Living the Impossible

Have you ever been surprised and startled by experiencing something that you never thought was possible? I know I have. Do you recall what it was like living the impossible – wondering if it were real or simply a dream from which you would awaken.

Thinking about John’s description of the evening of the resurrection that, it seems to me, would describe the emotional atmosphere in the upper room on the night he described. Recall that the women returned that morning and told of their experience at the tomb – not finding Jesus’ body there – which had not been believed by the men hiding in fear in the Upper Room. Shortly after dark the followers from Emmaus arrived breathless telling of their encounter with the stranger on the road – and how he was became known to them as Jesus in the breaking for the bread. And now in this closed room with its locked doors Jesus appears among them. He speaks peace to them. He then tells them they are sent as he was sent. And then in an act reminiscent of the creation story in Genesis breaths on them saying to them they are receiving the gift of the Spirit.

Is it any wonder that Thomas who was not there for all this comes back to friends who are very different, no longer bound by fear of arrest & death. They want Thomas to believe the impossible and he is just not able to. I’m sure he wants to. Who would not want to? The impossible is that beloved friend had died, but death did not have the last word.

Thomas was not able to make that fantastic leap without experiencing something akin to what they experienced. And a week later Thomas has his own experience – not a copy of theirs – and comes to his own realization and understanding. The story of their experience by these others opened Thomas to be able to have his experience of the power of God seen in Jesus.

This leaves us with the question of what has been our experience that leads us to active faith, fellowship, service and mission? It is an important question because if we expect to have someone else’s experience or some sort of cookie cutter experience that has been established as the “way” to see and believe, we shall be most disappointed. Each of us experiences of God with us and within us is manifested differently.

For example, Nancy and I walk & pray labyrinths. Nancy often has what might be called a spiritual or mystical experience while praying a labyrinth. I on the other hand have a quiet walk and some prayer time. On my part I find God in community, in sharing the stories and pilgrimage of life – mine and others; in what might seem to others as odd and brief moments of recognition.

For me the sacramental life of the church is an important touch stone. Before we enter the church for worship each Sunday we have a prayer among the participants. My favorite prayer ( and now the one I use almost exclusively, ends with “and be known to US in the breaking of bread.” For me communion is a significant moment of recognition of God active and present in my life.

Yet I know that for many others God’s presence is seen primarily in nature; or is felt in contemplative prayer; or in Avast array of other personally meaningful ways. So this story of Thomas is not a condemnation of Thomas as a doubter nor of an oddball who can’t believe the obvious – but rather it reminds us we each need to and are able to have our own experience of the power of God in a way that is personally meaningful to us.

This shows the importance of answering the question within ourselves “where it is that I am able to or surprised by catch a glimpse of God in my life?”

Once we identify that compassionate presence what is our response? Do we see it as a commissioning to do something? Peter appearing before the temple authorities whom he had formerly feared (Acts 5:27 and following) obviously felt it imperative that he share his story. In doing that he help others be open to their experience by his sharing what he had seen and heard – as a witness to the events.

We also need to recognize that Jesus appearance among them was frightening and scary for his friends and followers there. But once Jesus shared his peace with them – and they recognize it was Jesus – the fear was changed to gladness and a measure of peace was found.

Thomas has his experience and moves to a new understandings of life, and new priorities for his life. Legend tells us that Thomas like the other apostles traveled far sharing their experience of Jesus. Thomas it is believed traveled as far as Tamil Nadu in present day India. He is believed to be what is now the Mar Thoma Church in India.

His legacy is to assure us that questions and doubts are not antithetical to faith. According to author Frederick Buechner Doubts and questions “are the ants in the pants of faith” causing us to grow and change our understandings and actions as followers of Jesus.

Thomas and other apostles, saints and followers in the way who have gone before us invite us to open ourselves to see our own experiences of God in Christ in our life. To celebrate that experience and nurture it in community and finally to be willing to share it with others so that they too might identify that loving presence within and around them as well.

Jesus said to them – to you: Peace be with you.. As the father has sent me so I send you.

Receive the Holy Spirit And YOU shall be my witnesses…

Thomas was not able to make that fantastic leap without experiencing something akin to what they experienced. And a week later Thomas has his own experience – not a copy of theirs – and comes to his own realization and understanding.

The story of their experience by these others opened Thomas to be able to have his experience of the power of God seen in Jesus. This leaves us with the question of what has been our experience that leads us to active faith, fellowship, service and mission? It is an important question because if we expect to have someone else’s experience or some sort of cookie cutter experience that has been established as the “way” to see and believe, we shall be most disappointed. Each of us experiences of God with us and within us is manifested differently.

For example, Nancy and I walk & pray labyrinths. Nancy often has what might be called a spiritual or mystical experience while praying a labyrinth. I on the other hand have a quiet walk and some prayer time.

On my part I find God in community, in sharing the stories and pilgrimage of life – mine and others; in what might seem to others as odd and brief moments of recognition. For me the sacramental life of the church is an important touch stone. Before we enter the church for worship each Sunday we have a prayer among the participants. My favorite prayer ( and now the one I use almost exclusively, ends with “and be known to US in the breaking of bread.”

For me communion is a significant moment of recognition of God active and present in my life. Yet I know that for many others God’s presence is seen primarily in nature; or is felt in contemplative prayer; or in Avast array of other personally meaningful ways.

So this story of Thomas is not a condemnation of Thomas as a doubter nor of an oddball who can’t believe the obvious – but rather it reminds us we each need to and are able to have our own experience of the power of God in a way that is personally meaningful to us.

That shows the importance of answering the question within ourselves “where it is that I am able to or surprised by catch a glimpse of God in my life?”

Once we identify that compassionate presence what is our response? Do we see it as a commissioning to do something?

Peter appearing before the temple authorities whom he had formerly feared (Acts 5:27 and following) obviously felt it imperative that he share his story. In doing that he help others be open to their experience by his sharing what he had seen and heard – as a witness to the events.

We also need to realize that Jesus appearance among them was frightening and scary for his friends and followers there. But once Jesus has shared his peace with them – and they recognize it was Jesus – the fear was changed to gladness and a measure of peace was found.

Thomas has his experience and moves to a new understandings of life, and new priorities for his life. Legend tells us that Thomas like the other apostles traveled far sharing their experience of Jesus. Thomas it is believed traveled as far as Tamil Nadu in present day India. He is believed to be what is now the Mar Thoma Church in India.

His legacy is to assure us that questions and doubts are not antithetical to faith. According to author Frederick Buechner Doubts and questions “are the ants in the pants of faith” causing us to grow and change our understandings and actions as followers of Jesus.

Thomas and other apostles, saints and followers in the way who have gone before us invite us to open ourselves to see our own experiences of God in Christ in our life. To celebrate that experience and nurture it in community and finally to be willing to share it with others so that they too might identify that loving presence within and around them as well.

Jesus said tho them – to you: Peace be with you..

As the father has sent me so I send you

Receive the Holy Spirit

And YOU shall be my witnesses…

Don

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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