Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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April 23, 2017

"Seesaw of Faith"

Text: John 20:19-29

1 Peter 1:3-9

This is the Sunday after; the Sunday after all the “Gloria’s” and “Alleluia’s” have returned to our liturgies and hymns; the Sunday after the brass musicians have returned to their respective homes and churches; the Sunday after the extravaganza of lilies; the Sunday after a filled sanctuary; the Sunday after the antiphonal greeting: “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!”

            Those of us who have a background in Roman Catholicism may know that every Sunday on the Roman Catholic calendar has its own Latin title. The Sunday after Easter, for example, is called “Quasimodo Sunday,” which derives from the first words of an ancient Latin text: “quasi modo geniti infantes,” which translates “as just-born children.” Now when we hear “Quasimodo,” what do most of us think of? Of course. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. How appropriately-named was the fictional character of Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel; abandoned as a baby on the first Sunday after Easter. As the familiar story goes, Quasimodo was bundled and left lying on the cathedral steps; a baby with a contorted face and a deformed body, who nobody wanted. His name has forever become associated with abandonment, as well as with discovering a home in the shelter of the church.

            On this Quasimodo Sunday, our gospel text is centered on an apostle named Thomas, who insisted on no less an audience with the risen Lord than the one granted to his colleagues. He, too, wanted to see the scars, and be as convinced as the other ten that Jesus was truly alive. We may wonder where Thomas was when Jesus first visited the disciples “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week.” Was he out shopping for food for the guys? Was he hiding for fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities who might do the same to Jesus’ followers as they’d done to Jesus? Had he simply taken a walk to get his head together; to figure things out? John doesn’t tell us. But whatever the reason, he was absent from roll call.

            According to John’s account of things, Jesus had already revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene just outside the empty tomb. She had already gone to the disciples and told them about her en- counter with Jesus, and the things that He had said to her. At least according to Mark and Luke, the disciples didn’t believe her. It is now evening of the first Easter, and the disciples have sequestered themselves behind locked doors in an upper room, for they are afraid. Suddenly, Jesus is standing among them. He bids them peace twice; first when He appears; then again after he has shown them the wounds of His crucifixion and they are convinced that this is no apparition, but Jesus Himself bodily resurrected. Then Jesus does something curious. We’re told that He “breathed on them,” imparting to them the Holy Spirit who would, among other things, give them the power to forgive sins. It’s interesting to note that -- going again back to the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church – part of the rite of baptism is the priest breathing softly in the face of the child, and saying, “Depart unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.”

            When Thomas later returns from wherever he was, he is told by the disciples of Jesus’ visitation. But as we well know, he does not believe them. He argues, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later, the disciples are again gathered, and Thomas is there for roll call. In the same way as a week earlier, Jesus appears in spite of the doors being shut and bids them peace. Then He turns and challenges Thomas to check out the wounds if that’s what he needs to believe. Have you ever noticed that Thomas appears to have not followed up on Jesus’ offer to touch the marks on Jesus’ hands and side? Instead, Thomas makes what seems to be a spontaneous declaration of faith, crying out: “My Lord and My God!” This second visitation ends with Jesus mildly chastising Thomas, then making another declaration about the very nature of faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” I think that refers to us.

            The Gospel of John can best be characterized as a gospel about faith; its nature and its declaration. Like Thomas, do not most of us prefer that believing be precise; that faith be based upon the facts? But as most of us recognize, it isn’t. If it was up to us, there would be a button to push; a button labeled “faith,” and then – like Thomas -- we would believe. There is no such button. Among many things, this is one about which John is clear throughout his gospel. There is faith based on signs, and there is faith which needs no sign. There is faith that is weak, and there is faith which moves mountains. There is faith which is shallow and fleeting, and there is faith which is deep and abiding. There is faith which is growing, and there is faith which is faltering. There is faith which one moment is certain, and the next moment isn’t sure of anything. There is faith which is once and for all, and there is faith which has been made new again and again. Perhaps we could say that faith is like a seesaw. And most all of us have sat on both sides of the seesaw; sometimes needing a sign, other times not; sometimes weak, sometimes strong; sometimes shallow, sometimes deep; some- times growing, sometimes faltering; sometimes certain, sometimes unsure. That’s the reality of faith in our broken human condition. And perhaps Thomas –among all the disciples -- best represents that for all of us. Faith is most real in its struggle to believe.

            Don’t you know there will always be Thomases who show up a week late; the Sunday after Easter? They get my applause. They are the Thomases returned to see if we are for real. They want to see if God is for real. They have come back to check our palms and our sides for the wounds and scars of having struggled with those issues of faith which challenge us and often confound us. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they showed up and found no wounds in our hands; no sweat on our brows; no burdens for others in our hearts as we serve the world in our seesaw faithfulness to do our Lord’s bidding?

            As we gather on this Quasimodo Sunday – as just born children – we can be sure that there are many wounded souls among us. We, ourselves, may be among those wounded souls. Like Thomas, and like all the disciples, we have gone up and down on that seesaw of faith; struggling in season with our fears, our doubts, our confusion, our uncertainty. The most faithful and the most wounded of us rarely show our scars and wounds, often wearing the long sleeves and gloves of our humility, or maybe of our embarrassment. If we find that we’re a Thomas at heart, let’s hang in there. If we’re not, that’s okay too. For the risen Christ will meet us and greet us where and when the time is right. In the meanwhile, assembled on this Quasimodo Sunday, in the rhythm of our weekly public worship, who knows but that this room will turn out to be our upper room. Here, we will feel Christ’s presence, even though we may not see Him, finding ourselves compelled to spontaneously confess Him “My Lord and my God!” in spite of our seesaw faith. Until then, dare we afford to miss the weekly roll call.

  Almighty God, we trust that in Your way, in Your time, You reveal Yourself to us in the person of the crucified and resurrected Jesus, Your Christ. As we move up and down on the seesaw of faith, be patient with us, forgiving us, strengthening us while forbearing our weaknesses, and drawing us into a life of steady and vital discipleship. Hear this, our prayer, in Jesus holy name. Amen.