I don’t know, and neither does the online Catholic encyclopedia for that matter, where the name comes from though I suspect as they do that it is named Low Sunday to highlight the difference between the highs, the pomp, the glorious celebration of the Easter resurrection story and all that it brings us and the return to the regular flow of weekly worship. No trumpets, no shouted celebrations on Low Sunday. In comparison, it is a serious letdown.
And we do that all the time. We say to ourselves as if to make it all better, that we appreciate the sunshine more because we have the rainy days as we gaze out of our windows and wish we could be outside. We grudgingly eat whatever Chinese food is in front of us and comment about how it pales in comparison to the stuff we had, back then in that place.
But the Sunday after Easter is often called Low Sunday, or Doubting Thomas Sunday, or St. Thomas Sunday, or Quasimodo Sunday. Seriously, the character was found on the steps of the cathedral on The Second Sunday of Easter and was named after the day, quasi modo in Latin being the beginning words of the mass meaning “in this way.”
I do not thing that the lectionary writes did us any favors either, selecting the post-crucifixion scenes with Thomas as their centerpieces. The mood drops pretty seriously when you hear of the disciples of Christ locking in for fear of the crowds; you can picture them there, huddled together, weeping, afraid, uncertain. Your ears cannot even hear the echoes of “He is Risen” in this scene, it is one of desolation.
It is a scene of people who have been brought low.
Which I find odd. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the loss of the light of Christ in your life, not the knowledge and the faith in Jesus and his Holy Name and all of that but the loss of the actual person of Christ in your life would be devastating. After all, in His presence there is joy. In His presence there is peace. In His presence, there is hope. Walking alongside Jesus must have been such a rush, such a moving experience that to suddenly have that drop off of the radar would be devastating.
But they still have the message. This is after the women come from the tomb, after Peter has seen it standing empty, after Mary has wept at the entrance and met Jesus, though she knew Him not at first but only when He spoke her name. In all of that the disciples are still huddled for fear in the upper room, wondering what to do next even though they live in the time, the very first days, when “He is risen” has rung from the walls and has been shouted in the streets.
They need time to process one thing, one emotion before they can move on to the next one. Their sorrow has not had a chance to settle, to find its place in their day-to-day activities when they are yanked back to joy again, or they are supposed to be yanked back to joy again when they see Him risen.
But they are not given the time. Jesus comes unbidden, according to a schedule that they do not yet perceive, according to the will of God and not the schedules of men. All along in the book of John Jesus has said something akin to “the time is not yet come” or “My time is not yet come” and we get a glimpse of something behind the curtain, s will, a force, a plan that we do not know and yet we cannot thwart. Jesus comes at the right time, not the convenient time, at the appointed time, not the time that works best for us. We are again and again drawn out of ourselves like the disciples by the calling of this faith, forced to be answerable to a timing, a plan we are not privy to.
It asks of us a great flexibility.
The disciples have not yet stretched enough. Remember that they have been walking with Jesus up until that past Thursday. He washed their feet just days ago. He forgave them and forgave them and forgave them in the very recent past and showed to them glimpses of the Kingdom of God that is all around them, all the time, not something that they have to wait for but something that is a present reality if only they had the faith to see it.
And then crash. They had it easy for a while, faith in something you can see is easy. Faith in something that comes from heaven and right into your hand is easy. Eat loaves and fishes that spring from nothing more or less than the grace and generosity of God and you can believe for a good while.
Try and believe when there is nothing there anymore, your motivation is gone, you are probably broke, after all, you did splurge quite a bit on that last supper. Hunger is probably joining fear on your top ten list of emotions, pushing upwards on the chart towards sorrow. Tray and believe then and tell me how it works.
It’s like a couch potato, fat and sassy suddenly being asked to do the uneven parallel bars. It is a lurch in world view, they are not stretched, they are not warmed up, they are scarcely ready.
But it is not optional. Jesus doesn’t come and ask, “did I come at a bad time?” because whenever Jesus comes, it is always a good time, it is always the right time.
