Our houses are reliquaries.
The objects they hold have many shapes, colours and sizes;
some are valuable, and promise much.
We festoon our dwellings with chains and bolts fashioned from fear,
and security cameras, should the locks fail.
We will not be taken advantage of;
we will guard what we have.
Yes, we know these things are all just stuff;
but stuff, nonetheless.
In time it will all be reduced to dust.
Still we take much comfort from our locks.
The disciple is to be prepared, alert;
so the ancient scripture enjoins.
This instructive text was written in those excited early years
when the imminent return of the master
was eagerly anticipated.
Jesus is coming; look busy!
After two millenia the sense of expectancy
has largely evaporated, at least for some of us.
For twenty-first century disciples
the urgent metaphors for faithful living –
being dressed for action and keeping our oil lamps burning –
must have some other purpose.
The evangelist writes as if for the theatre,
scenes that have been re-enacted
by countless ecclesiastical ensembles for millennia.
In the final act of his disturbing drama
the lead character returns unexpectedly to centre stage
and is brought face to face with a once-trusted friend.
One who famously abandoned him
at a time of desperate need.
We, who also know the bitter taste of failure,
squirm awkwardly with the fisherman
as his master invites him, three times,
to reaffirm his devotion.
The brash confidence of previous boasts
has been supplanted by the shame
of his pre-dawn denials.
Self-assured words no longer come readily
to his lips.
Jesus is gracious, accepting;
he does not chastise.
There is work to be done,
there are journeys to be completed,
there are sheep to be tended;
failures, too, are needed.
The previously-dead Jesus meets with Thomas
and invites his sceptical friend
to extend his hand,
to touch his master’s injured hands and side.
This, according to gospel-writer John,
is the incontrovertible proof
that his Lord lives.
We find it less convincing.
Nor do the various reported signs work for us
in quite the same way that they did for the evangelist.
two thousand years ago.
What evidence, then,
might persuade you and I that our master is alive?
The generous acts of his followers? Perhaps.
Loving deeds of disciples? Maybe.
Lives spent courageously for the sake of justice, hope,
and the gospel?
such as these could be sufficient
to satisfy the rest of us sceptics.
Do I want to live forever?
It’s not a priority.
My mind struggles with notions of heaven;
of existing somehow, conscious and individual,
beyond one’s allotted days
in this corporeal world.
Across earth’s stones and tracks I journey,
wonder and rage.
I breathe its red dust and taste its sorrow;
here I belong
and yet am never quite at home.
Perhaps I never shall be.
Striving, longing and hoping
I seek the company
of those who also yearn
and weep and groan.
My comrades are my abode,
my sisters and brothers are my home,
Perhaps this is what the gospel writer meant
when he spoke of abiding in Jesus,
earth-dweller, brother of us all,
and true child of heaven.
(Whatever that means).
They ask for signs,
but fail to embrace
the sign that was given.
They were in happy agreement
when it was all about eating
and feeding upon crusty loaves.
On those days belief came easy
and their hearts had surged,
But seeking, receiving and dining
on the food that endures for eternal life,
(whatever that means),
is another thing entirely. Give us this bread always. The request comes easily,
with eager, outstretched hands,
but few opt to stay around
to receive the answer.
And the sign,
despite its stark simplicity,
perhaps because of it,
is passed by, unnoticed and ignored.