Text: John 20:19-31
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We’re at that time of year again. Easter Day is past and once more we’re reading about our patron Saint: Thomas, who evidently just can’t believe Jesus has been raised from the dead.
But don’t we love this story? We love Thomas. We feel, I suppose a connection with him and not just because his ikon sits amongst us, and our Church is dedicated to him.
We love to chuckle indulgently over his lack of faith, because we certainly don’t have trouble believing. In the minds of many he is Doubting Thomas, and thats become so much of a cliché that we can hardly believe Thomas is capable of anything except doubting.
This story seems so simple. Thomas wasn’t there when Christ appeared to the apostles the first time – and when he heard about that, he simply beyond his understanding, and he reacts as so many of us in this scientific, quantative, objective 21st Century do when confronted by the mystery that is the at the heart of God. He declares “I won’t believe until I see it for myself,” and so in his next resurrection appearance, the Lord calls his bluff.
We could say, “End of story”; but of course, it’s not.
There is a whole lot more to this Scripture than a simple story of doubting and then believing. To begin with, it isn’t all that simple – and yes, this story also says something about us. Like Thomas, we too are part of a community built on faith.
So, let’s take a look again at what this story is all about.
The apostles are gathered in a room on the first day of the week – the same as they had done when Jesus was with them. Jesus suddenly appears among them. He breathes on them, imparting to them the life of the Spirit: the Rauch, the essence of life and of God, that moved over the waters in Genesis and was the Word before all things.
But for some reason, Thomas wasn’t there. He only hears about what happened, and he simply can’t believe.
The following week, the apostles, including Thomas this time, were in the room when Jesus again appeared among them. Jesus offered Thomas the chance to touch his hands and his side, but Thomas doesn’t seem to need to do that. Instead he offers Jesus his profound profession of faith: “My Lord and my God.” – A phrase which I am drawn to utter each time I lift the Blesséd Sacrament in the middle of the Eucharist – “My Lord, and My God” – the words of our patron and what should be for all of us here, the declaration at the heart of our life here in this community: “My Lord and My God”
Christ appears each time within the assembled community. He doesn’t appear to Thomas alone. But he also doesn’t appear to Thomas in the group to embarrass him. Christ is present among the group because it is within the community of faith that they could continue learning about him, supporting each other, and being effective witnesses to the life of faith Jesus offers them.
In the final verses of today’s gospe, Christ tells the disciples that many would come after them who would not have the same experience of him that they did. No one would again walk and talk with him as the disciples had; and yet, these others would also come to believe. John the Evangelist later his gospel was written expressly so that others may come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and that through believing would have life in his name.
So, in one sense, Jesus was offering Thomas a chance to experience seeing him risen from the dead the same way the other disciples had. In doing that, Jesus also further strengthened the faith of that particular gathered community.
In another sense, Jesus is strengthening us all. We, too, are a gathered community – getting together at the beginning of the week (and throughout the rest of the week) in very much the same way the apostles did. They gathered to share their real life experience of knowing Jesus and working with him.
The apostles remembered him saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We gather to share in that story. For us, it is a remembrance of the story handed down to us, but unlike many of the family stories we tell, this is not just a remembrance – we continue to share in the presence of Jesus through the Mass, in his sacred body and his most precious blood. How that happens is a mystery, but in that mystery lies the powerful sense of belonging that draws us back here each week. There are some mysteries, which are to be pondered, not resolved.
As Anglicans, we do believe that we are loved by the God who made us, and it is this love which is made plain in the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Thomas was transformed by his encounter with the sacred in that upper room, and you my friends have the opportunity to be transformed when Christ comes here, at this very altar.
When in our humanness we give in to doubt, we are not cut off from the love or strength of God; we’re offered the same chance as Thomas to experience the reality of God’s love. In this community of faith, we are always accepted at God’s altar and in the company of our fellow believers or our fellow doubters. We’re all in this together.
So, maybe we should stop labeling Thomas as “doubting Thomas” and be grateful to him for showing us that it’s OK to question and that it’s perfectly normal to have doubts. It is perfectly fine to be transformed as he was transformed.
Christ says to all of us, “Blest are those who have not seen, but believe.”