Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2018.
It is not the easiest passage in the Sacred Scriptures to contemplate, but the passage from the Book of Isaiah is a very important one, which is why it is provided for our prayer today. “Open the gates,” Isaiah begins. He is dreaming about the future: a future kept by God, a future where peace is the way of life—a future built on confident trust in the Lord God as an everlasting rock. In the words of one Old Testament scholar, this passage is called Isaiah’s “song of the redeemed.” The vision celebrated in this song foresees a future in which the fortunes of the present will be reversed: the mighty will be brought low. It will celebrate Jerusalem, the strong city of God that has withstood the enemy and encloses the faithful.
The key to victory and its strength is both God’s power and the people trust in God. This is a trust in God by His people that allows them to be convicted of their failings and frailty—to be vulnerable before God so that His judgements are heard. This passage is one of the passages that defines what it means for God to judge, such as when we speak of God judging the living and the dead—for God to judge means He teaches righteousness, and righteousness is the manner of holy and upright living, the way of life whereby we delight in God’s will and we walk in God’s ways. This teaching, this righteousness of holy living, is available to all who trust in God, no matter their wealth, family, or station in life—this is Isaiah’s dream. His soul yearns for God in the night; his spirit within earnest seeks God. He even dreams that the dead shall live, that their bodies will rise.
This song of the redeemed provides a clear glimpse of a whole way of life that will not become available until eight centuries later at the Incarnation of Christ in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And this way of life is not fully revealed until the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus after His crucifixion. It was not only the human being, Jesus, who rose gloriously in His body—with Him rose an entire way of life, a total way of prayer covering all aspects of life. Through His resurrection, the way of life long sought-after, long desired, long hoped-for was finally crystal-clear—in the practical words of Saint Luke: devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers. This is the pattern of the baptismal life. This is the way, the only way, we live out who we are. Anything else is a false or distorted way of life.
We have asked God in our Collect for today, and for this week, that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith. We have asked God, in other words, that the baptized be empowered to live baptismal lives—that the spirituality of baptism, indeed of Christ’s resurrection, continues to become that which our whole lives are anchored. Through baptism by means of the risen Christ, upon us has been bestowed the forgiveness of sin; the removal of separation at the moment of baptism and the ever-present possibility afterward through our lives. Through baptism, we have been raised to a new life of grace. To live a baptismal life, to claim the gift that has been given— the clothing of light that Jesus died so we might have—requires in the widest sense the sacrifice of our lives, given to God on His heavenly Altar. It requires devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.
In the more immediate sense, to live this life we need an inquiring and discerning heart that asks the key questions—What does it mean? and What shall we do as a result of that meaning?; we need the courage to choose God amid the variety of choices in this world and the strength to persevere in that often arduous choice; we need a spirit to know and love God—perhaps that is the first thing we need, because all else flows from a desire to know and love God; and finally, perhaps often overlooked, we need the gift of joy and wonder in all of God’s works. Saint Mark records our loving Lord Jesus teaching that “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Children have joy and wonder. This is why we like them so much.
Paradoxically, we need maturity in faith so that we can be more child-like in our joy and wonder in God’s works. We need to know what they are, to really explore God’s mighty acts through salvation history, and know them thoroughly. To paraphrase the poet T. S. Eliot: “We must not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Being wise as serpents yet innocent as doves is another way to express it.
Something like this is what is driving Saint Thomas. He needs to see for himself the resurrected Christ Crucified. He, along with the other apostles, have been through so much, such an ordeal, their world turned upside down, their expectations shattered, their whole vision of God transformed—Thomas is a great teacher to us, and he challenges us to deepen our formation in the faith. He teaches us to explore in detail and at close proximity the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, indeed all dimensions of the Christian faith, all phrases of the Nicene Creed—that doing so is part and parcel of the baptismal way of life dreamed by Isaiah.
Notice that Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for this desire. He responds favorably and specifically to his desire, which is undoubtedly devout and pure. God hears us. He hears us when we give thanks to Him with our whole heart—that is, our whole way of being. God will never rebuke us for asking questions devoutly, even questions that get to the very heart of the faith. He wants us to ask the questions What does it mean? and What should we do as a result? In front of ten of his brothers, Thomas said, “I still have questions of Jesus. I need to ask them so that my belief might be stronger, firmer, more resolute.” May we have the courage in our baptismal lives to do the same.
Let us pray. Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Cover image “Vaux Passional” by Master MS licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original