St. Botolph’s Parish, Saint Thomas Sunday, 22 April 2012
“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” (John 20.27)
Al masih qam! Christos anésti! Christ is risen!
How do you know? How can you be absolutely sure that ‘Christ is risen’? Surely, it must be written in the user’s manual. The Book of the Law. That vast, ponderous tome bound in leather, brass, burnished gold. Enthroned on a velvet cushion under a sacred canopy. Or is that the Guru Granth Sahib? And is this a gurdwārā, a temple of the Sikhs? Then surely, it must be written in the Word of God, dictated letter-by-letter from the Archangel to the Prophet. Or is that the Qu’ran? And is this a mosque? So surely, it is written in the scroll kept in the Aron Kadósh and carried by the rabbi in procession? Or was that the Torah? And is this a synagogue? But are we not ‘Ahl al-Kitāb, the ‘People of the Book’? Sola Scriptura! Everything that Christians need is found exclusively here, between these covers of the Book of the Law. We admit nothing but what we prove, like a lawyer, from every page that dropped, intact, into a farmer’s field in upstate New York. Or is that the Book of Mormon? But, surely, how can you know that Christ is risen unless it is written somewhere, in some book? Saint Matthew, chapter 28? Mark 16? Luke 24? Saint John, chapter 20? Surely, People of the Book trust in every word in the Book of the Law.
Unless we are not People of the Book. And this is not the ‘Book of the Law’.
There are Orthodox Christians who would never kiss the Torah scroll. They would never fall flat in front of a Qu’ran, quote its laws to justify hacking off a human hand, stripping a back to the bone with a hundred lashes, or crushing a woman’s body under a shower of stones. They would never proclaim a printed book the perpetual Guru of God. They hide behind different trees. ‘Christ is risen’ must be written in the 75th Canon of the Council of Pompeiópolis. Even if there never was any council of Pompeiópolis. It must be written in the rubric of the ancient Týpikon from the Monastery of the Left Sandal of the Mother of God in Apollonía on the Borysthênês. Even if there never was such a monastery. Surely somewhere, they tell themselves, there must be an infallible text to answer all my urgent questions and dispel my doubts. Somehow, a saying from the Fathers. A quote, a case, a precedent. Something in print, a bit of pigment pressed on white paper. An expert in a tweed jacket with Ph.D. after his signature. A scholar with forty-eight books to his name, each arguing that Jesus could not possibly have risen from the dead. Or else, an ‘elder’, a hermit in a cave, who holds in his hands a manuscript to open the kingdom of God.
Are Christians, then, enslaved to a book? Is the key to knowledge – a written word?
A word in print, black pigment pressed on wood pulp. Is this Christ, risen from the dead? When I handle it, do I hold the hand that healed leper’s sores and raised corpses to life? When I touch it, do I insert a finger in the mark of the nails or thrust my hand where the spear wounded his side? When I kiss it, do I kiss those feet that walked on the waters of Galilee and climbed the hill of Golgotha? If this ink were red, the rubrics on how to offer the services; if this tome were the heavy Pedálion, the collection of the canons; if these were the words of a Greek Father or a Russian monk – would the ink change into blood, the paper to Living Flesh? But how, then, can I know for certain that Christ is risen?
Can I know, really know, from a word – any word? Or only … from a Person?
On the evening of the first day, the disciples are gathered together in a room. For fear of the authorities, the doors are shut. Jesus appears among them and says ‘Peace be with you’. How do they know that it is he? He opens no book. He shows them his hands and his side. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit. ‘You are my Body’, he says, ‘my one and only Church. The shadow of the Law passed, when grace came – and you, my apostles and your successors, now hold the key of knowledge. If you forgive’, says Jesus, ‘then I forgive; and as you judge, I judge’. Thomas is not with them when Jesus appears. They tell him: ‘We have seen the Lord – with our own eyes’. Thomas does not ask: ‘Where is it written? Show me, in black and white’. He says: ‘Unless I see the print of the nails and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe’. After eight days, Jesus appears again. In his hands: no collection of canons. No rubrics. No Book of the Law! How is Thomas to recognise him? No volume in his hand. Only … the mark of nails. ‘Put your finger here’, Jesus says, ‘place your hand in this wound’. Thomas does not believe when he reads – only when he obeys; and in his blessed doubt, more sacred than a lawyer’s certainty, the apostle first utters the words: ‘My Lord and my God!’
Does Jesus scold him? No. Does he remind him? Yes. ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?’ he asks. ‘I am no book. I am no law. I am no manual of the Pharisees. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed – in my Body: the Church of my Apostles. He who has seen me, has seen God the Father; and he who hears my Apostolic Church, hears me’.
Beloved in Christ: a Pharisee once was shocked to see the Lord fail to wash his hands at table. Is it not written in the Book of the Law? Who is he to disobey – the Law? ‘Woe to you lawyers!’ Jesus declares, ‘for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering’. But, if this Bible is not the Book of the Law, why honour it? It is an icon; and, like all icons, it points not to a law but to a Person. A Person who did many other signs, not written in this book; and these, the signs of his Risen Life, are written not to testify to a written code but that you may know: life is found in no Law but in the Key of Knowledge himself – Risen, in flesh and blood.
If you would know for sure that Christ is risen, look to his Body. His only Body, in flesh and blood, left on earth: his Orthodox Church. When you have immersed body and soul in true worship; submitted yourself to his apostolic priesthood; and touched his Precious Body with your lips, will you say with absolute certainty: ‘My Lord and my God!’