Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Wounded...Risen...Good Shepherd, Part 2

Each morning as I eat my breakfast, I read the paper. I, as you may well guess, go to the sports page first. Then, I look at the inside of the first page to see what the thought of the day is. I prepare myself for weighty thought by reflecting on the chuckle proposed for that day. Quite a beginning? This last Saturday, this was the thought for that day. It was a quotation from the great Albert Schweitzer, "In everyone's life, at some time, our inner flame goes out. It is then burst into flame again by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who kindle the inner spirit". It quickly dawned on me that this fits right into this ongoing reflection on the post Easter experiences of The Risen Christ and His followers. They were disturbed, disillusioned and disheartened. They were at this stage very lost “as sheep without a shepherd”. (We all know that feeling, even though we may not want to admit it, or speak about it.) It is then Good Shepherd time. It is now not just the Good Shepherd who seeks them out, it is the Wounded Good Shepherd who is seeking and searching for the lost and lonely. He is able to show those in the throws of grieving, that death is not an end, it is a beginning of a new way of seeing, believing, and being. This is not going to be easy. That is why, in some Gospel accounts, Jesus who became the Risen Christ, spent such a long time to allow this new way of seeing, believing and thinking to occur. He made effort after effort to ease this transition, but was He totally successful? He had to leave them on the Mount of The Ascension while they were still in doubt. The followers were able to worship The Risen Christ and still doubted. Who says we have to have it wired for God to be able to with us, in us and through us. Those worshipping doubters were sent forth to preach this new, revolutionary, Gospel, and change the world??? Thomas, the unbeliever, would have been on that mountain. I do not call him “doubting Thomas", that would give doubting a bad name. (Yes, I do repeat myself.) He was unbelieving or disbelieving, not doubting. I like that definition of Faith as, "doubt grounded in hope". Megan McKenna, in her book, And Morning Came, expresses these thoughts. She begins with John 20:24-25, and then continues, " Two lines and the truth is told. Someone was missing. The community was not whole or together. Thomas absented himself. Why? Perhaps his reason is hidden in his name twin. When people are living in fear and insecurity many want to be with others and some, who have other opinions, an alibi, prefer to go out on their own. Thomas had an out. If he was recognized as one of Jesus' disciples, he could always feign ignorance and say, “oh you must mean my twin brother”. Has he gone back to the old way of life, before he met Jesus and went off as part His company? Has he parted company with them now there is persecution and the possibility that he may be arrested? It would seem so. The other ten disciples who have traveled with him and Jesus, prayed, eaten, learned, and been His followers, all try to tell him the same story: “we have seen the Lord!”. And he steadfastly refuses to believe any of them. He flat out rejects the community's word, hope, and the passing on of Jesus' command. He won't listen, obey, or believe them. He might, but he has his own criteria for belief--very callous, insensitive, and violent criteria, impossible in his mind to fulfill. He wants to see for himself and then he wants to open up the wounds of Jesus again, sticking his fingers in the nail holes and thrusting his hand into his side, to see if He bleeds and is really Jesus? It is insulting, degrading and horrible to think about. So, a week later, none of them has moved. His refusal, his selfish response to their hope and newborn belief is to kill it dead, abort it. Thomas, one of their own, is the reason fear prevails and none of them obey Jesus' Word. A week goes by, seven days, signifying a lifetime, an entire cycle of life, and this time he is with them. McKenna next quotes John 20:26-29, and then goes on to write, "This is the third peace, the peace of the Spirit, breathed upon them, the Spirit that forgives and holds bound those who need to be held bound. It is given to all, this peace that is forgiveness, but now Jesus shows the disciples how to hold one another bound. Thomas has paralyzed the community his disbelief and refusal to obey the word that was brought to him, seeking to obey Jesus’ command to them. He has insisted on impossible personal attention because he wasn’t with the community, a decision he made by his own free will. Now Jesus turns towards Thomas and singles him out, call his bluff repeating his own words back to him, holding him bound to actually try and do what he claimed for his criteria. He tells him, in this translation, “Do not doubt but believe”, but so many other translations read, "Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe". This is not doubt, this is stubbornness and hardness of heart that has hurt the whole community. This often happens in community and is not to be tolerated and allowed to go “unchecked". As it was with the first followers so it is with us, his followers of today. How often have we met disbelieving Thomas within ourselves, our families, our places of work, our Faith communities and our church. It is at this time and in that place of loss we find ourselves, that we need the presence of The Wounded risen Shepherd. Our needs are always met. Not in the way we expect them to be met, but in the mysterious ways of God. He whose appearance brought Thomas to faith will make His presence known to us in and through an encounter with the transformed wounds of another human being. In our pain and struggle another human being is placed in our path as the contemporary Wounded, Risen Good Shepherd. (That is a mouth full???) That living person will convey life to us as their story is told. They have been given the courage to share with us their pain of disbelief, disillusionment, disconnectedness and discouragement. They will tell us of the struggle to pray, to have any connection with a Higher Power, to have trust in a God that really cared for them in their screwed-up-ness. Somehow, in some mysterious way, the scales of fear are lifted. We begin to see in a new way, and begin to live a new life. It will be a contemporary Easter story. The Wounded Risen Good Shepherd is alive and well, aching to reveal Himself to us in a very personal way, and through us to all of His creation.