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Meeting Jesus: Easter 2 (John 20:19-31)

I was in a gathering yesterday that had a lot of preachers—not what you might expect at a bridal shower, but there we were. And of course, all of us—Episcopalian and Lutheran—are preaching on this gospel this morning. We compared notes: one finds herself drawn to the part about “retaining sins”; one is talking about the surety of God’s presence; and some of us are going to talk about Thomas, and about meeting Jesus, about where and how we meet Jesus.

Thomas is an apostle who wanted proof—perhaps another in the line of those who wanted signs and wonders.  Jesus gives him proof, and then tells him “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.  That’s reassuring for us, who don’t get to see the historical figure that shows up, unannounced, crashes the dinner twice, in this story.  And we can be sure that is true—that we are blessed in these days just as the contemporaries of Jesus were. That’s comforting.   

Faith and belief are good things, but Thomas wants proof, he wants to know that this is Jesus and not a dream or a vision or wishful thinking. Thomas wants to “see for himself”. That would have been a problem for the apostles early on; there’s no YouTube to post videos of “Jesus comes to dinner,” “Jesus walks around,” “Jesus takes his turn cooking.” There must have been a good many that said, yeah, right, and put this story of a risen, living Jesus down with the first century equivalent of sightings of Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster, or, for that matter, Elvis. That charismatic guy who was such a trouble-maker, pretty good preacher, but they got him and he’s gone. Alive and walking around and talking to you? Yeah, right.

So Jesus had to do something, and the apostles had to record those things, so that people would know: yup, that Jesus, same one, he’s back, the same one.   “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32)

Thomas wants to have more than seeing Jesus; he asks for and is allowed tangible proof. What a lovely, antiseptic, high-falutin’ word, tangible. He gets the blood and guts proof. If this scene were done in a movie, the camera zooming in, we’d be appalled. The apostles would be saying “Thomas, use the hand sanitizer, and by the way, keep your fingers off the rim of the cup when it comes around.” I might add, if Dr. Hawtrey [or, a retired surgeon I know] were there, he’d be saying, as Thomas’ hand was poised, “All right, apostle, tell me exactly  what layers you’re going through.”  Those of you who have ever done a dissection in biology, or cleaned a fish—or seen a surgery—know that it’s, well, it’s gross. It is very physical. If I were to describe Thomas’ hand going in to the side of Jesus, where blood and water flowed out, any further—well,  any small boy listening would be saying,  Ew, Gross, Cool.   

We can think about the flesh torn open and the blood, we can imagine—bring the image to our minds, without Thomas ever actually putting his hand there—note that the Gospel doesn’t say he did reach out his hand; we only know he said “My Lord and my God!” Mel referred to the mystics as sensual last week; I suggest that those who meditate, who expand their imaginations to look unflinchingly and deeply into the story, who put it in our mind’s eye, are pretty sensual too, though perhaps we’d rather “touch thy garment’s hem” than bend our minds around the physical reality of this scene.

The resurrection of the Lord was truly the resurrection of a real body, because no other person was raised than he who had been crucified and died.” (Leo the Great). Our Jesus is real, flesh-and-blood real; shockingly real if we follow what Thomas’ hand is asked to do, where he is told to go. Jesus was fully man as well as fully God; the apostles met him as such. We don’t have that advantage; we say Christ lives in each of us, we say that we encounter Christ in each other and in those we meet and serve. In some ways, that’s a lot more abstract than being able meet Jesus himself, or more abstract than being able to click on YouTube and see those video clips. But we are as real as Jesus was, and we can manage this balance between the “abstract” but real presence of Jesus in everyone we meet and the individual, physical reality of each person. Thomas got to have it all in front of him; we are reminded to see Christ in all the saints of God, whether you meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea; in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at coffee hour.

Thomas, though, wanted to touch. Touch is a very basic sense for making sense out of the world; I see patients with severe dementia who seem to operate by touch, because what they see and what they hear no longer gives them any information they can use. Touch you can trust. But there is a more basic perception still—think of very small children, who perceive the world by tasting it; everything encountered goes to the mouth to be explored, made sense of, assimilated into an understanding of the world—tasted.

But of course we have that taste, too. We have Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine every week; we have Christ in a way we can taste him, satisfy the most basic sense. Now, this is not about transubstantiation, or any other –stantiation. It is our belief, our minds which accept the bread and wine as Christ when they have been taken, blessed, broken, and given. We have what is both the simplest, most fundamental perception of Christ all put together with this very strange theological concept. Bread, body, wine, blood.

So there are other people, children of God, and there is God in them; there is the body and blood of God in the Eucharist, and there is bread and wine. It is never two, separate things; we live in a created, sacramental world.  Doing ministry on the street, asking people to tell their stories, we ask also “where is God in your story?” and He is there, and Christ is in that person, too; we don’t bring Christ to the street, he’s there.  If you were asked your story, if someone asked, where is God in your story?  So I ask you:  Where and how do you meet Jesus?

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