Saturday, April 22, 2006
Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul’s church, Swanscombe on 23rd April 2006 based on John xx.19-end.
Where is Thomas?
The last we saw of him
was in the Garden of Gethsemane,
running from the soldiers
and the unruly mob
who arrested Jesus.
But now we’ve lost him.
We’ve found 10 of the disciples.
They are cowering in a room
with the door locked,
and with a Welsh dresser and a sofa
pushed up against it for good measure.
They are terrified,
and who wouldn’t be?
They are afraid for their lives!
But where is Thomas?
Where has he run off to?
Is he safe?
He’s certainly not present
when Jesus appears
and puts the minds of 10 very frightened men
So where is he?
What is he doing?
looks like we need to play the detective,
In order to find out where Thomas has gone,
let’s find out what type of man he is.
Perhaps knowing his personality
will help us find him.
We first meet him
as one of the disciples that John names.
John tells us that Thomas is a twin,
though we aren’t told who his twin is.
He then disappears from view,
and we hear nothing of him
until Jesus announces
that He is going back to Jerusalem
to raise Lazarus from the dead.
It is Thomas who remembers
that the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem
are out to kill Jesus,
and it is Thomas who says
to the other disciples
"Let us also go,
that we may die with him
if need be."
The next time we hear about Thomas
is at the Last Supper
when Jesus says that He is leaving
and that the disciples know where He is going.
It is Thomas who pipes up
"Lord, we don’t know where you are going.
How can we know the way?"
And that’s about it!
Do these incidents
give us any clues as to what type of person he is,
and where he might be?
Isn’t it clear that
Thomas is devoted entirely to Jesus?
He wants to be where Jesus is.
He wants to follow Jesus to death.
He is just as strong and brave as Peter,
but not as loud or as brash
which is why he doesn’t appear so often.
When he does appear,
he makes an important contribution.
He is like the person who comes to church,
and although isn’t at the forefront
of the running of the church,
not preaching or singing loudly
not speaking up very often,
sitting quietly in the pew,
he’s on the PCC,
he’s making a very definite,
as to how the church is running.
He speaks up when he needs to.
Thomas’ faith is quiet but very strong.
...or at least it was.
Look, here he is!
But what a change!
He’s a broken man.
His belief in Jesus seems to have vanished,
and with good reason.
Jesus is dead and that’s the end of the matter.
But where’s he been?
He’s certainly not been to the tomb,
otherwise he would know that Jesus is risen.
He’s not been with the other disciples.
He’s not been with any of the women
who were the first to be told of the Resurrection.
He’s been on his own,
mourning the death of his friend,
mourning the death of his faith.
We cannot know
where Thomas has been physically,
but it’s very clear where he is mentally.
He sits on the edge of an abyss
looking down into the blackness,
down into where his faith has fallen.
His life seems meaningless.
All he sees is the bloodstained Cross,
that horrible instrument of torture;
he cannot see beyond it.
He still believes in God,
but he just doesn’t want to talk to God anymore
for taking Jesus away from him,
for taking away the only man
who made a big difference to his life.
Thomas believes he has lost his faith.
Can you blame him?
Thomas is suffering the persecution
that we here in the West suffer.
All Christians suffer persecutions.
We hear of terrible stories
about Christians in the East
suffering physical and mental tortures
for the sake of their belief.
But do we look and see
the terrible persecutions
that we here in this country suffer now,
right at this very moment?
We wrestle with
assaults on our belief.
Science tries to prove
that Christ cannot rise from the dead.
Historians try to show us
that our belief is historically wrong.
The society in which we live
tries to stop us believing
by telling us it's silly
by drawing us with material things,
tempting us away from Church,
from participating in acts of worship,
from strengthening our faith in Christ.
The Devil tries to use
the problems in our lives
to stop us talking to God.
But the Devil forgets.
The Devil forgets that doubt
is not the opposite of belief,
that doubt is the testing of a faith that exists.
Doubt affects us all from Bishop to person in pew.
Every Christian doubts the Christian Faith
at some point in their lives.
The Devil tries to force us to focus
only on the bloodstained Cross as the end.
