Address for “Low Sunday” – 19 April 2020
“Seeing is believing” – those words echo down to us from the Ancient Greeks, and from many other thinkers and commentators in between.
And, shaped as we are by three centuries of Scientific Rationalism, it seems only logical that we trust what we see with our own eyes more than anything anyone else might tell us.
And this appears to be borne out by that account of Thomas – or doubting Thomas as he’s often called.
He’s heard the testimony of the other disciples, that THEY have seen Jesus, risen from the dead, but he won’t accept that testimony: unless HE sees Jesus for himself – sees his wounds and touches them.
Thomas wants empirical evidence before he believes – after all, seeing is believing!
And yet I’m not sure that’s necessarily what is happening here.
Even from a scientific perspective, the assertion that “Seeing is believing” seems overly simplistic.
For decades now, thanks to increasingly sophisticated technology, astronomers studying deep space have found themselves looking at things that existed millions of years ago, and having to make assumptions about what’s out there now. The distances involved are just too great for any of us to “see” what is actually there.
And, at the other end of the spectrum, Particle Physics has long worked with subatomic particles so miniscule that, again, no human eye could hope to “see” them in any meaningful sense of the word.
In both cases, then, rational scientists have developed theories based not so much on seeing actual “things” – observable objects – as on the effects that those supposed “things” have. We observe the way that space or matter behaves and what might affect that behaviour and make rational deductions about what is. More often than not, those deductions prove correct, or at least convincing, but it’s a long way from “seeing is believing” – from believing ONLY what can plainly be seen and tested. At the very least I’d want to suggest that the “believing” bit comes first – forming a plausible explanation in our mind’s eye and ten seeing if there is evidence around us to back it up.
And if that’s how the world of the science operates, what about “religion” and the nurture of faith?
Again we find ourselves dealing with things that can’t be seen – but which can be sensed very profoundly, in the core of our being. Sometimes we know, beyond doubt, new realities which we simply can’t put into words – let alone explain, to our own rational minds or to someone else.
I’m reminded of another familiar phrase –“faith is caught, not taught”, implying that Religious belief is NOT just about passing on information or trying to prove the historical truth of some Bible story or other. It’s far more about sensing what is truly good – and sensing what is truly God.
Thomas asks to see and touch Jesus if he is going to believe – but it’s actually what he hears that moves him: Jesus speaks to him, perhaps even speaks his name. Thomas knows then, beyond any doubts screaming away in his logical brain, that his IS his Lord and Saviour. Jesus calls and Thomas believes.
Now, as then, no amount of talking about the Risen Christ is any substitute for encountering the Risen Christ ourselves.
It’s interesting, I think, that this episode come in the middle of three similar encounters.
Last week it was Mary, at the empty tomb – distraught that her Lord is not there. Then she does see him, but doesn’t know him until he calls her name – then she believes.
Thomas is adamant that he will not accept that Jesus is risen unless he sees for himself what the others have told him. And then, when he does, it’s almost as if that doesn’t matter any more – what does matter is that Jesus is speaking, and speaking to him.
And then, next Sunday, we’ll hear about the disciples on the road to Emmaus – bemoaning the loss of Jesus, even though they are in fact talking to Jesus himself!
They see but do not believe: they do not know him, until he breaks bread, and speaks the words that he said to them at another supper – on the night before he died.
Seeing, it appears, is never enough – even those with rather better eyesight than mine – have a habit of overlooking the blindingly obvious or of choosing not to notice the things that don’t fit with what they already believe or want to believe.
Our logical, cautious minds have a tendency to keep us in safe, predictable territory – even when the world around us sings of the, as yet, unexplored life that God intends for us.
Mary, Thomas and the disciples on the road all testify to the reality of things that cannot be seen or touched – of those profoundly sensed truths that I spoke of earlier.
For us, as with Thomas, it’s not enough just to be told that Christ is Risen; it’s not enough to read it in the Bible, or see it depicted in religious art; nor was it enough, for Mary or Thomas, just to see Jesus the man.
Somehow we need to sense that it is true – it needs to “make sense” to us at some deeper level.
It is the flow of love – as Jesus speaks to his disciples – that dissolves their doubt and strengthens faith. They don’t really know how they know it’s him – somehow they just know that they know.
It’s that same “flow of love” to us that we need to sense in order to believe,
that flow of love from God to others, that we need to sense in order to recognise Christ at work among us; that flow of love to others that we must replicate – if we are to claim, with any credibility, to be Christ’s body now on earth and to make him known.
In the strange world of 2020 – perhaps all those things have become a little more challenging – cut off as we are from our normal mode of existence and our normal channels of communication.
Yet, as Mary, Thomas and the other disciples learned the risen Christ has a habit of surprising us – of appearing when we least expect him and in a guise that we may not at first recognise.
In the pregnant pause of this current lockdown – can we pay attention to all our senses and be shaped and reenergised by what we discover?
Can we still our troubled minds long enough, and often enough, to bathe in the goodness that is flourishing around us?
And, with the eye of faith, can we recognise there the Risen Christ – who even now walks among us and holds together all of us and all of creation?
May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you – today and always.