Thomas the Believer

EASTER 2C – 28th April, 2019 – ST MARY’S, SOUTH PERTH

SERMON NOTES

+ In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

It is probable that the Apostle John is writing this Gospel some sixty years after the events it describes.  It is more literary, more structured and more reflective than Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Luke begins his Gospel by explaining to “Theophilus” that he has spent time and effort investigating and compiling the stories of Jesus.  He is not an eyewitness, but a good researcher and compiler. He tells Theophilus that he wants him to “know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”[1]  Luke’s “preface” explains his purpose, something which is common in most of the books I read – purpose then details.

John, on the other hand, speaks always from the point of view of an eyewitness, and is at pains to declare this often.  For instance, in the Passion narrative on Good Friday, we read, “he who saw this has testified, so that you also may believe.  His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.”[2]  And John saves his purpose till the end of his book – more an epilogue than a preface: “these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

So what does today’s story from the Gospel add to our belief?

Well, it’s about Thomas and his experience of the Risen Jesus.

I am totally enamoured of Thomas.  He is a man much maligned throughout the history of the Church.  The term “Doubting Thomas” has entered and remained in our language, in and out of church.  Google lists the term 8.93 million times!  And which of us can claim never to have used it pejoratively at one time or another?

But if ever there was a misplaced put-down, this is it.

Thomas is an honest man, expressing things which others are too afraid or too pious to say.

When Jesus hears of the death of Lazarus and decides to go to Bethany, the disciples try hard to dissuade him; but loyal Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”[3]

And on Maundy Thursday evening, when Jesus is offering the disciples comfort in the face of his impending death, it is Thomas who is brave enough to ask the question the rest are afraid to raise: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  And getting the response, “I am the way, the truth and the life.[4]

So, to today’s Gospel.

Sunday evening in the upper room, doors “locked for fear of the Jews”, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you”. Frightens the life out of them, probably.  He shows them his wounded hands and side and he repeats, “Peace be with you”. And then they rejoice and believe! Peter and John have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has undoubtedly told the gathering of her meeting with the risen Jesus. And, according to St Luke, when the women who’d seen the empty tomb brought the angels’ message to the disciples, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”[5]

But where was Thomas?  We only know that he was not in the room.  Can I suggest that he was the only one not afraid of the Jews, not insisting on being behind locked doors?  This man is my hero!

So, when Thomas gets back to the group, they tell him of what and whom they have seen, and he refuses to believe.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”.

And his colleagues come over all superior.  Trust us, we’ve seen him!  Of course he’s alive!  But their “belief” has come only through their having seen the physical evidence of holes in Jesus hands and side.  Their belief is no different from Thomas’ doubt. I imagine they spent a whole week giving Thomas hell.

So, come next Sunday night, all eleven of the disciples are again (still?) gathered.  This time, the doors are only “shut”, so perhaps they are a little less fearful.  Then, in an act of immense grace, Jesus comes among them again, and again says, “Peace be with you”.

He turns to Thomas, and says to him, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas’ response is not – I hope you notice – to put his fingers and hand into nail and spear holes: he responds with the clearest and greatest statement of faith in Jesus that was ever uttered before or since, “My Lord and my God”.

Did you know that at the time of John’s writing – around 90 AD – the Roman Emperor Domitian was known officially as dominus et deus noster – “our lord and our god”?  So, John’s writing these words of Thomas is a direct challenge to the emperor and Rome.  Lots more of that in Revelation!

But who is this Jesus, this Christ, in whom Thomas declares such deep faith?

And who is the Jesus, the Christ, whom we worship and in whom we declare our faith week by week as we say our Creeds?

There are many people – in and out of the Church – who will declare Jesus to be a great teacher, a great philosopher, a very good man, yet steer clear of his being divine.

There are others who claim him to be a great advocate for justice and human rights, but deny his divine authority to make judgements.

We may even see him as a miracle-worker, a man with medical and psychological and psychiatric skills well ahead of his time, but deny the source of his healing power.

But let me remind you that the Jesus, the Christ, in whom we declare our faith is the wounded, crucified and resurrected Jesus.  The disciples recognised him not simply because he could materialise and dematerialise at will, appearing in and disappearing from their presence.  They recognised him by his wounds: the proof of his being Lord and God was – and remains – visible in his hands and side.

In which Christ will we believe? To which Christ will we commit?

I will never trust a Christ without these wounds.  Jesus is always the crucified and risen Lord; nothing less can ever suffice.  Thomas gets it.  Do we?

By the way, as followers and servants and friends of this wounded Saviour, we cannot live an unwounded Christianity.  Our life as Christians is lived in the presence of death emptied of its power. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”, says St Paul.[6]  We live the life of faith, all the while bearing our own wounds and scars – some healing slowly, while some remain to remind us of what Jesus has gone through and still goes through with us. Our wounds remind us of our powerlessness, and of the power that comes from walking with our wounded Jesus.

As, in a moment, we recite the Creed, we will be declaring with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

And we will hear Jesus saying, “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have believed.”   TLBWY.

[1] Luke 1:4

[2] John 19:35

[3] John 11:16

[4] John 14:5-6

[5] Luke 24:11

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:55