Have you ever had this experience? A friend comes up to you and says, “I have just seen the Most Amazing Movie!!!!” And you say, “Tell me about it.” And they say, “Well, it’s all about relationships, you know.” “Relationships,” you say. “Tell me more.” “Well, it’s about two guys who meet in Barcelona, and then they are transmogrified…” And at that last word they lost you. You need more information before you’re going to be going to that movie. Transmogrified- what does that mean, exactly? Are we talking alien abduction?
Sometimes, we just need more information before we go committing ourselves to spending $10 on a movie. And the truth is, unless until we see the movie itself, we’re probably not going to understand what they mean by ‘transmogrified’ anyway.
I think that’s what was happening with Thomas. All the other disciples were excitedly talking, and he asked what happened, and they said, “Jesus just walked through that locked door, and it was like He was transmogrified!!!”
And Thomas replies, “I don’t even know what ‘transmogrified’ is. And Jesus is dead. So cut me a break.” Until he has the experience himself of Jesus being transmogrified, it’s never going to make any sense. Thomas still loves Jesus; he still grieves Jesus. And he has no idea what the future might bring- but he’s pretty sure it doesn’t include Jesus.
I think a lot of us understand Thomas. Last week, we were singing about the resurrection, and the grave being overcome, and how death no longer has a hold on us. But when we get finished singing and want to understand what it all means… it all sort of gets vague. We have to go into metaphor, like St. Paul when he said that the body is like a seed that is buried in the earth… only until it dies and is buried can it be raised into a living thing that bears no resemblance at all to a seed. And we say, “Whu…?”
Because who can reason their way around transmogrification?
In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll has Alice say, “There’s no use trying. One can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t much practice,” replies the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes, I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” And Alice, like Thomas, thinks to herself that the Queen is crazy.
The Bible is full of people who think are just as skeptical as Alice. The earliest example is in the Gospel of John
when Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found the One whom Moses and the prophets wrote about. It’s Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth!” (John 1:45) And Nathaniel replies with skepticism: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
When Jesus asks the Samaritan woman to get Him some water from her well, she skeptically replies, “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you think you’re going to get that living water?” (John 4:11). And then there’s Mary at the tomb after Jesus has been executed, seeing somebody she assumes is the gardener: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15).
I mean, there’s no way it could be Jesus, right?
Right after that, having seen the risen Jesus, Mary tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” John doesn’t tell us if they believed her; He merely continues the story by saying that on Easter evening, they were behind locked doors, afraid that the forces that had executed Jesus will come next for them.
You can’t believe impossible things; that’s just make-believe. Much more reasonable is a healthy skepticism.
We all know about that.
- April 20 will mark the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, where 15 kids were killed and 21 kids injured;
- April 16 will mark the 11th anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting where 33 students were killed and 23 injured;
- It’s almost the 5th anniversary of Sandy Hook Elementary, where 28 children were killed and two injured;
- It’s two months since Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 kids were killed and 14 injured.
Between Columbine and Parkland, there have been 108 school shootings with over 120 students killed by gunfire. And nothing can seem to stop the easy availability of guns that have killed every single one of these students. It’s impossible; the forces against common sense gun reform are too powerful. Look what happened to the Brady Law- it’s like it never even happened.
We deserve our healthy skepticism about these teenagers standing up with their March For Our Lives campaign. But the problem with skepticism is that it keeps us from even contemplating the unexpected, the miraculous, the hopeful. And if we will not open ourselves to hope, then we close off the possibility of change. The possibility of resurrection.
But it’s so easy to allow skepticism to be our default position.
- The last time we loaned our brother money, we never saw it again, and we are loathe to trust him with anything.
- The last relationship we were in put a bitter taste in our mouths, and so we are loathe to open ourselves up again.
- The last time we voted, we were betrayed by the very people we voted for, and so we are loathe to get involved again.
It is hard to trust when we’ve been burnt. If only we could see for ourselves- like Thomas, like Mary, like Nathanael, like the woman at the well- if only we could see for ourselves the living and transformative hope. If only we could see for ourselves the power of the living God in creating a world where fear and doubt and distrust doesn’t rule our lives and imaginations.
In his book, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton writes these words: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so…”
He nailed it, didn’t he? We don’t know where we’re going… we don’t know where the road is taking us, or if it is even taking us anywhere… we don’t know if what we’re doing is the right thing or not. And our doubts, our skepticism just make the darkness worse, because we start to question whether or not anything we do is worth the effort.
But Merton goes on: “But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.”
This is a turning point, friends. This is where that famous transmogrification can start to happen.
- When we decide to desire, above all things, to do what God would have us do;
- When we go ahead, despite our skepticism and unknowing,
with what we believe in our integrity to be right.
- When we pray, and lay our hearts and wills before God: “Not my will, O God, but Yours be done” and in humility seek the desire of God:
…Then God uses our frail actions for God’s own purposes, and good will be brought into the world. Even though we might know nothing about it.
Merton has one more thing to say after that: “Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Dear friends, we understand doubt. We understand skepticism, and fear, and hopelessness. But let me tell you something about what happened to Thomas. Jesus Himself came to him, and Thomas didn’t believe it was Him.
It was impossible. “Unless I can put my hand in His wounds, I will not believe,” Thomas says. And so Jesus stretches out His wounded, bleeding hands, and Thomas puts his finger in His Lord’s wounds. And in putting his hands into God’s pain, Thomas’ eyes were opened. There is something about being willing to touch the things that pain God… that transforms.
We may not know what to do next. The way may be dark, and we may be filled with doubt. But when, in faith, we put our hands into God’s pain, we shall, like Thomas, see the living Christ. And the fear, and the hopelessness, and the skepticism shall be put in their place as we say with Thomas, “My Lord and My God.”
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: WorkingPreacher.org; Commentary for 4-8-2018, Mary Hinkle Shore; Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude
trans·mog·ri·fy. verb. To transform, especially in a surprising or magical manner, as in:
“the cucumber was transmogrified into a pickle,” or “the guns disappeared, and in their stead were transmogrified children who were no longer afraid to go to school or play in their streets.”
SCRIPTURE FOR APRIL 8, 2018 John 20:19-31
(It was Sunday, the first day of the week, when Jesus arose from the dead at dawn…) That evening, the disciples were huddled in a house where they had locked the doors in fear. Out of nowhere, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He showed them His hands and His side, where He had been pierced in His death. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When Jesus had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you hold fast to those people, they are held fast.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So when he came later, the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” A week later His disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in My side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.