Crows Nest Uniting Church
Easter 2 • 12 Apr 2015

Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

Rev. Chris Udy

Robert Beckford is Professor of Theology
at Canterbury Christ Church University,
and the author of a TV series
called "the Hidden Story of Jesus".
In the series Dr Beckford first looks at stories
in other religious traditions
that are very similar to the stories of Jesus' birth -
and then he concentrates
on how the story of Jesus developed and changed
in the years after his death and resurrection.
One line of stories
suggests that Jesus didn't die on the cross,
but revived in the tomb,
and returned to his disciples.
Some of those stories say
he then travelled away from Jerusalem and Palestine
north and east to India,
where he'd previously sent Thomas
to prepare the way,
and for a while they travelled and worked together.
For a very, very long time
Christian communities in India
have traced their origins back to Thomas,
who, they say, arrived there
about 20 years after Jesus was crucified –
about 52AD.
Some of those communities
are now part of the Roman Catholic Church,
others are more orthodox in tradition,
and others again,
like the Mar Thoma Church in Kerala
are proudly independent -
but all of them claim
that special connection with Thomas,
and a very different heritage
from the European churches.
But the stories Dr Beckford traces,
don't come from Christian communities at all -
they are stories about Jesus
passed down in Islamic and Hindu traditions.
The stories are very old.
Some of them are supported
by ancient documents,
dating as far back as the second century -
and they say that Jesus not only survived
to travel to India -
possibly in company with Thomas,
possibly also with his mother Mary -
but he also married there, and had a son,
and lived a long and honoured and peaceful life,
and died, and was buried,
in the city of Srinagar, in Kashmir.
Dr Beckford's program
indicates that those stories about Jesus
have become a point of contention and dispute -
not so much among Christians,
but within the Muslim community.
The Koran says Jesus isn't buried anywhere,
not because he was crucified
and raised and ascended,
but because, like Elijah, he was taken up to heaven
before his crucifixion.
The Koran says he's there in heaven now,
ready to come back on the day of judgement
to lead the final battle against the forces of evil.
Jesus is an important figure in Islam.
He's honoured as a prophet,
but not worshipped as divine;
he's studied as a teacher and a healer,
and he's said to be alive -
but he's alive because, the Koran says,
he never died.
Just before the crucifixion
God is said to have replaced Jesus
with another man - someone who looked like Jesus,
and someone who died in his place,
while Jesus was translated into heaven.
The Islamic scholar who believes
that Jesus is buried in Kashmir
has now found himself in hot water,
and is being told to keep quiet
because he’s being told
that his research contradicts the Koran.
This resurrection thing
has always been contentious -
and from the very beginning,
poor old Thomas has found himself
involved in the disputes.
Thomas was just the first
to ask a few questions
about how a man who had died
could be alive.
He was just the first
to ask for something he could touch -
and see and hear -
to build his faith on.
Thomas wanted solid foundations -
evidence, proof, demonstrations and reason -
and only after he had those solid foundations
would Thomas accept
what all his friends had told him
and start to see the world
as a place where resurrections happen.
That's what Thomas wanted - firm foundations -
obvious conclusions, clear decisions -
and if we possibly could,
every one of us would have them too.
We'd love to have
our doubts and uncertainties settled.
We yearn to know that the choices we make
will lead to health and wealth
and love and peace and joy.
We want to know what's in the heart and mind
of anyone who might affect our future -
we want to know who they are,
what they look like, who their friends are;
we want them face to face with us,
absolutely open,
every strength and loyalty declared,
and every wound and weakness and scar revealed.
We would love to live our lives
with certainty and proof -
we'd like to be free of that messy business of trust,
and never have to rely on fragile faith,
and most of all, we want to have confidence
that what we believe -
or even what we can hear, and see, and touch -
is truth.
Truth is a strong theme in the gospel of John.
You'll remember that it's in John's gospel,
when Jesus is being tried for his life,
that Pilate asks the question "What is truth?" -
and then walks away
without waiting to hear an answer.
Just before Pilate's question Jesus had said
"For this I was born,
and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth
listens to my voice."
Earlier still, at his final meal with his disciples
Jesus had gone further.
