“Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The book of Revelation is so misunderstood, and so we avoid it, and it gets even more misunderstood. During this year, lectionary year C Eastertide, you will hear quite a number of readings from the Book of Revelation. If you remember nothing else about the book of Revelation (Or book of apocalypse) according to St. John of Patmos, remember it is not a predictive text of the future, instead this is a vision or dream… However, what it truly IS a word of hope to a community who was experiencing suffering and rigors of martyrdom, persecution, and internal conflict about belonging. John of Patmos knows well these churches to whom he writes, and he is clear that salvation from Christ is for all, that we ALL belong to God. Every community, every sinner, every single one of us; we belong to God.
We all belong to God, even Thomas, or maybe especially Thomas. Thomas does get a bad rap—who wants to be called “Doubting Thomas?” When you read the story carefully, you see that Thomas is no more doubting than the other disciples. And if we remember back before the Passion, Thomas was the one all set to go die in Jerusalem with Jesus, without thinking twice about. He was clear, more than the others, to whom were his allegiances. So, the risen Jesus doesn’t chide Thomas. He just moves the marker further along, “Blessed is the one who believes without seeing.” (Thomas, this could have been you; actually, this could have been any of the disciples.) Maybe the one thing that Thomas does get wrong, and we tend to miss it entirely, is that Thomas doubts his community, the community that has been so important for everyone to lean on together through the trials.
We all need one another to believe. This belief thing is done together, in community, not as an assembly of individuals. And there is a difference. Even as Covid has caused us to sit in our pews more siloed than ever, we are a community—you are a community.
You see, we all have times we cannot believe, or find it hard to believe, (yes, even priests) and then we rely on others; and, of course, there are other times when confidence is high. And even when we do not believe, Jesus does not leave us un-met: he comes to us, in his time, and in his way – wounded yet risen – to bear us up in our unbelief and to strengthen us in our belief. Jesus comes to us and helps us at the point of our unbelief, just as Thomas needed to feel or at least see, the wounds of Christ.
So, this is a community of disciples, and even if the community is comprised of those closest to Jesus, it is like every community ever, in that it needs strength and forgiveness. And the strength of the community actually gets its power from the forgiveness within the community.
The way this works stems from the first part of the message from the risen Jesus, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The first job of the Holy Spirit that Jesus imparts to us, is the power to forgive sin. We can really only do that with the Holy Spirit. And we can really only forgive sins of others if WE engage forgiveness. What I mean by that is that forgiveness isn’t passive; instead, this is something we must will. Some of you responded how much you liked a line in a sermon in Lent about not ‘hanging onto your sins, like heirlooms that don’t improve with age.’ But also hanging on to how you have been wronged by someone else, also never improves with age. This is not a fine wine or bottle of scotch. Forgiveness is more like ripe fruit. Eat it, taste it, it is sweet at the time.
I don’t think it is by accident that these two pericopes are right next to each other. There is something Jesus teaches about community and forgiveness, and there is something Thomas needs to know about believing his own community. One is not a direct answer to the other, but they are decidedly related.
We are forgiven and so we forgive others, by the help of the Holy Spirit. This is decidedly Good News. And so we want, need are compelled to tell others. The Holy Spirit also has a lot to do with how we communicate, particularly when it comes to God. The Holy Spirit is what compels us to spread the Good News of Christ as we see in today’s reading from Acts. If God in Christ is so good, why would we keep it to ourselves? Jesus went to the cross, because God is so important, and so then we too shouldn’t or can’t live in fear of the repercussions of taking Jesus’ life seriously. This is what consoles the people in Acts, and this is what consoles the communities in the book of Revelation. Or maybe better said, when God is Christ Jesus is most important, then the Holy Spirit walks beside you through any countercultural behavior, because the love of Christ is countercultural.
The countercultural community of the Risen Lord:
a community of loving and telling; doubting and believing; sinning but forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. With Thomas and all the disciples who have gone before us, these are the marks of the Christian community – these are the marks of those who say together: “We have seen the Lord.” These are your marks.