Thomas Sunday: Believing Without Seeing

The Agape Vespers,  which close the first day of the Feast of Feasts, put forward the Gospel reading of John 20: 19 – 25. In this passage, Jesus appears to the disciples in  his glorified body. He commissions them as his apostles, exhales the Holy Spirit to them, and then is gone. Thomas was absent. Upon his return the others declare to him their experience, and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. But, Thomas doubts: “Unless I cast my finger into the nail wholes in his hands, and cast my hand into his side [wound from the roman’s spear], I shall not believe” (John 20: 25). His doubts will last only another week:

And after eight days his disciples were inside and Thomas was with them. While the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace to you.” Then he says to Thomas, “Place your finger here and behold my hands and cast you hand into my side, and do not be faithless, but faithful!” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 26 – 28).

In the next verse, Jesus concludes this encounter upbraiding Thomas, but declaring a fact that speaks to every generation that follows upon the ministry of Christ’s apostles. These words are the focus of this posting: “Jesus says to him [Thomas], because you have seen me you have believed? Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe!” (John 20: 29).

With very, very few exceptions (St. Paul being one), all who have come to faith in Christ after those days, have done so without seeing or touching the resurrected body of our Lord. We have faith based upon the words and actions of the Apostles as recorded in the words of the New Testament. We have faith within the ongoing apostolic experience of the Church. We have faith, more importantly, by the vivifying and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Thus, our encounter of God is mostly based upon the presence of the Third Person of the Trinity. Hence, we have faith in Christ and believe (as the Creed declares) “…that on the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures…”

Though I have not seen the resurrected Jesus, that does not mean that I am without experiences of our Lord. Here is one example: every Divine Liturgy I, and every Christian, consume the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Here, we “taste and see that the Lord is good.” By the Eucharist we touch the sacramental Body of Christ by its indivisible union with that bread! And, our lips and tongues taste the Blood which was shed for our salvation by its indivisible union with that wine! We all encounter the resurrected Body of God by means of the Eucharist. And it is by the Eucharist that our relational, and experienced, union with Christ is augmented by the work of the Holy Spirit who brings about this miraculous transformation.

“Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.”  We read of the lives of the saints and of there incredible experiences.  The saints’ faith, for the vast majority of them, has come into being as has our coming to faith — a faith without seeing.  The lives of the saints proves an axiom which will be explained later in this posting:  “To prove God is to live God.”  Their lives and experiences are a proof for the Resurrection of Jesus.  Though I have had spiritual experiences, none of them come close to such experiences as levitation in prayer, bilocation, and prophetic precognition. My lack of such experiences does not negate my faith (though it is imperfect). Such experiences of the saints are a gift to them by God who chose to impart such gifts and experiences to them as a proof of Christ’s resurrection to those who observed their lives of faith. I do not seek such experiences, and I do not implore God to give them to me. Further, such experiences did not sanctify the saints. The saints intentionally sought out God and walked as Christ walked being empowered and vivified by the Holy Spirit. The saints intentionally lived their lives in Christ by the Holy Spirit in their every day, mundane lives. Again, this is what brought about their personal holiness!  This is their proof of the Resurrection!

“Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.” I put forward a second time the axiom:  “To prove God is to live God.” (I think the saints may nod in agreement with it.) Let me explain. By living faithfully with the intent that we are imitating Christ in our every day lives, God will become ever more real to us. Further, belief requires deliberate action, and such faithful action increases our participation in Christ. Thus, our faith grows as we act as Christ, with and for Christ. We bless rather than curse. We engage rather than walk away. We lend dignity rather than insult. We pray rather than doubt. We rejoice rather than despair. We give thanks for what comes our way rather than reject and deny the opportunities to be encountered in them. By all of this the Holy Spirit works the resurrected Christ into us, and thus we are transformed and sanctified. Thus we — though not seeing — fully encounter the resurrection of Christ and can say, “Christ is risen!”

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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