St. Thomas Sunday “Peace be with you”

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1st Sun after Pascha “Thomas Sunday”  April 23, 2023,  John: 20:19-31  Fr. Andrew

Christ is Risen!!!

We have just finished walking with Christ for the most important week in history – earthly or eternal (Kairos) history! Beginning with ripping Lazarus from the clutches of death, we participated in Holy Week with Christ and His Apostles. He revealed to them the new covenant at the last supper: This bread is My body; this cup of wine is my blood; we watched in horror as Judas takes his morsel of bread and is immediately filled with Satan, demonstrating what it means to eat and drink of the Lord’s cup(1Cor 11:29) “…unworthily…  not discerning the Lord’s body” We saw the Apostles who had walked with Christ for the last 3 years participating and seeing thousands of miracles flee, abandon, and deny Him and we saw how hopeless it is to try follow Christ on our own. (John16:7) “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to you advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” We hear Christ say, (John 19:30 “It is finished. (Tetelestai)” All has now been accomplished. St. Athanasius in the 4th century explained what was finished/accomplished, “Christ came and put on a body that He might find death and blot it out.” Straight from the cross, Christ descends into Hades, binding the Devil and freeing us. At the service of the procession of the shroud, we hear,”(Stasis 2:26) “Hades shook with fear, O Saviour, seeing You, the Giver of Life, spoiling him of all his hoarded riches, and raising up the dead from every age.” Christ shattered the gates, locks and chains with which the devil had bound the race of Adam. We see the broken bits and shattered remains of Hades in the “descent to Hades”  icon, as Christ hauls Adam and Eve, and us, their offspring out of Hades.

Even if we neglected to take advantage of Great Lent preparations, even if we came in with the 11th hour rush, we are flooded with precious  Paschal joy! We want to keep this joy, to guard and treasure it! At Pascha we heard once again the glorious message from St. John Chrysostom that has echoed and been repeated through the centuries, as he addresses death and Hades saying, “it was embittered for it was slain, it was embittered for it was overthrown, it was embittered for it received a body and encountered God!

Christ is Risen, and you are cast down

Christ is Risen and the demons are fallen

Christ is Risen and the angels rejoice

Christ is Risen, and life flourishes

Christ is Risen and there is none dead in the tombs.”

Christ is Risen! It is finished! But we have to choose to believe, to accept what Christ has done for us. The only power the devil has is the ability to lie and try to influence us, to confuse us to the point that we don’t wish to choose to run to our ever-waiting Christ. The devil is defeated and wounded and walks around doing what he can to deceive us, to keep us from forgiving all and accepting God’s ever available forgiveness, but he has no power over us unless we give it to him. Christ is Risen, it is finished, but we can still choose darkness rather than light. Today we hear Christ say to his beloved disciple Thomas, “be not unbelieving but believing.” Encountering Christ, Thomas’s doubt is transformed into belief, and he proclaims for us all, “My Lord and my God.” Christ then speaks to Thomas, and through him to every generation that will follow, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That is us my brothers and sisters!

We sometimes have a difficult time accepting that it is truly finished, that everything is accomplished by Christ and all that now remains is for us is to fully accept His great gift. To faithfully follow Him with gratefulness, joy and humility and realize that no matter what our circumstances, Christ is with us and “All is well!” We often judge our circumstances with our limited knowledge, rather than trusting that God is working in all things and is truly everywhere present and filling all things. Yet we know better, Christ is always right there with us, granting us His peace, even in the midst of bewildering pain and great confusion, when nothing makes sense. But we must turn to Him with whatever faith we have, crying out “I believe Lord, help my unbelief.” Christ’s work “is finished,” but our work is very much still before us.

Today we see the resurrected Christ first comes to His followers saying, “Peace be with you.” Then His next words are Peace to you.” They had abandoned Him, denied Him, and were hiding out, living in fear of the Jews who killed their leader. Christ brings no rebuke or condemnation. Peace to you” is what Christ brings as a restorative healing balm. Eight days later when Thomas is now with the rest of the disciples, Christ appears again in the locked room greeting them with Peace to you.” Peace in the midst of trouble and persecution, in sorrow and suffering, in hunger and want, even in prosperity and success. Peace in all circumstances. Christ tells them before He goes to His crucifixion. (John 14:27) Peace I leave you not as the world gives do I give.” and (John 16:33) “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace, in the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Every Liturgy we start with “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, Peace, goodwill to men.” (2X). The same announcement that was made by the multitude of the heavenly host to the shepherds, and through them to all of us at Christ’s birth. (Luke 2:14). We start every Liturgy with “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.” “For the peace from above and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” “For the peace of the whole world…” and we then continue, “Again and again in peace, let us pray to the Lord.” One of the most precious anointings that comes with the grace of priestly ordination is the transmitting of Christ’s peace to the people of God. Open your hearts wide to receive the peace of Christ, whenever a priest comes out of the Altar to bless you with this gift! When you are wondering if a word or teaching is from God, ask yourself if it brings peace or anxiety?

Today is “Antipascha” which means “instead of Pascha,” and we refer to our future Sunday Resurrection services as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th…, Sunday after Pascha. This reminds us that every Sunday Liturgy we again have the opportunity for this joyous renewal, as every Sunday is a mini-Pascha, a celebration of Christ’s resurrection We receive the very body and blood of Christ for “sanctification, enlightenment, strengthening of our lowly souls and bodies, relief from the burden of our many transgressions, protection against every action of the devil, repulsion and victory over our wicked and evil habits, mortification of our passions, accomplishment of Christ’s commandments, increase of His divine grace, and inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven;” to quote St. John Chrysostom.

Today we are given the same gospel from John 20 as we were given for Paschal Vespers, except it continues on to verse 31 where we are told “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” Because we believe and know that He is truly the Son of God, we become the children of God, fulfilling our destiny and becoming that which we were created to be. In Luke (20: 36) we hear of the children of God “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

St. Thomas’s refusal in his pain and sorrow to accept his fellow apostle’s words, really speaks to the great depth of love that he has for his Lord. He didn’t want a second-hand experience; he wasn’t content to just hear from others that Christ had returned, he wanted a real and living relationship with Christ. Once Saint Thomas knew that Christ was with Him always, unto the end of the ages after Pentecost he did truly remarkable things. He was the apostle to India bringing thousands to faith in Christ and to this day the Christians of Kerala in South India consider themselves “Thomas Christians.”  

Like Saint Thomas, we also need to have a real connection with Christ. God has no grandchildren, only sons and daughters. We too like Saint Thomas need to be able to say directly to Christ, with genuine faith and love “My Lord and my God.” May the peace of Christ which He gave to His disciples when He came amongst them with His resurrected body be with us all. Peace be unto all!  Christ is Risen!!!