Most people nowadays are very security conscious and protect their homes with locks and alarms. We’re probably quite unusual as a family because we keep our front door unlocked during the day (though not at night). People we know will just knock and walk in, which is pretty much what I remember from my childhood home: a knock and a call of “It’s only me” as a friend or neighbour walked in.
In our Gospel reading today we witness Jesus doing much the same thing. He didn’t ring the doorbell or knock. If he had done, I doubt if anyone would have had the courage to open the door. The disciples were meeting in fear of those who had killed their Lord. They were hardly likely to open up. For Jesus, that was no problem as he simply ‘came and stood among them’. Whereas other visitors might have brought fear by their presence, Jesus brought Shalom – an all-encompassing peace, a wholeness that only the risen Lord could give. If there was the slightest doubt about whether this was an imposter, Jesus showed the wounds he had so recently acquired during his crucifixion.
During any interesting event nowadays, you will see people whip out their mobile phones and take photos or record videos which they can keep for their own use and share with their friends. If the events we have read about in the Gospel happened today, I suspect some of the disciples would have recorded it. Seeing the hands and side of their Lord who was dead on Friday and appeared alive and well on Sunday evening was surely worthy of capturing on video. It would have gone viral on YouTube.
Of course, there was no option of recording what happened apart from in memory, and that didn’t allow it to be shown to someone else. It was not possible for the disciples to show Thomas what had happened, to zoom in on Jesus’ wounds if necessary, to let him experience something of what had happened. Thomas only had their word for it and the story probably seemed pretty unlikely. Thomas wanted to know for himself before he would believe. He wanted to touch the reality of this risen Jesus. Perhaps he thought that the rest of the disciples had let grief go to their heads, but Thomas wasn’t going to be so easily taken in. Although he’s remembered as Doubting Thomas, he was being quite level headed I think.
As we know, Thomas got his chance a week later. He doesn’t seem to have taken up the offer of actually touching Jesus’ wounds. The presence of the risen Lord was enough to confirm the truth and cause Thomas to fall down and worship Jesus as his Lord and God.
At the end of the Gospel passage we are told that the things we can read in the book written by John are designed to help us believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in doing so have life in his name. Jesus said to Thomas that those who believe in this way, having not seen the risen Lord, having not touched his wounds, are blessed.
We witness the beginning of that process of believing without seeing as Peter addressed the crowd at Pentecost. No doubt some who listened were not at all convinced but we know that many did believe and went on to be part of the early Church. We also know that for Peter and the other disciples, and for many of those early converts, their decision to follow Jesus led to big changes in their lives. They became part of a community enlivened by the Holy Spirit, one of generosity and love and miraculous happenings. They also became the target of persecution, leading some to lose their lives and others to leave their homes for places of safety. Wherever these believers went, they spread the Good News and others joined them. Thomas himself is believed to have founded the Church in India.
Those who believed the message they heard were also often in danger as a result. Persecution of Christians has been a reality up to the present day. Today, 23rd April, is the feast day of one such believer, St George. (The church will actually celebrate tomorrow because of its rules). As George was born in the 3rd Century AD, details about him are sketchy. He was born between 275 and 281AD, either in Cappadocia (a region in modern Turkey) or in Lydda in Palestine. It seems likely that he spent some of his formative years in Lydda. His parents were from important Greek families and were Christian, so George was brought up in the faith.
George’s father was an officer in the Roman army and George chose to follow him into the army. It was that decision which eventually led to his becoming a martyr. George seems to have done well as a soldier and reached the rank of military tribune by the time he was in his late twenties. He was one of the imperial guards of Emperor Diocletian stationed in Nicomedia. In 303AD the emperor set out to rid his army of Christians. In an edict, he required the arrest of all Christian soldiers. The remaining soldiers were asked to sacrifice to the Roman gods. George met the emperor to complain about the edict. The emperor tried to persuade him but George was unable to renounce his faith and this set him on a collision course with the emperor. George was sentenced to be executed. He gave away his wealth to the poor before being tortured and then beheaded in 303AD.
George was honoured as a martyr in Lydda where his body was buried. A church dedicated to him has been there from a time only a few years after his death. His fame spread across the Roman Empire. George was declared a saint by Pope Gelasius I in 494AD. Even at that point, it seems little was known about what George had done because the pope said that he was numbered among those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” Of course, most people would associate slaying a dragon with St George, but this seems to be just a fanciful legend.
Despite so little being known about St George, he captured the imagination of many and has become the patron saint of various places: England, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Aragon and Catalonia. When Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scout movement he chose St George as the patron saint of scouting, in the same way as he had been the patron saint of the Knights of the Round Table. Baden-Powell admired George’s courageous character, his leadership, his unselfishness and his faith, all attributes of knights. He considered him to be a good example of what he hoped Scouts would become. He encouraged Scouts to face dangers and difficulties in life and to persevere.
Today Scouts the world over, and in SL, will remember the example of St George. Likewise we too remember those who have lived the faith well and are an example to us in the difficulties and challenges of life. Those whom we remember may be well-known or known only to a handful of friends and family. Either way, they are an influence for good and continue to spread the Good News that those who have not seen may believe.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor