April 7, 2013
Karin I. Liebster, Associate Pastor
Christ the King Lutheran Church
The Readings (New Revised Standard Version)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever met or read the Little Prince, written in 1943 by the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry? The Little Prince is turning 70 this year. The narrator meets the little prince in the Sahara desert one day when his plane crashed. The little prince lives on a teeny asteroid but has come to planet earth on his journey exploring the universe.
In the desert the little prince asks the narrator to draw him a sheep. Before drawing a sheep the pilot first shows the little prince an old drawing which he had made as a child. It shows a snake, a giant snake that has swallowed an elephant and is now digesting. When as a child he showed it to adults asking them, are you scared?, their reply was, why should I be scared of a hat? They could not see that it was a boa constrictor who had swallowed an elephant.
To his surprise when the pilot shows the little prince his old drawing, the boy sees immediately that it is an elephant inside a snake. Now the pilot starts drawing the sheep. The little prince is not satisfied with the pilot’s sheep. In his frustration the pilot finally draws a box saying the sheep is inside the box. Again to his surprise, the little prince says, this is exactly what he wanted!
Children and little princes, dear sisters and brothers, obviously see differently than adults do. In the book the little prince and his other friend, a fox, explore the theme of seeing some more, and reach the conclusion, “that eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.” “…here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)
What is it about seeing, dear congregation? Seeing and understanding, seeing and believing, and yes, not-seeing and believing – this somehow all goes together.
It’s already in our first reading. God has come to Job in a whirlwind, setting before him all the works of creation and challenging him, “Hear, and I (God) will speak. I will question you, and you declare to me!” To which Job now, at the end of the book, answers: I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you.” (Job 42:4-5) Now I see. I heard and saw and did not see. But now I see. The adults in the book the Little Prince never saw the elephant in the snake, only an old hat.
Jesus affords his disciples seeing. The Resurrected shows himself to Mary in the garden. And she exclaims to the disciples, I have seen the Lord! Then Jesus affords all of his disciples to see him, so they can say, we have seen the Lord! He enters the room where they meet and shows his hands and side so they can see.
But what about us who have not seen the risen Lord on the day of his resurrection? John, good John, has provided. Thomas stands in for us: Jesus comes the next week, again a Sunday, and shows himself to Thomas so he can see. Thomas may even touch him. Jesus says, do not be unbelieving, but believe. (The word doubt is not in the text, dear congregation). Do not be unbelieving but believe.
Christ is present in our assemblies, sisters and brothers, we hear Christ in the Word proclaimed, we see and feel Christ in the water, we see Christ in the bread and wine, the bread and wine touch to our palms, to our lips and bodies. We hear, see and taste that Christ is given for us, and our sins are forgiven.
Blessed are those who have not seen the risen Lord on the day of the resurrection and the week thereafter, and yet have come to believe and have made Thomas’ confession their confession, “My Lord and my God!”
But sometimes our eyes are held. We cannot see. Job wanted to see all along. He wanted to understand from the beginning. But how could he in the midst of all that happened to him?
Jesus knows that our eyes can be held. And he deals with it both on the light, playful side and on the serious side.
In the beginning of John’s gospel we have a very playful scene where Jesus calls the first disciples. It is all about “seeing” and the different kinds and levels of seeing. I can’t retell it here. It is the second half of John’s first chapter, starting with the Lamb of God. Read especially the scene with Philip, Nathanael and Jesus. I hope it makes you laugh or at least smile. And maybe you remember Jesus saying elsewhere, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (Luke 18:17), or ”Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)
On the serious side, not seeing is what in the gospel of John is called sin. When people cannot see, when their eyes are held, their sin is retained. When we fail to see in Jesus the Word of God made flesh, the life of the world raised on the cross, we remain in darkness and our sin is not forgiven. We have received our judgment. (see e.g. John 3:19-21; 15:22-24) When this happens or when we see it happening, it is very sad.
But when we see, when our eyes are opened, the light bulb turns on, we see! We see with heart and mind and body! Joy floods in. Like for the disciples.
They rejoice when they see Jesus, the Risen, who comes through the door to show them his hands and his side and allowing Thomas to even touch them. This joy is no small part here. It is way more than just the joy of an unexpected encounter with a person we thought we’d never see again. It is the joy which is given to the church for her ministry.
Look and see, dear congregation. Before his death Jesus promised the disciples/ the church joy for when he has left them. And here they rejoice. Jesus promised them peace. And here he gives them peace. He promised them the Spirit, a Comforter, an Advocate. And here he breathes on them the Holy Spirit. He sends them out to be the church, and here they are, ready, filled with joy, with peace, and the Comforter Holy Spirit.
We will not always be able to see with heart and body and mind. We are not free of sadness and our eyes will be held. But blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe. For here in the assembly Jesus, the Risen One, is present, in the Word of the gospel and forgiveness, in the cool water, in the taste of bread and the flow of wine. We may always return to Jesus for our eyes to open, and join the disciples in saying, I have seen the Lord. My Lord and my God! Amen.