Wednesday 19 April 2023

Now we see as in a mirror, dimly

The liturgies of Holy Week and Easter are incredibly rich and moving, helping us to enter more deeply into the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion and Death and to be filled, once again, with the joy of his Resurrection. But we will all have experienced that what goes on in church doesn’t always correspond to how we are feeling or what we are thinking at our particular point in life’s journey. There are times when we are required to say the De profundis psalm when we are actually feeling rather happy. And then there are times when the circumstances of our own lives can make it very difficult for us to sing the Easter Alleluia, overcome with Paschal joy. We might identify with the disciples locking themselves in the upper room out of fear, and not so much with “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!” We can find ourselves being plagued by all sorts of trials in the Easter season as much as in any other season. Even though we are an Easter people, we never stop being a Good Friday people also, at least this side of eternity. We can find it hard to believe in the ultimate triumph of life over death, of joy over sadness, of glory over suffering, especially during those times in our lives when we feel sad and lifeless, when we are anxious or hopeless or are grieving.

St Thomas the Apostle is therefore a very consoling example for us. When the other Apostles give him the good news of Easter, “We have seen the Lord”, that message did not resonate with him in any way. The darkness of Good Friday was still too real for him and prevented him from being moved by their news. His own experience did not allow him to believe that life had triumphed over death, that the crucified Jesus was now the risen Lord. Thomas stood in the light of Easter, yet that light did not dispel his darkness. In his doubting, Thomas is like so many Christians today. Many of us are surely distressed by the doubts we have, troubled by our sense that the light of Easter does not seem to have penetrated our lives very much, that Easter Sunday really hasn’t changed anything at all.

The Lord understands a doubting, questioning, troubled faith. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, he did not tell him off. His first words were, “Peace be with you”. He invited Thomas to touch his wounds as he had demanded, and then called on him to “doubt no longer but believe”. The gospel does not tell us that Thomas actually put his finger into the wounds in Christ’s hands and side. Seeing the Lord was enough: "My Lord and my God”.

Thomas, like the other disciples, saw and believed. However, Jesus knew that only a small group of disciples will see and believe, and so he blessed those many future disciples who believe without seeing. That blessing is on all of us who calls ourselves Christians and try to follow the Lord. As St Peter puts it, “You did not see him, yet you love him”. The Church is the community of those who believe in and love the Lord, without having seen him in the way Thomas and the other eyewitnesses did — those Apostles and disciples who are the foundations of our faith. We look forward to that day when we will see the Lord face-to-face in his kingdom. And because we do not yet see him face-to-face, our faith is always a faith that hopes.

Because we only live in hope of meeting the Lord like Thomas, there will always be some element of doubt in our own faith. As St Paul tells the Corinthians, “now we see as in a mirror, dimly”. Questions and doubts are an inevitable part of seeing dimly. Such questions and doubts are not an enemy of faith. They can lead, rather, to a deepening of our faith. If we face our doubts and our questions honestly, like St Thomas, and bring them to each other and to the Lord, we too can reach a point where we can make Thomas’ confession our own, “My Lord and my God”. We must all learn to seek the Lord with humility, sincerity and honesty, just as Doubting Thomas did, but to seek in hope, knowing that if we remain true to that search, true to the path, the Lord has his own ways to meet each one of us and to invite us, as he invited St Thomas, “Doubt no longer but believe”. Our doubts and our fears — even our sins and our failings — so often seem to us to lock the Lord out. But Jesus will always pass through the walls and doors we put up to meet us — in those doubts and worries — and to give us the peace of his presence.

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