A message from Father Nick 56
“My Lord and my God”
“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,” we used to chant in playground games, “Take your turn and then pass on!” All four evangelists are traditionally remembered together, but there are differences between them. The writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called synoptic gospels because they are told from a common perspective; and these three gospels are read on Sundays in years A, B and C. John’s gospel by contrast, has a different kind of time frame and is read in the great seasons of Lent and Easter. It brings to those seasons a special quality of contemplation.
All four gospels are uniquely precious. Each comprises personal memories, shared community stories, the writer’s own theological insights, and even his literary ability. John’s gospel opens with the words of Genesis telling us a new kind of creation story: “In the beginning…” He follows that with a sequence of seven great signs leading towards Our Lord’s Passion. And all the while his narrative develops a theme of contrast between light and darkness. As Jesus meets a succession of individuals, John offers us a meditation on “seeing” and “believing”. Most powerfully of all, he allows us to hear Jesus speak from his heart in the intimate setting of the “upper room”.
There are two great scenes in the Upper Room, which acts as a kind of womb of the Church. First, this is where Jesus gathers his friends to give them his “Last Will and Testament” before leaving for the garden of Gethsemane. In John’s gospel, the Eucharist is not described for us, but Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet illustrates its true nature. His commandment to “love one another, just as I have loved you” follows the act of washing and culminates in the sublime “Priestly Prayer” offered for those same disciples and for us. It is a perfect expression of what the Church is meant to be.
Secondly, on Easter Sunday evening, Jesus returns to the Upper Room, and this time he comes to transfer his own mission to his friends – now they must be his presence in the world. We are shown two gatherings of disciples on the “first day of the week”, because the Church’s life will always be a Sunday mystery of thanksgiving.
Jesus brings with him a new gift of Peace, showing the wounds by which he has triumphed and breathing the Holy Spirit into the disciples. The very breath of God becomes the life force of the Church. It must always be “one body, one spirit in Christ”. He even shares with them the gift which has been so uniquely his own prerogative: the gift of forgiving sin.
But one enduring image remains with us from the Upper Room. It is that of Thomas, as sceptical as ever and still unfairly called by us “Doubting Thomas”. His profession of faith when it comes – “My Lord and my God” – is enormously powerful. And it brings together all the threads of “Seeing” and “Believing” of John’s gospel. Did Thomas touch his Master’s wounds? We do not know, but his response provides the occasion for Our Lord to make a final great Easter statement which will always include us too:
“You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
The Incredulity of St.Thomas, Duccio di Buoninsegna