Easter 2 2018:
Fake or Good News of Resurrection?
Imagine the headlines:
Exclusive! The man’s for turning: U-Turn from Doubting Didymus.
Reuters: News just in from Jerusalem.
The rebel religious fanatic Jesus bar Joseph, has, according to some of his followers, risen from the dead. Despite being crucified, some of his followers say they have seen him alive and kicking. Others doubt this. As reported by us last week, bar Joseph, also know to some as Christ, 33, from Nazareth in Galilee, was crucified the previous Friday, along with two others, at Golgotha, just in time for the Passover Celebrations. Authorities are still trying to round up his followers, with little success. However, using undisclosed sources, which as the Press we must protect, we have had secret meetings with some of his followers, which reveal divisions and discrepancies.
No-one disputes that Jesus bar Joseph was executed last Friday. While the weather was bad and only a few women stayed to the end, many saw him dragged through the streets from his trial at Caiaphas’s House and sentencing at Governor Pilate’s lithistratos, and Simon from Cyrene has confirmed to us that he actually carried the patibulum which soldiers Longinus and others used to raise him up. We have also spoken to Joseph from Arimathea, 55, who confirmed that he saw to the insurrectionist’s burial on Friday evening. ‘It was rather hasty’ said Arimathea, (see picture), ‘but we did it properly, with linen cloths and a heavy stone, and the soldiers saw what we did. We didn’t like that, it felt like an intrusion on our obsequies, but they had their reasons. Criminals don’t usually get a decent burial, but we wanted to do the right thing’.
An undisclosed source has told us that Christ’s followers, whom some are calling ‘Christians’, fled and are in hiding in the Holy City. Their hideout is called ‘The Upper Room’, but we have not been able to locate it yet. According to some witnesses Jesus bar Joseph has appeared in this ‘Upper Room’, but others doubt this. One such apostle is Thomas Didymus, 32, of no fixed abode, who doubts that his former boss is back among us. Two Sundays ago he told us:
‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
But now he has changed his story, and says that he has seen his friend again after all. Yesterday in a u-turn he told us:
‘I went back to the Upper Room and Jesus said to me, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” I was a bit, like, surprised you know, but I did it, and, My Lord and my God!, it was a wound all right. Then Jesus said “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”’
Our interview with Didymus ended there, but unconfirmed sources say he is planning to go to India.
What do you reckon? Is this fake news? Russian media reported this week that Yulia Skripal was recovering and had spoken to her cousin on the phone, a recording of which they played on air. No doubt we doubt this, as did indeed the broadcasters themselves. Russian media is unreliable of course, we say, even more unreliable than a bunch of middle-eastern fugitives whose leader has been crucified.
So then, is Thomas the twin, ‘doubting Thomas’ as history calls him - is he the voice of dissent, the voice of reason in this strange, supernatural, controversial story in which the powers that be have a vested interest and a take on truth? State-owned media would never admit such a defeat, which at best could be construed as an execution failing and a convict escaping, while at the other extreme, it looks like death is conquered and eternal life opened up for all. Either way, it’s fake news, must be denied, the authors discredited and the story suppressed. Or if it cannot be suppressed it must be countered, rewritten, recast and turned to advantage. Ask the Russians – they know what to do.
Let’s investigate a bit of historical spinning ourselves. ‘Doubting Thomas’ - what’s that all about? How about we put a different slant on it and call him ‘Believing Thomas’, shall we?
For just as someone who scores the wining goal in a cup final is known after the fact as ‘goal scorer’ Bloggs, who ‘in the thirty-third minute netted a perfect curling free kick’, Bloggs was a non-goal scorer before that moment, but no-one would call him ‘non-scorer Bloggs who left the pitch covered in mud’ after the thirty-third minute, would they? No, they would call him ‘goalscorer Bloggs’, or even ‘man of the match’. So let’s not call believing Thomas, ‘doubting’ Thomas any more. Isn’t he the man of the match?
2000 years of history have emphasised the fake news that he did not believe in the resurrection. I mean, he didn’t, at first, but then he did. What’s wrong with that? Who hasn’t wanted to examine the evidence before making a committed judgement? Who hasn’t been doubtful about something improbable before deciding?
Perhaps you remember the conversation between Alice and the Queen in Alice in Wonderland.
“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'
I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
No-one wants to believe six impossible things before breakfast – not even one impossible thing, in fact. Yet we make decisions about what we believe and think all the time. How many decisions do we make each day? According to the thinkingbusiness website we make 35,000 decisions ever day. And how many of these decisions matter? Well, a recent study from Columbia University suggests about 70 of them.
Whether to cross the road could be a life-threatening matter - which is to say that some decisions we make involve a degree of risk. Whether to believe in God is also a risky decision. Thomas’s decision to avoid believing until he had evidence was rational, and cautious. He was not prepared to take the risk of believing without seeing. He was not prepared to risk ridicule, but perhaps he also realised that if it were true - if it really was the case that Jesus had risen from the dead - then he would have to make a U-Turn and change his life. This is why Jesus praises those who are prepared to believe without seeing - because they are taking a risk that needs must change their lives. And for almost all of them in that room, who believed, and who a month later received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - this belief resulted in the laying down of their own lives too.
Thomas’s reticence reveals the reality of this realisation. Because if he, if anyone, if you or I are actually going to believe in the resurrection then it is a life-changing decision which could lead to the laying down of our lives for the one whom Thomas first called Lord and Master. So it has to be real news, not false truth. And it is - it is not fake news - no, it is Good News, and that truly trumps all the nonsense of gossip, spin and propaganda that has been doing the rounds for the last two millennia.
Thomas, Didymus, which means ‘twin’ - Thomas is our man in Jerusalem. He is our twin brother who does what we would have done. He does not so much, doubt, as verify. But whatever we call his attitude and approach, it makes him a man of our age too. And when he has his caution satisfied, when he sees the evidence, he has the presence of mind and courage to believe and worship.
Let’s pray for grace that like Thomas, we who have not seen as he did, do believe. For then our worship becomes a natural expression of our faith, and our fellowship, of joy, love and hope in our Lord and Master, the risen Jesus Christ.
To whom be all honour and glory, now and forever, Amen.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 08/04/18