Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 9, 2021
Faith. Deep and true faith means being open to what the truth turns out to be as we grow and learn and come more fully to understand. We come to know most fully through an experience of the Living God just like so many did when encountering the Crucified One risen from the dead. In the journey of faith we must be willing to be surprised. Faith does not mean certainty, but rather curiosity and openness and trust.
Think of how the Lord surprised his followers. First, he dies and is raised from the dead and "appears to many." That was, to say the least, despite the fact that Jesus told them so, surprising and unexpected.
He appears to Mary Magdalene and she does not know him until he speaks her name. Why did she not know him? This was not at all what one would expect. How exactly was he so different that she did not recognize him. We don't know. Another mystery.
On the shore of the Sea of Galilee Jesus cooks fish for his disciples and ate with him. Does the resurrected Lord need to eat? Again we don't know.
He appears to Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. They also do not recognize him. He opens the scriptures and explains to them the prophecies concerning himself and then, the coup de gras! He breaks bread with them and their eyes were opened to recognize him. How could anyone foresee such an encounter? They knew him because he touched their hearts in a personal and intimate way through his interpretation of the Old Testament and the breaking of bread.
And today Jesus appears in the Upper Room in an unheralded entrance. Not through a door or window. He simply appeared. The Resurrected Lord was visible and touchable, still bearing the wounds of his Passion as Thomas proves. It does not get more intimate than that or more mysterious. The point of Thomas' request, according to Fr. John Behr, was to confirm that the Resurrected One was truly the Crucified One.
In the Upper Room we see this moment of extreme intimacy. Remember. He told Mary Magdalene not to touch him in the garden, but he permits Thomas to touch his wounds! What exactly was the difference? We simply do not know.
The point of Thomas' desire to touch the Lord's wounds was to confirm that this man was the Crucified and Resurrected One and not an imposter. Thomas' doubt was positive.
His doubt led to intimacy which led to enlightenment as all honest doubt does. We are not asked simply to believe blindly. Spiritual growth demands inquisitiveness and even doubt. In no way are we required to park our minds at the door of the church. So much harm has been done when faith is misinterpreted as absolute certainty. I know because I was taught it for years.
Have I told you my airport story about the charismatic Christians and the Hare Krishna devotee? I'll make it short. A friend and I were flying to the Antiochian Village when the stewardess announced that the flight was overbooked. We and three others agreed to take a later flight. A Hare Krishna monk and a charismatic Christian couple fresh from a healing seminar at Oral Roberts University were the other three volunteers. The couple asked us to have lunch with them. They had a nice meal and bought us each an apple. For the entire time they regaled us with stories about how certain their faith was. God gave them a Cadillac for goodness sake just because they asked with absolute certainty. It was an unappealing kind of faith, at least to me. Although they quoted lots of scripture verses, I did not recognize the Word of God in what they said. I did, however, hear it later from an expected source.
At the gate I found myself standing next to the monk in his saffron robe. He turned to me kindly, humbly, bowed and said these words, "We must be vigilant." That sounded far more authentic than anything I heard at lunch! I was inspired. The Holy Fathers spoke and wrote like that. At that moment the monk spoke the Gospel truth. I must tell you, I was a little taken back and amazed. The Lord does indeed work in surprising and mysterious ways. I learned that day to be vigilant to listen for God's voice everywhere.
The Holy Trinity, it seems, is full of surprises. I can only assume that God has many more to share with us. If we hold too tightly to what we think we know, we may well shut ourselves off from all that he has for us.
Faith is openness and trust not certainty. Faith is open, not closed, mysterious, not logical, ever-expansive and, because we only "see through a glass darkly," it may well seem to us that The Faith changes. It doesn't. We do. Thomas shows us that the path to understanding involves questioning and seeking, change and personal growth. Never fear. The Holy Spirit is even now leading us into all truth if we desire to know it. On that we can rely.