Demanding God Show Up
Demanding God Show Up
Throughout history the disciple Thomas has been given a bad rap. We call him Doubting Thomas because he refuses to believe that Jesus has risen unless he can physically see it. As I reflect on our passage from John and the role Thomas plays I don’t think he deserves the bad press he’s received. I think Thomas had a lot of guts and that he did something that many people are pondering: demanding that God show up!
Our passage this morning is a familiar one. It is in the early days, after the resurrection. Some of the disciples have seen Jesus, some of them have not. Thomas is squarely in the ‘I have not seen Jesus camp’. Prof. Cameron Howard makes note of this progression of belief, she writes, “I am especially struck this year by the way the Gospel accounts describe the arrival of resurrection hope for Jesus’ first friends and followers: they do not all believe and receive comfort at once in equal measure, but rather in waves.” (Cameron Howard)
There is something very profound about this, that we do not all believe or receive comfort at once, but in waves. I think we will see that play out in our own society and social circles during this time as well. It’s going to teach us to be kinder to one another as each of us heals from the trauma that the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing onto us.
However, I want to return to Thomas and talk about his stubborn refusal to believe. Thomas is so entrenched and so deep is his trauma, that he refuses to believe Jesus has risen until he can see him. History has been unkind to Thomas, labeling him with the term ‘Doubting Thomas’. If we are honest, most of us are also Doubting Thomas’, we want to see. We want that tangible, empirical evidence that Jesus has risen from the dead.
I also find remarkable similarities between the story of Thomas and our present time.
We are living through the Covid-19 Pandemic, a health emergency on a global scale. We are being asked by government and health officials to do the following: stay inside, if we leave our homes it is for essential goods, we are to practice social distancing and if you have travelled outside the country to self-isolate for two weeks. These are some of the larger measures we have been asked to adopt over the past month. We have been asked to do this in order to keep transmission of the virus to a minimum.
If we do this, transmission of the virus will slow down. The hourly news cycle will report fewer cases and fewer fatalities. We will flatten the curve. We will allow our health care workers to do their job in a safer environment and most importantly we will save lives.
In short, if we do as we’ve been asked it will start to look like nothing is really happening. That there is nothing to be concerned about because no one is getting sick or dying. People will ask if we overreacted. They will make the comment that Covid-19 and all of the emergency orders weren’t necessary, that we can open the economy back up because it wasn’t a big deal after all. If we do what we need to do people won’t believe it was ever a concern at all because we won’t see the tragedy that will occur if we do nothing.
(The image above expalins it far more succinctly that I could.)
And if we follow that course of action, if we choose not to believe that Covid-19 is a concern then we run the risk of higher rates of transmission and deaths. Now our doubt becomes deadly.
Which brings us back to Thomas and his demand to see Jesus in order that he might believe. Cameron Howard reminds us, “A remarkable thing happens when Thomas demands that Jesus show up and present his wounds: Jesus does show up!” (Cameron Howard)
If we were to voice the words of Thomas, to say “I won’t believe until I see it!” What would that look like? Does that mean that God must come down and sweep Covid-19 away and make all things bright and new. Do we get to snap our fingers like Ironman in the Avengers movie, and just like that everything is restored? Is that how it works? It might be how we want it to be, but we all know better.
What would it look like today if God answered Thomas’ plea, of “I won’t believe until I see it!” Maybe it isn’t some grand divine act which rights all the wrongs. Maybe God showing up, maybe us seeing it and then believing it is as simple as us showing up. The church showing up, being the church in a way we haven’t actively thought about being in a long time. Being active and present in the world.
But Neil, you ask, how do we do that when we’re locked up and can’t go out. When those very orders to stay in are for our own health and safety. How do we show up?
Simple. Pick up the phone. Do it now. Pause the sermon or do it after, doesn’t matter. Pick up the phone, call your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your friends. Ask how they are, ask if they need anything, ask how they are coping, ask if they are afraid, ask how you can help.
However, I think it goes deeper than this. I believe that there are systemic issues within our society that are unjust and which need correction. I say this out of deep conviction in what I believe, what the testimony of scripture tells me and what the actions of the one whom I follow illustrate.
We have not cared well for those who rely on social assistance.
We have not managed our health care system as well as we had thought.
We have not cared for our elderly with dignity.
We have not recognized the value of an honest day’s labour.
Prof Joy Moore writes, “The whole of this is neither about phantom appearance nor even a doubting disciple. It is how to tell of a world when the divine shows up in disaster. It is how to tell of a world when forgiveness is forever possible. It is how to tell of a world when a woman’s witness welcomes wonder. It is how to tell of a world when life is to know the God whose mission is to forgive sins and reconcile communities scattered by oppression. There are many stories to be told, but these stories confirm Jesus’ identity as the one who has the divine prerogatives to give life and exercise God’s rule.” (Joy Moore)
If we wish to see Jesus, as Thomas required, on this second Sunday of Easter. If we are going to demand that God show up and correct all that is wrong with the world, then we need to realize what we are asking of ourselves. The task of caring of this planet and all that is on it falls to us, God was fairly clear about that back in Genesis. As faithful people of God, followers in the Way of Jesus Christ, as the Church, it is past time that we reinsert ourselves into the important dialogue that shapes our society.
If we want God to show up in the midst of the chaos that this pandemic has created, then we must rise up. We must bear witness to the insufficiencies of our way of life as it affects the poor, the sick, and the elderly. This is nothing new, Jesus spoke for these very things and more.
Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the meek…
Blessed are those who seek righteousness…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness… (paraphrase Matt 5:4-10)
If God is going to show up in the midst of this pandemic. If God is going to show up in the crisis that is our daily living, then it means we will need to show up too. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.