Jesus and the Hunchback of Notre Dame

Signpost for 12th April 2015: Second Sunday of Easter, Low Sunday: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2.2; John 20:19-31

What am I doing writing about Low Sunday while still on a high from the joys of Easter Day? It’s been a glorious late summer day, the worship at Christ Church this morning was uplifting, jubilant, and the fellowship afterwards was warm and inclusive – lots of visitors, lots of our own seldom-seen people. We don’t aspire to be a cathedral, but there are not too many places in the north, I’ll be bound, where you can experience an Easter vigil, Exultet and all, and join with a full (well, nearly full) church in singing over and over (during two services) “Alleluia Amen”.

He is risen indeed.

Low Sunday is so named because of its contrast to the highs of Easter Day (and perhaps rather cynically a fall in attendance numbers). Delightedly I find it is also known as “Quasi modo Sunday” – taken from the first two words of the Latin introit to the Mass for that day. In Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (published in1831) the protagonist was baptised Quasimodo because it was on Low Sunday that the Dean found him, a deformed baby, abandoned on the steps of the cathedral. The original book is not popularly read nowadays, but the tragic story-line is still being told in print and on film – what would Hugo make of Disney’s sanitised version?

It’s also called Thomas Sunday – and at last we come to our Gospel reading. Thomas has gone down in the language as “Doubting Thomas”, and some commentators appear to regard him as rather lugubrious, offering John 11.16 (“Let us also go, that we may die with him”) as evidence of a pessimistic, even fatalistic, outlook on life. I have always read it as a statement of loyalty unto death, but the alternative is interesting when coupled with Thomas’s desire for tangible proof of Jesus’ resurrection. Even that desire put alongside the other disciples’ unwillingness to believe the women (Luke 24.10, Mark 16.11) becomes merely a natural reluctance to accept too wonderful a truth. Tradition has Thomas becoming a missionary to India and dying a martyr – so let us put aside “doubting” and rather remember him as the first person to proclaim God fully revealed in Jesus – “My Lord and my God!”.

Our lectionary insists that whatever else we do, we must use the prescribed reading from Acts each Sunday in Eastertide. Today’s is the first of four speeches of Peter directs to Jews. It is composed by Luke to interpret for the reader the Pentecost event. It begins with an introduction, omits scripture quotations (why?) and goes straight to the Easter kerygma, finishing with the triumphant words, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses”. Yes, they were there. Thomas too was there and was the first to realise what it meant. More than 2000 years later, thanks to the faithfulness of those witnesses, we can share in the promise of Easter. Alleluia, Amen.

Sheila

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