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Easter Two - Hands that Bless

I suspect many of us love this story of Thomas with his need to see and touch before he would believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. (Easter Two. John 20:19-31.)  It seems a little unfair to remember him as doubting Thomas -–not because he didn’t doubt but because they all doubted to a lesser or greater extent and it was just that he wasn’t there during the first show and tell.

You may like to consider reflections on this text from previous years.



Now Thomas, as one of the twelve closest male disciples, presumably believed that Jesus was God’s own in a special way and had possibly entertained the possibility that he was the Messiah before Jesus’ death. But like them all he had been nearly destroyed by the death of Jesus. It is not so much that Thomas is moving from no faith to faith so much as from one very literal, physical, obvious level of faith in the physical Jesus to a much deeper level of faith in the resurrected Christ.

 

Maybe that’s why I like the story so much for it echoes my own experience of faith as one moves from one level of understanding and engagement to the next. Sometimes those movements are serene and seamless growth but usually I have found it bumpy at best and outright painful and disturbing as each gain in belief and relationship intimacy with God is at the expense, or possible expense, of all that has been before. One has to let go of what one was clutching onto before you can grasp the next thing – and that can feel like a leap of faith.

 

Having experienced the death of the Jesus Thomas knew and understood his whole experience of faith was shaken to it’s core and had he not been able to inspect the holes in the hands and side of the resurrected Christ his faith may not have survived the experience. And that has been my experience – many times I have demanded to inspect the wounds of Christ, the holes in his hands and side, and always – so far – Jesus has obliged with great faith in me and allowed me to inspect the evidence of his life, his death and his resurrection. As a 21 century person of course, sadly, I don’t get to place my physical hand in his side and yet I have felt welcomed, indeed invited, to place my intellect in the wounds, in the theological and Scriptural nooks and crannies, of Christ so that my faith might be challenged and grow and that I might come to believe afresh, more deeply, than before.

 

I often wonder why we, as church, as Christians, feel so protective of Jesus Christ, as though Jesus were so frail and small and vulnerable that he can not withstand inspection. The answer I suspect is that we know Jesus the Christ can cope with questions, doubts, rigorous debate but that it is our faith, our belief system that is frail and small and vulnerable and it is we who are offended and afraid of questions and doubt.

 

During my ordination the Archbishop anointed my hands and said:  “From this day forth whatever you do will either be a blessing to others or a withholding of blessing.” In many ways this was a positive restatement based on the words of Jesus this morning to the gathered disciples – and that is us –  “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 

This is true of all of us in the body of Christ – everything we say and do either blesses, forgives, liberates others to be free to develop relationship with God or we withhold blessing, we hold people to their sin, we condemn them to continue in oppression and thereby keep them from the freedom we find in God. It’s that simple, that serious, and that important! Since the time that Jesus walked upon the earth it is up to us, his faithful ones, to either bless and forgive and liberate, or not. How we behave – in our hearts, in our words and in our actions and inactions – has eternal consequences.

 

It is easy to look back into church history and see how often our forebears failed to be sources of blessing and forgiveness and liberation instead judging, punishing and oppressing in the name of Christ. It is easy enough, even if despairing, to see how our distant and senior brothers and sisters now pull the church apart with arguments as to who is eligible to be a bishop etc. But do we dare to look to ourselves and see how we both  bless and withhold blessings from others? As individuals and as a congregation, as a class and a nation?

 

We have all just spent a long Lent and it should be near the front of our minds that long list of our personal failures that we are each capable of preparing against ourselves. I can assure you that my list is long at this time of the year as I am still keenly aware of my myriad failings. Failure to love my family, my friends, my neighbours as I should. Failure to welcome and honour those who are different. The failure to go looking for those who might be in need of God’s blessing and forgiveness. But let’s pare that list down to simply when have I failed to bless, to forgive, to liberate another in the name of Christ?

 

It’s too easy to rationalise our sins or to sink beneath the weight of them. Jesus drew the disciples’ attention to sin so that sin might be forgiven and people might be liberated and know God’s blessing. As always Jesus has gone before us and shown us how to be blessings and to bring forgiveness to others. We are not asked to pretend that there is no sin, that others do not fail, or that others are not sometimes wrong. We are asked to forgive not to forget, to bless not condone, to liberate so that others need not continue in sin.  Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery – she was about to be stoned to death, the punishment of the day for such a sin. Jesus does not condone her behaviour or say she didn’t do it, he simply asks who present is without sin and therefore worthy to cast the first stone. As the only one present who is eligible to condemn her he does not. He then forgives her sin and sends her home to live as one liberated from her failings.

 

But it’s hard to bless with a heart that does not allow the blessings of God to penetrate; it’s hard to forgive other’s sins if we do not feel ourselves forgiven; it’s hard to liberate others into relationship freedom with God if we do not allow ourselves to be liberated by the resurrected Christ.

 

It is my prayer for each and every one of us that in this season of Easter we may come to experience the freedom, the joy, and the gifting of the spirit of the risen Lord so that we will be enabled by the experience of God’s love for us to love ourselves and each other.

Even so, come risen Lord Jesus Christ and set us free to receive your blessings and to be a blessing to others.

 

 

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