Babies love to play peek-a-boo. When you hide yourself, or even just your face, they think you’ re gone. When you pop back into view, they’ re delighted.
And then it gets to be an exciting game for them. Now they see you, now they don’ t, now they do. The fear you’ re gone forever turns to delight and relief when they see you again. It’ s not just out of sight, out of mind for little people, it’ s out of sight, gone forever. At least that’ s what the child psychologists say.
Babies rely on their senses to interact with the world. To know what’ s real. Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste: these are what they use to interpret all that goes on around them. They use their senses to determine if their world is safe or scary at any given time.
The Gospels are about our senses, too. Over and over again Jesus talks about those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Touch is what Jesus does so often when he heals people. And he calls people to taste: the loaves and the fishes, the living water, the bread and wine. Taste and see. Do this in remembrance of me.
Our Gospel passage today stretches our sense-abilities.
It starts out on the day Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, finds it empty, and then encounters, not a gardener, but the risen Christ. She runs to tell the other disciples, I have seen the Lord.
Do they believe her? Do they trust her witness? Do they catch her joy? Apparently not! Their response to her astonishing announcement that their Lord is alive is to hide. No way are they venturing forth to try to see the miracle for themselves or to pass forward the news. They retreat, lock themselves in a house, close themselves off from the world and huddle in fear.
But Jesus, who’ ll pass through anything, even death, to be with us, passes through the door the disciples locked to shut themselves in. He shows them his wounds, the nail marks in his hands, the gash from the sword that had pierced his side. Proof of his ordeal on the cross. They rejoice. Their out of sight, gone forever mentality disappears and they delight at the sight of him again.
I wonder if Jesus’ heart was heavy when he saw their reaction. Did he sigh deep inside and wonder, My children, my little children, this isn’ t a game. Are you ready to grow into the life I have been preparing you for, or not?
He gives them gifts. He enfolds them with His peace. He breathes on them. He fills them with the Holy Spirit. And He commissions them. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. He opens the door for them to go forth into the world strengthened by the Spirit. It’ s show time. It’ s grow-up time.
But one is missing. Thomas. The disciples find him and tell him We have seen the Lord! Does Thomas believe them? Does he trust their witness? Decisively not! I will not believe says Thomas, unless . . . . And he names his terms.
Let’ s see, if I had to give Thomas a symbolic chronological age to match his reaction, I think it might be the terrible two’ s. You know, that age when No is the favorite word? I can just see Thomas stomping his foot, saying, No, no, no! and then dictating his terms. I remember hearing that the best thing for a parent to do when a two year old gets this way is to simply stay near, stay calm and, if the behavior devolves into a tantrum, simply enfold the child in your arms and hold him or her close.
Jesus appears again to the disciples. This time Thomas is among them. He speaks directly to Thomas. He meets Thomas’ terms. He says to him, Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
Jesus is saying to Thomas. Look at me, touch me, trust me. Do not doubt that I am who I am. Believe in me and the life I bring you.
Thomas responds as a believer, My Lord and my God. Thomas names who and what Jesus is in his life.
But don’ t we hear, again, between the lines, a deep sigh. Is there sadness in Jesus’ voice when he asks Thomas, Have you believed because you have seen me? And then out of the blue comes the clincher. Jesus concludes with, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Whoa! I thought the Gospel, the good news, was all about seeing. Isn’ t the theme, Seeing is believing?
Here’ s the reality. Thomas is the last of the disciples (past, present or future), to become an actual, first-hand, eye-witness to the risen Christ.
The Gospel of John, written fifty to sixty years after Jesus’ death recognizes and confronts a challenge. How is the early Church and how are the emerging Christian communities going to survive and grow as the group of first century eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life dwindle and die off, through persecution or natural causes.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe! Jesus’ statement is an affirmation for all those who will come to believe in the future, those who were not privy to Jesus’ physical presence in their lives, but come to believe, anyway. But how are they going to come to believe if they don’ t see Christ for themselves?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus has already taught how this is to be done. Community is the key. By loving one another in community. By supporting each other and witnessing to each other. By intentionally choosing to believe in Christ. By choosing light over darkness, by choosing to live a life with Christ at the center. And the community of believers is the witness to this again and again, with each other and within the larger world.
The community is where one comes to believe as witness is shared and passed on, as faith is nurtured in community. Our sense of the risen Lord and the life He has for us is made possible as we journey and grow together in community. We are called to trust both the witness and the word of others who have come to believe. And according to John it is within a faith community that the power, grace and love of Christ is most abundantly manifested.
The faith community is like a large nest, where we grow and are fed and nurtured. Where our wings are strengthened and we learn to fly.
Remember Christ’ s words: How long have I yearned to gather you under my wings . . . like a mother hen. This is the legacy that he has gifted to the faith community. We gather together under his wings as we gather together in community. And we, in turn, gather under our wings the baby chicks, scurry them together and provide a safe place for them to grow.
Today, eight children will receive the sacrament of baptism. Baptism, like Eucharist, is a communal sacrament. We gather together as a community to receive these children under our wing. Of course, they are already loved here. We celebrated their births with prayers and have looked forward to this day when we will stand together and affirm with strong voices that We will, with God’ s help by our prayers and witness help each of these children to grow into the full stature that Christ has willed for each of them.
This Christian community is to be their home. It is to be a place of nurture, of love, of safety, of strengthening, of support as they grow. They will, as babies and children, who test the world with their senses, need to see Christ, see Love and experience it. We are called to make that happen, to help them taste and see the goodness of the Lord. To feel his touch and to hear his Word. To see his love at work in our lives and theirs. In other words, we are called to nourish them, to guide them, to walk beside them until they reach an age when they can confirm the vows we make for them today. Until they come to believe.
We, in this community, are called to witness to the reality and power of Christ in our lives, individually and collectively. We are called to show to these children, by word and deed, that we believe that Christ is our Lord and Savior, our safety and our strength, and that this leads to life more abundant.
We are called to be the instruments by which Christ shows himself and his love to these children. And we are called to be channels for the Holy Spirit in their lives. And then with joy mixed with trepidation we will send them forth to be witnesses to Christ’ s love in the world.
May we all, by God’ s grace, be granted calm strength, patient wisdom, loving sense-ability and enfolding wings to nurture and care for these children. May they see Christ in how we live together in this community.
These children are gifts from God. He has placed them in our safekeeping until they are ready to go forth into the world with His and our blessing. They need our commitment for this. Let’ s do it!