Homily 541 – 2 Pascha
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 23, 2023
Epistle: (14) – Acts 5:12-20 and (29) Acts 12:1-11 (St. George)
Gospel: (65) – John 20:19-31 and (52) John 15:17-16:2 (St. George)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is risen!
Today we remember the Apostle Thomas, we hear of the Apostle Peter’s being released from prison, and we recall the life of St. George the Greatmartyr, sometimes called George the Trophy-bearer for the time he slayed the dragon.
There is a common element, but it is a bit obscure. It is something that I hadn’t really considered before, but has importance in how we read the scriptures, particularly the Gospels.
The common element is identifying people. That is, how do you know the person with you is who they say they are? This goes back not only for this Sunday, but other Sundays as well – for instance, how was it possible that Jesus healed someone and yet was then able to roam around the Temple anonymously? Or how was it that St. Paul escapes the mob, and remains free?
Why does the leadership of the Jewish nation, both political and religious, need a betrayer in Judas?
The obvious element, which was anything but obvious to me, is that unlike today, they had no way of knowing what a person looked like, or sounded like, or acted like. Even if they were known by reputation, establishing identity was crucial, but nearly impossible to do, in the ancient world.
But without social media, without video, without even photos – really, not even paintings and sculptures (except for the very, very elite!) – how was this resolved?
We know in the case of the man born blind that they not only asked him directly, but also asked his parents about him. And this was a person they had seen for years, decades even, begging for alms in the Holy City.
So perhaps we can forgive Thomas for his doubt. The Church does – for this Sunday is not designated to remember Thomas who doubted, but rather the “Touching of Thomas” in the Greek and the “Belief of Thomas” in the Slavonic.
When Saint Thomas touched the Life-giving side of the Lord, he no longer had any doubts. It is a celebration of faith – not proof. A celebration of certainty – not identity.
That was the way Thomas identified the risen Lord. Those were the marks, the indelible imprints of the Crucifixion, that identified Christ. There would be no deception.
There would be no mistake. If the marks weren’t there, then it wasn’t the same Christ that was crucified. He wasn’t risen.
This wasn’t so outlandish a position, either. Recall Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. Disciples – who didn’t recognize Christ. They only recognized Christ in the offering and the breaking of bread.
Mary Magdalene, and the other women, who rose to anoint the body of Christ that resurrection morning, who didn’t recognize Christ until He called her by name. She thought He was the gardener.
And so, Thomas discovers his belief.
How will we discover our belief? How will we identify St. Peter, who is in prison, but now stands at the gate? How will we identify Christ, who is dead – but now not?
Will we find Him in the calling of our name, or in the breaking of this Bread? Will we find Him in the eyes of a newborn, or the eyes of the dying?
Can we, who are illumined, see Christ in everything we do? Can we see Christ in ourselves? In how we love others, both those who love us, and those who hate us?
Can we see Christ when we encounter the homeless vagrant who stinks to high heaven? In the single pregnant mother? In the criminal, imprisoned? For the sojourner – the immigrant, the one who isn’t like us, who is desperate to escape the torture and violence of a land where power is the only path to a safe, peaceful life?
All of these places, my brothers and sisters, we find Christ. All of these people are Christ – not like Christ, not wannabe Christ – they truly and actually and really are Christ.
If only we see it. If only we believe.
Look closely at everyone you meet. Find the marks. Everyone has been crucified. Everyone has been hurt and violated and exploited and discarded. All of us. It is the common mark of humanity.
But we have to see it. Sometimes, those marks that bear witness and testify to Christ aren’t easy to see. Some are physical scars from beatings. Some are maybe track marks from drug use. Some are bloodshot eyes from drinking away the pain of the day.
Some marks are invisible to the eye. Emotional scars – emotional marks. Distance that results from being hurt by one you love. Isolation when one is sick.
One element of our sicknesses, physical, emotional, or spiritual, is that we want to isolate ourselves – get away and stay away from everyone. We don’t want advice, we don’t want critique. We don’t want anything. Except to make the pain go away.
In that moment, those of us who have put on Christ should take note. We aren’t there to heal. We aren’t there to make the pain and discomfort go away.
We are there to be with them. To be present with them in their suffering. We won’t suffer as they do – that isn’t reasonable to consider. But we have to be present as they suffer. Christ is there through us, and in us, and in the relationship with the other person.
Our role is to love. Not to lead, not to solve, not to do anything but journey with the isolated person, back into the community of humanity, and into the community of God’s Kingdom.
And that happens when we look, and notice, and love – and see Christ.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is Risen!