The Phoenix from the Ashes

It has been an interesting few days.  Our last archbishop, a man for whom I have a very large amount of time, said that the UK is now a post-Christian country.  Our Prime Minister said that Christians should be more evangelical in their faith, and was roundly rebuked by some of our more vocal athiests.  Finally, the Vatican beatified two former popes, the radical and liberalising John 23rd and the conservative John Paul 2nd, as if to balance one against the other.  Against all this background, yesterday’s gospel blazed its own eternal message.

We had the story of “Doubting Thomas,” a wrong translation because nowhere in the original Greek is Thomas accused of doubting.  He is disbelieving or unbelieving – but of what?  Certainly not Jesus.  There can be no question of Thomas’ loyalty even to his dead friend.  No, Thomas disbelieves in the resurrection.  Why?  Because unlike Mary Magdalene, unlike the other ten disciples, he has not seen the risen Lord.  When we accuse Thomas of doubting we must remember that he is asking for no more than his friends have received, physical proof.  So, perturbed in spirit by their extraordinary claims, he says he will not believe unless he sees Jesus for himself and puts his fingers in the wounds made by the nails and his hand into the hole caused by the spear in Jesus’ side.

Jesus comes a week later and goes straight to Thomas, inviting him to see and touch.  Despite some rather gruesome pictures by painters like Caravaggio, which show Thomas tentatively putting his finger in Jesus’ side, there is no evidence in the gospel story that Thomas did that.  It was enough for Thomas to see the risen Jesus for him to fall on his knees, crying out, “My Lord and my God,” the most powerful resurrection confession of all of them because the first one that names Jesus as God.

What is so important about Thomas’s story is that we are reminded as fully as can be, that the raised body of Jesus carries the wounds of the crucified man.  Lest we forget or haven’t really grasped it, this story serves to remind us that it was God who suffered and died on the cross and that God forever bears the wounds of this suffering world “in his own body”, whether that is on view in Jesus or in the heart of God.

Jesus died an ignominious, cruel death, was buried in an anonymous tomb and the authorities hoped he would be forgotten.  But death could not defeat him and neither will our present times.  Like a phoenix from the ashes this story will rise again and again because who cannot respond passionately to a God who has “borne our sins and carried our diseases” and who continues to carry and to suffer for his suffering world.