Sermon for Revd Susannah’s First Eucharist

On Seeing Jesus:  A sermon for The Revd Susannah Rudge’s First Eucharist

The Feast of Thomas the Apostle; 3rd July 2011
We are blessed.

Today we are blessed for lots of reasons.

We are blessed because this is a very special day both for Revd Susannah as a new priest and for us as her family, friends and local church community as she presides for the first time at this celebration of the Eucharist.  I will say a little more about that later, but first I want explore another way in which we are blessed.

We are blessed because Jesus says we are:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.  None of us has seen the physical Jesus in the way that Thomas did when he came to believe.  And so we have come to believe without seeing.  This saying of Jesus is often understood to be about doubting, implying that it is more blessed to believe without any evidence or questioning.  I don’t think that is what it means.

Rather unfairly, Thomas the Apostle, is often called ‘Doubting Thomas’, because he didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. As we heard in the gospel reading, Thomas insisted that he would not believe unless he had seen the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands and put his hand in the hole in Jesus’ side made by the spear when he was crucified. I have always admired Thomas for this, especially in the days when I was a scientist and was very concerned for their being evidence and proof and for things to make sense.

The problem for Thomas was that this story of the resurrection did not make sense at all. In the Jewish thought of the time, if you believed in resurrection at all, you believed that it would happen in the end times.  God would come back to free the people of God from oppression, drive out their occupiers and raise the dead to life.  So imagine poor Thomas, he has seen the death of the one person who he believed could actually make a difference, and has seen no visible signs of the transformation of the world in which he lives.  The Romans are still the Romans, the people of God are still oppressed – he is being expected to accept a story which could not under any circumstances fit into his view of the world and of God.

But Jesus comes to him and helps him to see and understand the world in a new way. When Thomas does see Jesus and sees that the Risen Christ still bears the marks of the cross Thomas does believe. Indeed he goes further than any of the other disciples as he is the first to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and God. Even more than that Thomas realises the difference this makes to him he says, ‘My Lord and My God’.

What about us? How might we come to say something similar – how might we make our own declaration of personal faith in Jesus as our Lord and our God? I have already said that we are blessed because we believe without seeing the physical Jesus. But that does not mean that we never experience God or in some way ‘see’ God.  One of my favourite teachers about Christian spirituality is a Franciscan called Richard Rohr. One of the sayings that he quotes is this, “God comes to us disguised as our life”.  God comes to us disguised as our life. Just as God in the incarnation came to us in Jesus, there are ways in which God comes to us, now, in our own lives, even if it is a different encounter from Thomas meeting his risen Lord.

When Thomas met Jesus that time, the disciples were gathered together and the doors were locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus appeared and said to them ‘peace be with you’. Then he showed them his hands and his side.  In other resurrection encounters we hear how Jesus met them on the sea shore and shared breakfast with them after the miraculous catch of fish. Mary, in the garden, knew him through her tears when he called her by name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burn within them as they shared the scriptures and then they knew him in the breaking of the bread.

Today, as part of our own lives, we can encounter the same risen Jesus, even without seeing him in person.  We can know Jesus when someone speaks words of peace to us when we are locked in by our own fear. We can know Jesus in our woundedness, when all pretence of self-containment and self-sufficiency is stripped away and we find ourselves still held in a healing love. We can know Jesus in a meal shared with friends and strangers – it doesn’t have to be a barbecue on the beach, it might even be a ‘bring & share’ lunch. We can know Jesus when someone speaks our name in loving greeting. We can know Jesus standing with us in the midst of tears of grief. We can know Jesus in the hearing of scripture and in broken bread and wine outpoured. In all these ways and in many more, Jesus comes to us and all of us can know him in our own lives.

And so, back to you, Susannah. Part of your ministry as a priest will be to show others how Jesus is coming to them in their lives. You don’t have to be Jesus – there used to be a strong teaching that the priest had to act in persona Christi which has now past – but you do have to be Susannah the priest. And part of that priestly ministry is to show Jesus.As a priest you will speak words of peace to people’s fear. You will speak words of forgiveness to people’s shame and words of blessing to their futures. You will be with others in their woundedness, in their hurt and grief. Sometimes you will show Jesus in being the one who helps bear the pain. Often it will be by being the person who is willing to be with them in that moment. You will offer hospitality and help others to welcome others and play your part in building community. You will come to know people by name and greet them with love. You will be with them in their tears, sometimes you will weep with them, and sometimes you will be the one who simply gives them space, time and permission to weep. And day by day, week by week, year by year, you will open the scriptures and you will take, bless, break and share bread and take, bless, pour-out and share wine to remember Jesus. In all these things and in many more ways you will show Jesus.

So, today, we are blessed.Blessed to be sharing this day with Susannah. Blessed to be here. Blessed by the ways Jesus comes to us in our own lives. Blessed in being able to say with Thomas to Jesus, ‘My Lord and My God’.