“Precious oil on the head”
Jesus lives. Jesus is Lord. And that’s not all – he has brought us the Holy Spirit.
Like precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard (or chin as the case may be) this is the truth, the GOOD NEWS that will be unfolding for us over the next few weeks. This is the culmination of our joy, our happiness and our faith.
In today’s readings we are called to explore the nature of that joy, that deep pleasure, that life-giving faith. C. S. Lewis, articulates that Jesus’ resurrection is the new creation. His coming before the apostles is not a revealing of the way things have always worked, but it is a NEW WAY a NEW CREATION.
This morning we are called to dig deeper into one aspect of this NEW CREATION- the NEW relationship of person and community embodied in the coming of the Holy Spirit.
This is one of the great mysteries of our Christian life: the impenetrable interconnectedness of our experiences of solitude and group. The inseparable bond of complete separateness and unending immersion that is the foundation of our Christian life, both in that locked room filled with fear over 2000 years ago, and right here in Trinity today.
Let’s look at this mystery a bit closer: When the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles through Jesus, in today’s reading, it didn’t come in their sleep while they were alone, or while they were walking in the forest, or sitting meditating. No. It came to them while they were together, in community, in fear, – it was breathed on to all of them, all at once. And yet, it did not come to all of them in the same way or shape or form- Thomas reminds us that each person has their individual experience of Jesus, and their individual story of faith that is inseparable from our communal narrative, but we’ll come back to him later.
We began this morning’s readings with the believers- some period of time after the coming of the Holy Spirit. We enter into a group of people committed not only to their individual faith, but also to sustaining that faith by sustaining their community. They sustain that community through sharing their possessions. As I look around Trinity and the Jubilee Center, and the Center for Wisdom’s Women and Tree Street Youth, this scene seems familiar.
Among these believers, our ancestors, those who had land or owned homes, sell what they had and lay the money, the goods, the resources of their individual holdings before the feet of the apostles to be given to those in need.
At it’s face value this may look like simple wealth redistribution – a lot like what Mr. Buffet is pushing for through the restructuring of our tax system. To simply explain this as redistribution of wealth would be to miss the deeper joy, splendor and mystery that the Holy Spirit calls us to.
At a closer reading we see the lines: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions. “
It is not simply that someone said here is my 10 bucks make it your ten bucks. It’s that the ten bucks was transformed into OUR ten bucks, and perhaps you are holding it for us at the time. In this arrangement there is a disconnection between the I and the item, that allows for a deeper experience connection between people. This is a New Community baptized in the Holy Spirit, one where we transcend the I the individual to experience a deeper union not only with God but also with other real live human beings sitting right next to us today.
That is the revelation of the Holy Spirit at it’s fullest.
So often we see the Holy Spirit as being a bond between God, and ourselves but it is so much more. It is a web of spirit and belief that creates a new relationship among us. It’s a breath, that you in take and exhale and then I intake and exhale and moves through the smallest capillaries and fibers of our soul.
Now, with this deeper understanding of the New Community created through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, let us revisit our friend Thomas. As so many theologians have noted over the years, the only thing worse than being called a doubting Thomas is to be called Judas. That’s pretty bad.
Thomas is the scapegoat, the leper in our faith. So many of us were raised to try to be unlike Thomas, to shun him or his character in our lives, to ostracize him to push him away. We read Jesus’ words “ Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” as a condemnation of Thomas. We sit in the back of the classroom thinking “Oh I’m am glad Jesus didn’t say that to me!”
To rest in this understanding of Thomas is to deny the New Community and New Relationships that Jesus calls us to.
We open John’s gospel with the breath of the Holy Spirit being shared by the full group, and then we immediately go to the individual story of Thomas. These two experiences of faith life, community and individual exploration cannot be separated. They are not two distinct realms. They are a part of the same network.
In the same way that in our community of believer’s in Acts- it’s not my $10 it’s our $10. Thomas’ doubts are not HIS doubts alone, they are our doubts manifested in the individual of Thomas.
The nurturing of his faith is not his duty alone – it is ours. Thus, Jesus’ words are not an admonition towards Thomas, they are a kind and gentle reminder to us all. Every stumble we take he hands us a shoulder, an elbow and open palm to right ourselves with. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”
And what joy and relief this New Community can bring. In accepting Thomas in our community, in welcoming his doubts we can be reminded of the true path, and we can more fully accept the doubts we experience in ourselves. We can throw off the chains of shame that keep us from God, and we can run towards her at full speed taking deep nourishing breaths of the holy spirit all along the way.
This acceptance of Thomas is just one moment in the bible in which we are called to reconcile individual with community. First John in our second reading today shows us that this struggle to embed individual in community and community in individual is a core and consistent facet of Christian life that must happen over and over and over again.
The letters of first John are from an elder in a community that pledged its belief in the gospel of John. His three letters are a response to the community after a schism. Though we do not know the exact details of that fight. We do know that there was a disagreement within the group about whether or not Jesus came in the flesh in his resurrection. A group of people felt so strongly that he only came in spirit that they left the group. They were Thomas walking out the door.
The passionate imploring tone of John’s letter about the blood and flesh of Jesus can be seen as the conviction, that not only must we believe in Jesus, but that we must stay together in that belief. We won’t always agree, we won’t always get along, we’ll have our doubts, demands, gossip, hurt feelings- but we must stay together. We must consistently commit to love and respect one another, and to welcome more and more new people into that bond.
The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is the simultaneous freedom to be who we are, and freedom to be deeply engaged in relationship to others.
Yes, when we are in the group, we can choose to ostracize Thomas. And, when we are sitting in Thomas’ shoes feeling ashamed of our doubts, we can choose to leave the group.
But these are not our only options. There is a NEW WAY open to us. We can share our possessions, our doubts, our disagreements, and our strengths. We can live most fully the New Creation of Jesus Christ, by living our full individuality deeply immersed in the love of community.