Describing what would happen after he was killed,
and promising that he was going
to prepare a place where his disciples would follow,
he made an amazing claim -
and Thomas is part of this interaction also:
John writes:
Thomas said to him,
"Lord, we don't know where you are going.
How can we know the way?"
And Jesus said to him,
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will know my Father also.
From now on you do know him
and have seen him."
For Jesus, truth is not a fact,
or an object, or an idea -
truth is a relationship -
a living, changing, dynamic, growing connection.
It includes experience and reason,
stories and information -
but it's always something more than that.
Truth can’t be pinned down
to a specific form of words
or to numbers in an equation,
or to a diagram or picture -
all of those things might attempt to express truth -
but they’ll never be clear enough,
or big enough, or flexible enough
to be always and everywhere true.
Even the simplest of statements -
say 1 plus 1 equals 2 -
even that very simple statement
is not always true and correct.
If you’re a computer, for example,
1 plus 1 does not equal 2 -
it equals 10 - one zero -
because computers can only see the world
in terms of zeros and ones.
Truth depends on what and who we are;
who we are affects the way we see the world;
and the world - the universe, everything there is -
even God -
is best understood, not as things in isolation,
but as beings in relation.
What happens to us when we die
can’t be described in the terms Thomas wanted.
He wanted a map he could follow into heaven:
a path he could walk - the way;
some words he could say - the truth,
a routine he could live with by every day - the life -
but what Jesus gave him
was something else entirely.
I am the way,” Jesus said,
and the truth, and the life;
no-one comes to the father
except through me -
and if you know me,
you will know the father also.”
Thomas hadn’t understood at first;
he still wanted something solid,
something he could poke and push
and pry apart.
He couldn’t see that the body of Jesus
doesn’t reveal or represent who he truly is.
Jesus is more than a body -
more than bone and flesh and breath and blood -
Jesus is the much-loved son of God;
Jesus is the one who breathes the Spirit;
Jesus is our brother and our teacher;
Jesus is Lord -
the one who deserves and claims
our ultimate loyalty and service -
and all those aspects of Jesus
are relational.
No matter how much we know about Jesus -
where he was born, who his family were;
where he was killed and where his body was taken;
what happened to his body in resurrection -
no matter how many facts we have,
or items of evidence,
or witness testimonials,
or stories and traditions -
no matter how much data we have,
if we have no relationship with Jesus,
no sense of living connection to him,
love for him, or sense of his love for us -
then we cannot know the truth of who he is.
At first Thomas hadn’t understood,
but a few nights later
he was with the other disciples
in a room where the doors
were shut against the dark.
Suddenly, Jesus was there,
in the room among them,
beckoning Thomas forward
to touch his hands and his side.
John says nothing about Thomas
doing either of those things -
so all those pictures we have –
or even hymns we sing – as we’re about to -
of Thomas probing Jesus’ wounds
are only in the artists’ imaginations -
but in that moment when Jesus appeared
another kind of intimate connection was made.
When Thomas then spoke
it wasn’t the body of Jesus that he spoke of,
but of that deeper relationship.
Jesus had assured them
that in him they had come to know,
not only Jesus their teacher and their friend,
but also the Father -
and it was Thomas who was the first
to look at Jesus and say
“My Lord and my God!”
There are all sorts of stories and traditions
about what happened after
Jesus was killed and was raised -
and even the stories in the Bible
don’t all easily fit and settle together as evidence.
But beyond the stories,
and behind the traditions,
there’s a highly consistent experience.
People who seek Jesus out
for friendship and forgiveness,
for guidance and for grace -
people who seek Jesus out
in a personal, conversational, relational way
find there’s someone there;
someone who listens and responds.
In Jesus they find someone who engages them;
someone who inspires and sustains them,
someone who comforts and confronts them,
someone they don’t grow out of or get bored with.
They find a real relationship,
that changes and surprises and grows.
In Jesus we find the way,
and the truth, and the life -
not in any exclusive, dogmatic, judgmental sense -
and not as some sort of test of faith
that we can pass or fail -
in Jesus we find a life-companion,
who travels with us wherever we go,
who meets us in all sorts
of unexpected places,
in people we find comfortable and familiar -
but even more in those
who take us above and beyond
what we thought we knew and believed.