Ps. 148; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1—2:2; John 20:19-31
Faithful, Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not be faithless but faithful.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” vv. 27, 28
Be clear; Jesus’ heavenly coronation, forty days after Resurrection did not, in absolute terms mark his ascension to the Father; rather Jesus’ ascension was integral of departure from the grave.
At the tomb Jesus refused Mary Magdalene to engage him in the former ways, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn. 20:17).
Nor is it entirely correct to nominate Thomas, as “doubter” who disputed Jesus’ resurrection; so, what was at the heart of Thomas’ emphatic assertion, “I will not believe” (20:25)? On this 2nd Sunday of Easter, we explore the power of God’s Ascended.
At stake for Thomas, was not the Resurrection itself. All the Apostles, were acquainted with Jesus’ resurrections; the Nain widow’s son, and Lazarus of Bethany. On several occasions Jesus prophesied rising in three days to be Israel’s new Temple (Jn. 3:19, 21).
Rather Thomas’ concerns were over the consequences of Jesus’ resurrection for “fear of the Jews” (vv. 19, 26) demonstrated in Jesus’ passion, causing disciples to flee and hide behind closed doors.
Eight days after rising, Jesus again appeared to “the Eleven”, greeting them, “Peace be with you”; then he extended Thomas his church’s new communion with the Father, in Jesus’ now glorified wounds.
Commanded, Thomas manually entered those wounds, last Apostle Baptized with the HS (cf. 20:22), thereon Jesus identified Thomas’ “doubt”, “do not be faithless, but faithful” urging apostolic fidelity in the Ascension; all “doubt” evaporated in Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God!”
Prior to participating in the HS, Thomas’ “doubt” concerned expectations administering the Sacrament of Holy Thursday’ Supper (Jn 13:34, 14:15). Did Jesus’ Resurrection greeting, “Peace be with you”, truly have the power of peace for apostleship against the formidable Jewish establishment and its temple?
The Sacrament of The Altar is the church’s participation in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension; all are of a piece, the NT essential worship. Of the Supper’s substance Jesus commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19). By its institution Jesus confronted Mosaic worship at foundational structures, committing his Apostles to personal involvement in the conflict to come.
By Thomas’ acquiescence in Jesus’ meal his “doubt” in the resurrection went directly to the church’s NT character as one holy catholic and apostolic against an alternate Judaic establishment. Violent challenge from “the Jews” to his apostolic leadership in Christ was anticipated.
The dispute of, “out with the old—in with the new”, “old wine unfit for new skins” (Mk. 2:22) continues in “Christendom” presided over by mentalities decrying the church’s singular food “in the breaking of the bread”, as mere spiritual food, little different from that in the OT.
The church does not gratuitously substitute one spiritual food for another; rather she acknowledges that in the power of Jesus’ ascension is real food for following him to session with the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13, 14, 22, 27).
Sinners are picky eaters: Adam and the woman, could eat any fruit, but desired what God forbad; Noah planted a vineyard abused in drunkenness; Esau for a “mess of pottage” despised birthright and blessing; in the desert God provided manna, quail out of the sea, and water by the abiding Rock, all of which Israel grumbled against, longing for Egyptian soul food.
Moses ordained sacrificial animals for Israel’s communion and sustaining them into the Promised Land. In time, “the Jews” (as the Evangelist calls them) became arbiters of Israel’s spiritual and physical food. As incarnate Torah Jesus, challenged their authority resulting in his death, insinuating fear among Apostles and disciples.
After feeding the 5,000, Jesus taught in the synagogue of Capernaum, “I am the Bread of Life—that came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:35, 41); in itself this does not require literal understanding, the Jews acknowledged Torah as spiritual “bread”.
But Jesus’ claim to be incarnate Torah took his catechesis further; replacing OT symbolic food with NT exodus Food, “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53).
Holy Thursday’s Sacrament of The Altar reversed Eden’s prohibition against eating of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17); commanding instead eating the knowledge of God’s goodness by the evil of the Son of Man delivered to violent men (Mt. 11:12); thus, the church’s Supper informs the cross as Tree of Life.
Jesus’ bodily Resurrection for a new Pascha is not, as in the old spiritualized lamb. Jesus crucified, risen, and ascended changed new Zion’s menu. In the NT the Son of Man joins us to his own flesh for ascension power.
Our NT Food is different than Israel’s entering the Land; their food and land were only types of Christ. Our diet brings us to faith and fidelity like Abraham in what God offers by Jesus, Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.
Thomas’ “unbelief” desired to accommodate “the Jews”, the old regime. For Thomas, Jesus’ Upper Room meal would have to be contingent on a spiritualized assessment of Jesus’ word about bread-flesh and wine-blood in order to accept existing Jewish worship; but relegating the NT church no more than a Jewish sect. On Holy Thursday Jesus offered Thomas and his church a new Temple; requiring choice, there is only one.
God desires unqualified faith in Christ, abandoning human wisdom, critique, and evaluation for absolute trust in his Speech alone. This we quintessentially do in receiving our ascension food from the cross in the resurrection.
Like Adam and Eve, Thomas’ “unbelief” would have re-evaluated God’s word about our new Temple food; determining its desirability or even necessity. Thomas qualified resurrection belief by ascension doubts unhinged to faith. But Jesus by Baptism restored Thomas into his wounds for faithfulness of the church’s unity.
From Acts, Jesus imparts the power of his “Peace” in his church. Peter and John were hauled before “the Jews”, who admonished not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus; they prayed for boldness in the face of threat (Acts 4:29). By the HS the church stood against all-powerful Jews; united “one heart and soul” holding “everything in common” (v. 32) for mutual support, consolation, and peace.
With Thomas’, “My Lord and my God”, we too extol Jesus’ ascension and to power at the right hand of God for keeping us faithful in all he commands concerning our Food. Amen.