In media res. In the midst of things. It is a literary concept that belongs to a number of great narratives such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; a way of beginning a story from its midst rather than from when it started. The Iliad begins, for instance, in the ninth year of the Trojan war. John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus in the Passion and in the Resurrection as being “in the midst.” It is an image, I suggest, that belongs to the awakening to the essential life of God which is always “in the midst” as the principle of all reality.
“They crucified him, and two other with him,” John tells us, “on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” “The same day at evening,” John tells us, the evening of Easter Day, in one of the accounts of the Resurrection, “came Jesus and stood in the midst.” And again eight days later, “Jesus came and stood among them.” The twentieth chapter of John’s Gospel shows us some of the different ways in which we come to learn.
This week also marks the end of Ramadan with the Feast of Eid al-Fitr, sometimes known as the Lesser or Smaller Eid. It is a three-day festival that marks the breaking of the fast of Ramadan in Islamic culture. Just as Christians might say, Blessed or Happy Easter, Muslims greet one another with Eid Mubarak, Blessed Eid, or Eid sa’id, Happy Eid. The fast and the feast commemorate the giving of the Qur’an to Muhammed. In other words, it concerns the ways in which things are made known and revealed. That, too, is a feature of the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, notably in John 20, part of which was read in Chapel this week.
It is an intriguing scene. The disciples on “the same day at evening” are behind closed doors, huddled in fear and uncertainty, in confusion and devastation. Yet that is the context in which we can sometimes come to learn the things which matter most and which are truly transformative. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus were in fear and confusion. The disciples behind closed doors are in fear and confusion. The image easily extends to our minds as being like closed doors where we are closed in upon ourselves in either fear and uncertainty or in our narrow certainties and assertions. How are our minds opened to grasp the larger reality of which we are a part? It will not be in flight from the world and its dangers nor by being behind closed doors and walls and gates but by learning a way to face ourselves and one another and our world without fear.
The Resurrection never lets us forget the Passion. Behind closed doors, Christ comes into our midst. He speaks - something heard; but he also shows us his hands and his side - something seen. Such things relate to the concepts of Word and Sacrament, to the ways in which we encounter God as essential life in our midst. It has the power to change us and to set us in motion. Jesus says “Peace be unto you” and he says it three times. This always reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, a marvellous satirical critique of academic and modern assumptions. “Whatever I tell you three times is true,” the Bellman says, “just the place for a Snark.” Of course, just repeating something over and over again doesn’t make it true. That is one of the problems in our contemporary culture of fake news, of misinformation and disinformation, of rumour and slander that quickly go viral.
Peace and forgiveness flow out of the presence of Christ in our midst, the Christ who shows us his hands and his side. “Then were the disciples glad,” we are told. They are changed and set on a mission to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. We are not simply defined by our actions or simply by what happens to us. There is something more to who we are. It is about how we come to “know even as we are known” by God. But one of the disciples was not there, Thomas, known proverbially as ‘doubting Thomas’. He hears what the others have said but will not accept its truth, he says, unless he himself sees and touches the hands and side of Christ. This is wonderful since Jesus in the beginning of the chapter had told Mary Magdalene not to touch him. She is to know him and herself in a new way. She, too, was sent on a mission to the other apostles.
Jesus appears to Thomas and bids him touch and see. We learn things in different ways, each according to the capacity of the beholder to behold, we might say. We can learn from things spoken and we can learn from things experienced. Each are partial forms of human knowing. Seeing is believing, too, it is commonly said, but that is only partially true. It is not always true, and here it is interestingly qualified. “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” The point here is that the Resurrection is the affirmation of the body yet without reducing reality to just the physical; hence the emphasis on the marks of the crucifixion. As the commentary tradition observes, they have now become the marks of love. This is another kind of transformation through what is made known to us by Christ in media res, in the midst of things, opening us out to a larger view of ourselves in relation to one another and the world. It signals the profound change from the paralysis of fear to the motions of love.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, Head of English & ToK Teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy