Friday, April 13, 2012

The Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

Faith is Like Falling in Love

Readings:

Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133,; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

We read in the Acts of the Apostles of a community of believers on fire with enthusiasm for the Christian faith. They are of "one heart and soul". A great transformation has taken place in them since the death of Jesus. These same people who had fled in fear following the crucifixion of their leader are now gathered together and with great power are proclaiming the good news of the resurrection. Their way of life declares their confidence in the risen Saviour. It is a community marked not by words only, but also by its service to others. They are living out their faith.

What a far cry from the discouraged and frightened band of followers huddled behind locked doors that we meet in John's gospel! They are still reeling from the affects of the past few days. They are in mortal fear that the same authorities who killed Jesus will catch up with them. Then suddenly Jesus is with them in his risen glory. This is not some ephemeral ghost, but the risen Lord, the bringer of peace, the one whom they can see and touch and handle. He is back in relationship with them, consecrating them to do mission. His presence transforms their lives.

The readings all point to the kind of faith we need to make us alive in Christ. What was it that brought the early Christians out of hiding? What made them such avid proclaimers of the risen Christ? What turned their fear into action? How can we become like them, enthused with the power of the Holy Spirit?

Fortunately the gospel shows the faith process from all sides. Faith is not always instantaneous. There is the very human reaction of Thomas. I keep thinking how futile it is to try to justify or rationalize St. Thomas' lack of faith. The name 'Doubting Thomas' will no doubt stick! That is how the Church remembers him, the one who refused to believe unless he could see. He made a bad name for himself. So what are we to make of this?

What we know of his life comes in particular from the Gospel of John where he has a rather prominent voice. It is Thomas who urges the twelve to accompany Jesus into Judea to die with him. It is he who asks Jesus where he is going and how the disciples might know the way. He is the one who goes fishing and meets the risen Lord.

Such stories suggest not one who lacks faith, but one who has a generous and tempestuous temperament. That certainly is consistent with the historical portrait of Thomas that has him going as a missionary to India and being martyred for the faith.

I can think of many reasons why Thomas doubted. For one thing he found the disciples sitting in the safety of the upper room. Why had they not left to announce their astounding good news to the world? Why had the experience of the resurrected Lord standing in their very midst not changed their whole lives inexplicably and forever?
For another thing it was unreasonable to expect of someone who had experienced what Thomas had experienced. He had seen Jesus condemned by the Romans to die. He had seen them hang him on a cross. He had seen the dead body of Jesus taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. He had seen the stone rolled into place. If you have seen someone dead and buried it becomes a reality for you. You accept the death, at least on an intellectual level. In all likelihood that is what happened to Thomas. Along the way faith became for Thomas an intellectual act.

Urban T. Holmes, one of the great Anglican theologians and teachers of the twentieth century, says that there is a difference between faith and belief. "Faith," he says, "implies a deliberate and positive existential involvement; belief is to have an opinion or make an intellectual assertion." In other words, belief is intellectual while faith is like falling in love.

What does that mean in terms of our religious life? I suspect first of all that it means that faith requires commitment to God. That comes about not by a single act, but by a progressively fuller commitment until we believe that we live with Christ. Then we begin to reflect his life in our own. It means living as Jesus lived, putting ourselves on the line for others, reflecting God's love, and allowing people to see the risen Lord working in our lives. It means studying and reflecting on the faith so that we have a reasonable basis for our faith.

I have had occasion to speak to people who share with me that they no longer believe in God. I ask them to tell me about the God in whom they can no longer believe. I have to tell you, I cannot believe in their god either. I try to share with them the God in whom I live and move and have my being. Often there is a longing to share in my experience of God. There is a hunger. But there is also a question about how we Christians live our lives.

We are surrounded by people like Thomas, people who are searching for the truth; people who wonder how we can say that we know the risen Lord, and yet behave in the way we do; people who need to see signs that we are living our faith; people who need to see that our faith reflects the Lord we follow.
Like Thomas they say, "If I could see, I would believe." What are the signs that we can share with them? Where do you recognize the risen Lord working in your life? Was it when you found strength you didn't know you had to face a difficult time? Was it the courage you found in the face of adversity? Was it in answered prayer? Was it in the beauty of God's creation? Was it in the birth of a child or the friendship of a loved one? Was it in the kindness of an unexpected action? Was it in the breaking of the bread or in a passage of Scripture? Was it in a simple act of faith or a random act of kindness?

Saint Augustine says that "faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe."

Once upon a time there was a terrible drought. The fields were parched and brown from lack of rain. People searched the skies for any sign of relief. Day after day, week after week, not one drop of rain fell.

Finally the clergy of the local churches called for an hour of prayer on the following Saturday. They asked that everyone bring an object of faith for inspiration.

Saturday came. People flocked to the Town Square clutching a variety of objects - rosaries, prayer books, and crosses. They prayed there together, and when the hour ended, a gentle rain began to fall. People cheered and held their objects high in gratitude and praise. One faith symbol, however, seemed to overshadow all the others. One little girl had brought an umbrella.

Do we live out our faith in our lives? Are we witnesses to the resurrection? Are we witnesses to the power of God? The early Christians had a faith that praised. Do we open our hearts in the liturgy? Is our faith in the living, breathing, dynamic Christ who lives and reigns in us? If it is we will experience the deepening faith of the early church. Through worship we will continue to come into God's presence. We will search for depth and balance in our spiritual lives. We will share and grow in faith. We will experience the risen Christ in our lives and in our hearts.

And what kind of church will this be? If we really believe that Christ has risen, if we really proclaim and live it in our lives, then this will be the place it is meant to be – a dynamic and exciting place where Christ dwells. We will be in love with God. We like the early Christians will be alive and welcoming. We will be a community dedicated to the task of proclaiming and demonstrating that Christ is alive and that his saving grace and abundant life are available to every living creature.

So let us fall in love with God all over again! Let us proclaim: Christ is risen, Alleluia!

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