But it isn’t.
Look at the change in Thomas
when the impossible happens.
There, before him,
in beautiful, three-dimensional reality,
the risen Christ.
you can touch Him,
see the ghastly holes in His Flesh.
And then Thomas does something
that changes the nature of Christian belief for all time.
He worships Jesus.
His faith isn’t just restored,
He is the first to call out to the Risen Jesus
not as Messiah,
or as the Son of Man
but plainly and simply as God Himself.
"My Lord and my God"
- a Church changing statement.
Thomas can now look
beyond the suffering of the cross
to the Truth.
"Blessed are those who have not seen
and yet have believed."
Does that really tell Thomas off for doubting?
Perhaps a little,
but it’s more a strengthening of a faith
that has been battered by life’s injustice.
It also says that Jesus recognises
the faith of those who will never physically see Him.
Jesus recognises that these folk
will be the ones who have
to wrestle the biggest doubts of all.
Those who wrestle will be rewarded
when Jesus comes suddenly
and strengthens their faith.
It is only when Thomas
stops looking down into darkness
and looks around for the face of Christ
that his doubt vanishes.
Where are you looking for Jesus?
Down in the darkness to the cross,
or around for the face of the risen Lord?
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Whilst he was just plain old Cardinal (!), His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in Principles of Catholic Theology (pub. Ignatius pp50-51) that the Church itself a sacrament. He reaches three conclusions:
- "The designation of the Church as a sacrament is opposed to an individualistic understanding of the sacraments as a means of grace; it teaches us to understand the sacraments as the fulfillment of the life of the Church; in doing so it enriches the teaching about grace; grace is always about the beginning of union."
- "The designation of the Church as a sacrament thus deepens and clarifies the concept Church and offers a response to contemporary man's search for the unity of mankind:the Church is not merely an external society of believers..."
- "The positive element common to both of these statements is to be found in the concept of unio and unitas: union with God is the content or Grace, but such a union has its consequence the unity of men with one another."
If the Holy Father is right, then we perhaps should regard the seven sacraments as lesser to the sacrament of the Church. For me, this opens up the possibilities that I have been striving for, namely looking for the "other" outward and visible signs of an inward invisible grace. Though Trent did fix the number of Sacraments at seven, the Early Fathers didn't, and it looks as if under the present Pontificate, the Tridentine understanding is being reinterpreted, and I hope will get rid of the unnecessary idea of "sacramentals" as a lesser sacrament which essentially forms a half-hearted nod to an idea that one thinks correct in practice, but wrong in theory.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Sorry, being a bit silly there. Just to let you know that I still haven't given up thinking about the Unique Ministry of Women and the "natural sacraments" that they alone can perform.
For this step, I'm trying to ascertain which characterstics are generally common to men, and which are generally common to women. This is all speculation, and I can only offer my thoughts on the matter. I just hope that what results, whether it be from these thoughts or not, is the realignment of the minstry of women in the church.
- achievements and successes are a source of health and happiness;
- find stability in success;
- prize competence and respect;
- where they live is where they relax and free themselves from the pressures of demonstrating competence and pursuing success;
- supremely analytical;
- communicate ideas.
- relationships are the source of health and happiness;
- find stability in relationships;
- prize expressions of feelings and love;
- where they live is where relationships should be cultivated;
- supremely intuitive;
- communicate feelings.
It seems to me then that the masculine epithet is action, whereas the feminine epithet is relationship.
Let's just look at the seven sacraments again.
Holy Baptism............Action= administration of water
Holy Eucharist..........Action= the Sacrifice of the Mass
Holy Matrimony.......Action= "signing" (i.e. in whatever form that takes) the contract of marriage
Holy Orders...............Action=laying on of hands
Holy Unction.............Action=administering the holy oil
(in the old days this used to be laying on of hands)
Confirmation............Action=laying on of hands.
These Sacraments are all actions, all male in character, except Holy Matrimony. Yes there's an action, but there is also a relationship being forged, the input of the female into the union.
If these Sacraments are all male in character through action, then the Natural Sacraments ought to be female in character through relationship.