|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Adjectives can be misleading and sometimes destructive. The former US President Donald Trump knows this particularly well. He deliberately chooses adjectives for his opponents. So we have had ‘LIttle’ Marco Rubio, ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz, and, most notoriously, ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton. This both essentialises an alleged feature of a person whom Trump attacks and also contributes to a particular narrative about what matters. Trump leads in this. Yet he is not alone. Historically the Church has also done this, not least with our Gospel reading today. For if I asked most people for an adjective for Thomas, they would probably say ‘Doubting’. Indeed, throughout my life, I have generally heard today’s Gospel interpreted in only two ways. On the one hand, this story is told, typically by conservatives, as an encouragement to have true belief, and not to doubt. On the other hand, often somewhat defensively, liberals and progressives have spent much energy talking about the value of doubt. Now these approaches are really only two sides of the same, often quite distorting, coin. Instead, with recent voices from the margins, not least trauma-responsive theologians, how about we try viewing today’s Gospel text from a quite different standpoint? Instead of the framework of intellectual faith and doubt, let us take seriously the important bodily aspects of this story. Instead of obsessing about creedal truth, let us be attentive to wounds. Instead of focusing on the possibilities of the after life, we might reflect on what it means to live, together, after trauma. These, and very different aspects of Thomas, deliver us from unhealthy faith and offer pathways to healing for us all…
The word ‘Emerging’ has come to the fore recently. It expresses well where many people of spirit are in our lives and faith journeys. Emerging is also a central aspect of our world as a whole at present, as we engage with the uncertainties and opportunities of possible futures with and beyond Covid-19. Meanwhile, more broadly, Emergence is a powerful theme in much contemporary thinking about science, society and philosophy. Lively questions therefore surround, and stir in us. What kind of a world is it in which we live, and might like to live? What is coming into being, not least in spirituality? What difference might these things mean to our lives and our faith journeys? In other words, to reconnect with the Christian story, what, again, does Resurrection mean for us? For, as our Gospel reading today once more reminds us, Resurrection is an invitation into a more mysterious future, in the power of Love. Consequently, in the next few weeks of our Easter season, let us enter into into deeper reflection on what is emerging in us, and in our journeys with others. We begin with the body. Our Gospel today speaks of Thomas, with the other disciples, trying to make sense of Christ’s risen body. What difference did that make to them? What might the resurrection of the body mean to us?...
As each of us comes to worship today, how are we going in our lives and faith? Are we ourselves wrestling with challenging things in our lives, and with God? Are we bearing wounds? Are we seeking blessing, or feeling blessed? In what ways are we perhaps ‘God’s Wrestlers’, ‘God’s Wounded’, ‘God’s Blessed’? These are but three different ways of approaching the great Hebrew story we encounter today in our lectionary (Genesis 32.22-31) - the story we may call Jacob’s Wrestling with the Angel, or alternatively, Jacob’s Wounding, or Jacob’s Blessing...
If I were to ask 100 people to give me a nickname or adjective for the disciple Thomas, what do you think would be the most popular reply? I suspect it would be ‘Doubting’, don’t you? That is a shame. For there is much more to Thomas than an element of doubt. Ask any Indian Christian for example. They will tell you that Thomas was the great apostle of the ancient East, and that Indian Christianity traces its origins to him. In the very passage we have just read, we also heard Thomas confess Jesus Christ as ‘My Lord and My God’. What a powerful statement of faith! Historically many Christians have paid a great deal of attention to St Peter for saying something similar. Yet Thomas has been largely passed over. Makes you think, doesn’t it? I mean we don't go on talking about Betraying Peter do we? We might just as well do so. For Peter is manifestly more of a betrayer than Thomas is an iron-clad doubter. The fact is that Thomas is much much more than a doubter. You could even call him Affirming Thomas for that theological statement about Jesus as the Christ. However, I’d like to call Thomas something else altogether. Reflecting on today’s reading from John chapter 20, I’m inclined however to call him Bodily Thomas, or, maybe, as the Welsh might call him, Thomas the Body. For that name points us to some very important aspects of the Resurrection of Jesus…