Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:(1, 2), 3-9; John 20:(14-18), 19-31
Seen, To those elect exiles of the dispersion… for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood… Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice… obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (vv. 1a, 2b, 8, 9).
Peter’s letter to the churches of Asia Minor echoes and conveys the same assurance of faithfulness that Jesus promised St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn. 20:29b).
A bit earlier Jesus admonished Thomas, often translated, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (v. 27b ESV); but the better translation is “put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless but faithful” otherwise it is not clear about what of the Resurrection Thomas disbelieved or his reasons;
Thomas after all was no stranger to resurrections by Jesus. Something else was going-on with Thomas, “the twin”, identified the double minded Apostle (see Sermon, 5th Sunday in Lent/A 2020).
But if we comprehend Jesus’ exhortation to “fidelity”, then we ask, “to what faithfulness did Jesus want of Thomas?”; and we conclude: faithfulness to Jesus’ teaching of God’s resurrection presence by word and sacramental meal established only the week previous.
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus rose from the grave ascending to the Father Easter morning before he manifested himself to the Apostles. At the tomb when Mary Magdalene recognized the Lord, she attempted to worship him by clasping his nail scared feet; But Jesus tells her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…” (v. 17), which is to say, the NT church would no longer worship God in the old way; rather in the ascended flesh of the man Jesus.
In view of St. John’s Easter sequence: resurrection, ascension, visitation for apostolic Baptism, Ordination, sending, and Thomas’ re-incorporation to the band of faithful brothers; we once again examine Thomas’ state of mind. Think back before the Crucifixion to the last time Jesus was visibly present to his nascent church, to Holy Thursday establishing new ordinances for his communal Passover from the cross in water and Spirit.
St. John’s Gospel does not detail of the meal; rather he assumes Jewish familiarity with Moses’ pascal meal, underlying the cross and new exodus the next day. Jesus taught the meaning of his Seder to the Apostles, upon whose witness in the Resurrection his church would be founded; it was imperative that they possess allegiance and faithfulness to means of God’s presence new Pascha with his elect; the flesh and blood of Jesus, Bread of Life from heaven, sacrificial Meat and Drink for the sin of the world, God’s own Son, God’s conclusive expression that salvation is of Christ alone that God might be all in all; as St. Peter says today, “for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2b).
Earlier in his ministry Jesus miraculously fed 5,000; of that feeding, he taught in Capernaum, “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (6:53). Then on Holy Thursday, before going to the cross Jesus established that very Food and Drink of the church’s faith for our new Passover to the Father on his dominical word, “This is my body”.
In this word and this manner, the church discerns her new begetting from above (Jn. 3:5, 7b) and new feeding; that Jesus is the One like the bronze serpent raised in the desert for salvation by faith alone (Num. 21:9).
In Capernaum Jesus knew many followers would be offended at his directive to eat and drink his flesh and blood in faith (cf. Gen. 9:4-6; Lev. 17:11). In biblical terms Jesus was not being metaphorical; he intentionally moved-on from the Moses’ Torah to the Torah of Jesus, giving a fuller expression, that Life is not just in the blood, but specifically in his Life and blood by the command, “Take eat… drink”.
With the Jews Jesus pressed the issue of new food, exacerbating the scandal of his now looming crucifixion; that his glory and of his followers is not only in his sacrificial elevation on the cross, but as associated with the church’s food on journey to the Father. Thus, Jesus challenged, “Do you take offense at this [eating and drinking]? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (Jn. 6:61b, 62).
The offense of the Christian faith is not only the cross, but the church’s fidelity to her Paschal food that God provides. At the 5,000 of near Capernaum and at Jesus’ Jerusalem Seder he taught Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension are of a piece delivered in the church’s Baptism and new Food.
The church’s meal informed that Jesus would briefly depart to prepare a place for his Apostle brothers; but would return, that they know his location. Jesus said, “[Y]ou know the way to where I am going” (14:4). Thomas did not comprehend, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I Am the way… From now on you… know [the Father] and have seen him.” (vv. 6, 7).
But Jesus’ teaching for Thomas and the others was incomprehensible apart from the Resurrection. Thomas also witnessed Judas Iscariot’s Supper walk-out seeding his “twin-mind”. Now, on this Second Sunday of Easter Thomas, before confronted by the risen and ascended Jesus, was conflicted in the singular point of the church’s apostolic call to the fidelity in Jesus’ Supper.
The church’s Supper is the gathering place for all Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, then and now. Jesus’ ascension to the Father is profoundly a church event in which all believers participate in the presence of God.
Here then is the scandal of the cross; that in Jesus’ crucified flesh and shed blood, Thomas and all Christians are to put-aside OT Capernaistic bread, the killing letter of the law, in favor of gospel ascension Food in the man Jesus, our Way, Truth, and Bread of Life.
If the world is offended at salvation in Christ alone, still those who confess “Jesus is Lord”, but nonetheless are scandalized by the church’s Food, flirt with the apostasy of the Capernaum populous, who abandoned Jesus on account of, “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Thomas “boasted”, unless he saw and handled the wounds of Jesus, he would never “believe”; thus conditioning his “faith” on his consent. On reportage of Jesus’ Resurrection, Thomas was even then rejecting Holy a Eucharistic meal faith taught at Jesus’ Supper; that is, until Jesus appeared inviting a deep-dive into his wounds.
As an Apostle, Thomas was entitled to visibly “see” the marks of his risen Lord, imprimatur of his unique witness in the world. But what was not permissible was sectarian conditional “faithlessness”; and neither are you and I.
Thomas’ refusal to “believe” contingent on how he would humanly assess and handle Christ’s risen flesh, even as some “Christians” reject the Sacrament of the Altar, mere bread and wine; and Baptism mere water.
Thomas was preparing to judge God’s way by human sight, sensation, and a Mosaic comprehension, or as some say today, “make a decision for Jesus”. Here we must “note bene” Gamaliel’s warning, “You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:39).
God pleasing faith utterly abandons knowledge by human light for the plain word of God; something Thomas’ “faith” would “never believe” of the Resurrection, “This is my body; this Cup is the NT in my blood for the forgiveness of sins.” How sad for those scandalized by reason concerning ascension Food to the Father!
God comes, not according to the Magdalene’s expectation, but in the flesh, water, blood, and Spirit of Christ conveying sight. Following Jesus’ Supper, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, Thomas was urged to by Jesus to Eucharistic fidelity in unity with his the witness of his brothers; that his flesh and blood is the sole the place of God’s peace.
On this 2nd Sunday of Easter, Thomas was invited to plunge his hands into Jesus’ wounds and in so doing declared the church’s baptismal confession, “My Lord and my God”, in abandon of all other “faith” for the certainty of Jesus’ new Paschal meal.
This morning we approach the Altar of our ascension Food bestowing righteousness and forgiveness, fulfilling Jesus’ word, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:26b). Amen.