A Virtual Faith
Happy Thomas Sunday!
The resurrected Jesus is so unpredictable. First he’s not in the tomb, and then he’s in the garden. Then he’s not in the room and he surprises everyone by getting in without going through the locked door. I have to believe that Jesus has a sense of humor, and I wonder if he was giggling, thinking of it as a bit like a backwards surprise party. You know, instead of everyone hiding in the dark and getting reading to jump out when you walk in the door. Everyone is huddled in the room, afraid someone will come and attack them, when suddenly Jesus jumps up in the middle of them, Surprise, I’m not dead! Don’t be afraid!
Jesus Christ, what were you thinking!
Thomas gets a lot of slack for not believing the stories that he heard, but he wasn’t the only doubter that day. The followers locked together in that room had already heard from three people or more that Jesus wasn’t buried in the tomb and that he had risen from the dead. Even if they did believe what the others had seen, they were still dumbfounded about what they should do next. Ok, so now what.
Jesus died, but he rose, we were lost, but now we were free, but how are we free if we still have to stay here because we might die if we go out in public. Their situation seems to be out of their control and they are helpless to change it. The people gathered in that room, are the type that respond to crisis by stopping and waiting. This can be helpful and harmful, there is a need to pause and be present in the moment, but eventually we have to approach the moment we have been avoiding. Thomas represents those of us who struggle with waiting. We want something to do or some kind of task to make us feel useful. This can also be helpful and harmful: there are things that need to be done, but eventually we will have to sit and feel the pain and sadness we are avoiding.
The amazing part of this story is that Jesus shows up for all of his followers, no matter what their gut reaction is to pain and suffering. Even and especially when his followers were still clueless about what to do in light of their new reality, Jesus showed up and gave them incredibly useful gifts. No metaphorical gifts like gold, frankincense and myrrh, although those would have been useful to purchase some food. Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit and a purpose in this world.
Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
The disciples were given another commandment, or commissioning you might say, to be the presence of God in this world, like Jesus was, loving people and forgiving them. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, they were like vessels, or jars of clay, to carry the grace of God to the world.
Poor Thomas, he was out there, doing something, trying to be useful or responsible, and then everyone else gets these instructions while he is gone. Do they apply to him? He might have wondered. Could he receive the Holy Spirit and do what Jesus asked if he couldn’t be there in the room with Jesus and receive the touch of his blessing?
If other disciples stewed over those questions, Jesus sets the answer when he shows up and gives Thomas an additional set of instructions. Don’t be faithless any longer, Believe.
I kind of wonder, did Jesus put out his hand and speak with power like a super hero,
"Don’t be faithless any longer, Believe(pow)!"
Or did he whisper like the still small voice in the desert, “You don’t have to live without faith anymore, (nod head) believe.”
Or did he actually touch Thomas? “Believe, my child.”(like a knighting)
Then Jesus gives a blessing for all of those who will come to believe without being present in that moment. Like a broadcast streamed through the World Wide Web, or a scroll discovered in a tomb, or from a voice traveling by radio, future followers of Christ would receive the message through virtual communication. Jesus says, “Their faith is real and valid, even if they do not touch my wounds or stand in this room. They will receive the Holy Spirit through my virtual gift."
Through this story of Thomas and the disciples, Jesus gives a blessing for those who would only have access to God through a virtual faith. Jesus claims all of the believers who would hear these words and believe without seeing.
In these unprecedented times, we are asked to believe in many things we cannot see. In fact, I almost feel like nothing I see on the news helps me to really understand what is going on in the world. Only by listening to stories and the witnesses of those around us can we get a wider picture of our reality. Not that seeing any of this helps, but receiving and sharing the peace of Christ does.
So, how exactly is this virtual faith a blessing?
Because Jesus has given us belief without sight, we are enabled to see past the ugliness of the moment and the death in our present. We are strengthened to walk by faith on an unclear path towards a new future, guided by our loving God. We are given peace to receive the breath of a new day, when we lose all we had to give.
The Apostle Paul describes it like looking in a foggy mirror where we get a vision of the mystery of faith, but we still can’t see everything.
"Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Co 13:12–13).
Sometimes, I even feel like I don’t know how to be a Christian if I can’t go and touch and do, but Christ blesses a faith that stays and doesn’t touch and sits at a table to eat. In the end, Thomas didn’t need to touch Jesus’ side to experience the presence of God. Jesus surprised him, and that was enough.
We cannot see how our current experiences are changing us and changing our world, but Jesus asks you to receive his Spirit today and be a blessing in the midst of it. And so I offer you a series of blessings for our times, “A Quarantined Beatitudes."