Today (May 1) is Thomas Sunday (one week after Pascha and the day Jesus walked through the locked doors and showed himself to the disciples with Thomas present in the group). Reflecting on the locked doors through which Jesus passed, Pope Gregory the Great wrote,
The Lord’s body that made its entrance to the disciples through the closed doors was the same as that which issued before the eyes of people from the Virgin’s closed womb at his birth. Is it surprising that he who was now going to live forever made his entrance through closed doors after his resurrection, who on his coming in order to die made his appearance from the unopened womb of a virgin?
But because the faith of those who beheld it wavered concerning the body they could see, he showed them at once his hands and his side, offering them the body that he brought in through the closed doors to touch. By this action he revealed two wonderful and, according to human reason, quite contradictory things. He showed them that after his resurrection his body was both incorruptible and yet could be touched. …
By showing us that it is incorruptible, he would urge us on toward our reward, and by offering it as touchable he would dispose us toward faith. He manifested himself as both incorruptible and touchable to show us that his body after his resurrection was of the same nature as ours but of a different sort of glory.
(My source is today’s Sunday bulletin, by the way.)
I like this quote because (even though he doesn’t mention the word “hope”) it carefully describes the difference between the theological ideas of faith and hope, to which the apostle Paul introduced us in his letters.
Faith has been largely misconstrued in contemporary Christian and popular culture. Faith, we are led to believe, is what connects us to heaven, to the spiritual world, to the future kingdom. But this other-worldly (or future-worldly) sensibility is better related to hope than faith. Faith is what happens here and now that makes our hope possible (Heb. 11:1). And if we confuse the two and think that faith is all about “urging us on toward our reward,” we tend to forget our responsibilities here and now. (This is part of the seeming contradiction Gregory mentions.) Heaven is a wonderful place, full of glory and grace, as the old camp song says. But life isn’t about heaven so much as it is about prayer, serving the naked, sick, and prisoners, which we are able to do because through faith, we, like Thomas and the other disciples, can see Christ here and now and serve him. And as we do these things, our understanding of heaven grows. Heaven’s not where we start. We start with faith in Jesus Christ who was born, lived, died, and was resurrected. In turn a lively faith produces hope … hope in Jesus Christ who is ascended to heaven (which we’ll celebrate in 32 days). Faith produces works here and now. Hope produces a lively sense of the transformation to come.