you doubt that your ability to be Christ in the world will be found by putting your finger in Jesus’ wounds to believe that he has risen indeed. All you have to do is open your eyes… because now, the resurrection is not Jesus. The resurrection is our ability to lift up ourselves when we are stuck in the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays of our lives… the madness and grief that occurs when we look around at our world and realize that the laws we’ve created do not make us happy, but continue to oppress.
We need a paradigm shift as liberal Christians, that when the vision fails, the people do not perish but create their own. We are able to bring heaven and erase hell on earth, but it is not a requirement. You can be happy to live in your bubble and pretend that everything is ok, because Christianing is hard, hard work, and it costs us something to be the extravagant welcome that Jesus gave to us.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup, it is home in a single sip… a way back to the preacher that strengthens us, the martyr whose rule has begun because an idea beget a sea change… the one that says “when you show up at the table, you get food, anyway.” You get sustenance for the journey ahead, the hard road that you will walk if you make Christian the unbelievable verb it needs to be. But again, it’s not a requirement.
We are invited.