But still we are slow.
Slow to realize that Jesus return is not a threat, not even a promise, but a nod toward our own need for completion. We need to see the story come true, we need to see the wisdom of God come true before our eyes, “it was so easy to believe when we were with Jesus every day but now that he is gone we do not know what to do.”
Maybe that is why those who do not see and still believe are blessed. We have fewer stages of grief to go through, we have less of a jarring experience when we hear the story and feel its power but do not have to suffer the actual loss, the actual visceral loss of a friend we have broken bread with, slept alongside the road with, fed others with, and then be asked to go another mile even another footstep without him.
Maybe that is why we who have not seen and still believe are blessed.
Jesus isn’t a person to us. Jesus is every person to us.
When we hear the tale during Lent we can picture Jesus as the savior, the one come into the world in order to save us, to deliver us from our misery, our sin, our fear. We are spared the particularities though; the very, very real particularities that would make us struggle with letting Him go, to the cross, to the father, away from us.
We do not know if he snored. We do not know if He occasionally blew the divine nose when the desert flowers were in bloom and He got a bit of divine hay fever. We do not have an attachment to the person, real and actual, sweaty beneath the Palestinian sun, enjoying a hearty belch after a good meal. Jesus remains a person we know, but not well, a savior we can believe in but more in the manner in which I love and believe that my cousin Joseph is a real and good person. I haven’t seen him in 20 years, but I believe, knowing what I do know about him, that he exists and is a good man.
We have not seen, and are therefore spared sentimentality. We are therefore able to believe, come what may, because faith leads us there and keeps us safe.
For the disciples, locked in the room in fear despite how many times Jesus said to them do not be afraid, they are overwhelmed by their grief for the actual Jesus, their friend and companion these three years. It clouds their vision, and Jesus must come to snap them out of it.
Neither Peter’s speech in Acts nor the letters of Peter are possible for them until Jesus comes back to them.
Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe.
We, on the other hand, have the blessing of hearing the words and feeling their power because of the working of the Holy Spirit. When we hear the words “He is risen” we understand that those words are not in past tense, “Jesus was risen” or past perfect, “Jesus has been raised.” They do not mark a place in time.
They make Christ’s mark on all time.
In their grief and fear the disciples forget that Jesus wasn’t risen. Jesus is risen and we are all beneficiaries of the message that he brings to us, that we can believe in something beyond ourselves, something that for grace alone loves and cherishes us.
That when God makes a promise. The deal is already sealed and we do not have to quake with fear ever again because Christ is risen and the promise is fulfilled and we are transformed into a whole new creation in Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As weird as it may sound, actually knowing Jesus in the flesh may be the greatest handicap that the disciples have.
We know that he is risen because we see His face reflected in the faces of other people we encounter, the least of these our brothers. We hear his voice in the voices lifted in praise and prayer or lowered in conspiratorial love, or the intimacy of lifelong friends.
Christ is in everyone, whether or not they know Him and feel his presence, that is the knowledge, we, who have not seen, carry with us in our faith.
Christ is in every gesture of love, in every hand held out in comfort or forgiveness. Christ is in every act of mercy, every time someone could strike a blow and does not.
And when we see Him, when we close our eyes and let the Spirit guide our hearts and our voices and our vision and we see Him face to face we are not shocked, we are not disbelieving.
We do not ask for proof because we have not seen and yet believe. We have never seen and yet believe and so when we do see, when we do catch a glimpse, it is like greeting an old friend, someone long-expected, ‘oh there you are.’
Christ is risen indeed and on display in a theater near you and on the street where you live and in the uniform of the US post office and standing at the front of a classroom full of children.
And in you. In you when you do anything, even the slightest thing, and do it in His name, in the faith given you, in the life transformed for you. Each end every time you silence the voice of selfish pursuits and seek the welfare of others, the least and the lost, then Christ is risen indeed in you.
Not in some ancient time, not in some faraway land.
Here, now, forever.