Acts 5:27-32,Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31
Opera and Gospel, preached by The Rev. Peter Courtney
When I was young I knew that operas were boring plays with fat ladies singing high notes with warbly voices in languages I did not speak. It was against all reason that Debby and I subscribed to our local opera company a number of years ago. Puccini’s La Boheme was on the menu. While still pretty ignorant of opera, I know that everyone was supposed to die in the end and that the very appealing Mimi who sang such exquisite songs with and to Rodolpho was doomed from the get go.
La Boheme is not like Road Runner. The coyote in the Road Runner cartoons on Saturday morning does not really die. No death, no grief even when the coyhote runs into a tank or is blown away by dynamite. The roadrunner honk-honks his way over the horizon having bested the coyote yet again. Sure enough the next episode arrives complete with a perfectly fit coyote scheming away to do in the roadrunner.
I knew Mimi was a goner. Even during the curtain call I was sure the actress was a stand in, that Mimi, the real Mimi was gone forever; she had died and was going to stay dead. And I wept for Mimi. The music took me places I never intended to go. I have now seen Boheme 4 times and still get teary.
Today we visit the apostle Thomas in a different tragic aftermath. Thomas missed out on all of the action. He was not there for the breathing of the Holy Spirit. He was not there to exchange the Peace with Jesus. He was not there to see Jesus enter the upper room through a locked door. He was just not there and just did not get it.
Thomas takes takes the scientific view:
“Except I put my hand in your wound in your side and my finger in the mark of the nails” he said, “I will not believe.”
He knew Jesus was dead and that all things being equal Jesus was likely to stay dead. No curtain calls, no magical resucitations, no new cartoon frame with re-vivified characters, just the gate of death.
Thomas is right. The Gospel is not a fairy story like Peter Pan where Tinker Bell comes back to life because the children are asked to try really really hard to believe in fairies. Thomas did not believe in fairies. He believed that dead is dead. Dead is dead and no amount of romance or TV writer ingenuity is going to make it into something else.
It is good to believe in death. It is an important corrective to the notion that we will live forever. All the important people from earlier generations in my life are now dead. ft is a sobering thought. No wonder we like Road Runner.
Thomas has not reckoned with God. God is God of the living not of the dead. God calls all of us, even the dead, into life. Thomas is a contemporary man. He acts as a functional atheist which is what most of us do most of the time. We act and live as if God were not in the equation. We act as if God were a minor subset of negotiable entities which can be cancelled or erased with no noticeable effect.
When Thomas says: My Lord and My God! He rewrites the script for every play, for every cartoon, for every fairy story. It is now called Gospel: Good News. It too brings tears to my eyes.