Friday, October 23, 2015

In the Beginning...

Easter 2 Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 12 April 2015
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
In the beginning of a meal, we ask God's blessing on our food. Today's scriptures offer us a banquet.
Let us pray. Holy God, bless us as we feast on your words, may they
 nourish us for our work of ministry in Jesus' name. Amen.

John's Gospel gives us food for thought today as he does when he opens [Ch. 1:1-5] his Gospel, saying “In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. What has come into being in him was life, & the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness did not overcome it.” This echoes the beginning in Genesis chapter 1.
In today's Gospel, Jesus marks a new beginning, the beginning of the Church, activated on earth to spread the Good News of God's Love that we know through Jesus' life, death, resurrection & ascension. Jesus entrusts us to carry on his healing work here, to shine his Light of Love.
The beginning in John's Gospel echoes Genesis: God creates Light; a bit later [Gen. 2:7] God breathes breath into the 1st human, as several sources note. In our Gospel [John 20:22], Jesus breathes on the disciples & says: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus breathes new life into us. We receive the Holy Spirit to guide us in the work Jesus gives us to do to continue his work of sharing God's Love & drawing more people into God's Love.
Our lessons from Acts & from the 1st Letter of John give us details about what sharing God's Love looks like: It looks like unity. As our Psalm says: “Oh, how good & pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity!” This doesn't mean we mindlessly agree & think alike. It means we are honest about our successes & our failures. It means, when we sin, we turn to God for help & rely on God to lead us into better ways to live. It means we live in Holy Community. God makes us for community.
Look what a difference community makes in our Gospel. When Jesus comes to the disciples, they are afraid, hiding behind locked doors. The disciples are together except for Thomas. I wonder if Thomas is so grief stricken over Jesus' death that he has to be alone1. Look what he misses being away from the community, trying to handle life's harsh reality on his own: He misses being there when Jesus says: "Peace be with you" & then shows the disciples his hands & his side, the very proof Thomas insists he must see to believe.
When Jesus shows his hands & side, the disciples get it. They rejoice. Alone, Thomas struggles with the fact that Jesus has died. Then he struggles with what his fellow disciples joyfully tell him.
Thomas is a realist, honest about what he knows. You remember in John 14[:1-7 which we read in today's Morning Prayer] Jesus says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas says: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus says: “I am the way, & the truth, & the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Thomas is honest. When he doesn't know something, he doesn't pretend to, as Pope Benedict 16th has noted, speaking about Thomas to people gathered in St. Peter's Square Sept. 27, 2006.2 Thomas shows us to ask Jesus our questions: “We often do not understand (Jesus). Let's be brave…(like Thomas &) say: 'I don't understand you, Lord;…help me...(When)…we express our meager capacity to understand…(we) place ourselves in the trusting attitude of someone who expects light & strength from (Jesus who is) able to provide them.”3
Not only is Thomas a realist, he is courageous. You recall earlier in John’s Gospel [11:16, as several commentators note] when Jesus is going to Bethany to raise Lazarus, a trip that will put Jesus in harm's way, Thomas says: “Let's also go so we can die with Jesus.”
Notice what Thomas does when he is with the community & Jesus appears: Jesus offers for Thomas to touch his wounds. Our Gospel does not say Thomas takes Jesus up on the offer. It says Thomas immediately responds: “My Lord & My God.”
His willingness to believe without touching Jesus is genuine faith...Thomas...first embodied he witnesses the (Gospels') highest... confession of Jesus (as the Christ).”4 Thomas connects the dots between what he knows of Jesus as his leader/his Lord & his new insight that Jesus is God, integral in the Unity of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
Thomas' encounter with Jesus transforms him. His brain has been busy trying to grasp what has happened; suddenly, his heart grasps the joyful, awesome truth.5 His heart beats with life-giving truth.
Our hearts are designed to pump life-giving blood throughout our bodies, as you know. Illustrations show 2 halves of the heart & science describes 2 phases of the heart's work, contracting & relaxing.6 Our hearts are like twins.
Our Gospel calls Thomas the Twin. My research shows no solid explanation why; not even the Pope knows7, as Pope Benedict 16th said at the morning General Audience Sept. 27, 2006, when he spoke about Thomas to the people gathered in St. Peter's Square. Maybe more important than why Thomas is called the Twin is that in him we can see how we may doubt & still take heart. We do not have to fear our doubt. Like our Brother Thomas, we can honestly express doubt.
Our Brother Thomas, who shows us (as the Pope says) “every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty...[What]...Jesus says to Thomas assures us that true faith encourages us to persevere no matter how difficult may be our faith journey [our journey] to Jesus.8

Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostles. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. 1962.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol. 2. Revised Edition. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday. 1997.
The Four Translation New Testament. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications. 1966.
Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Ed.: Merrill C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1965.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989. Accessed: 11 April 2015. From: L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English. 4 October 2006, page 10. L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See. The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by: The Cathedral Foundation, L'Osservatore Romano English Edition. 320 Cathedral St., Baltimore, MD 21201. Provided Courtesy of: Eternal Word Television Network. 5817 Old Leeds Road. Irondale, AL 35210.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. Accessed: 7 April 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
1 Note: Perspective from Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. Vol. 2. Revised Edition. P. 275.
4 Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. P. 360.
5 Note: Insight from Barclay. Ibid. P. 267.

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