Sermon: 3rd April Year C: Easter 2: ‘Thomas’ John.20:19-31
Poor Thomas! I think he gets a bad rap – he is forever labelled ‘doubting Thomas’ – the one who didn’t believe. The truth is that no one expected the resurrection and no one believed it at first. After Mary discovered the empty tomb and encountered Jesus, she ran to tell Peter and John who did not believe until they had witnessed it for themselves, although they were still not totally convinced because they had not actually seen Jesus at this point. They let go of their unbelief when Jesus appeared before them in the locked room that night. He breathed the power of the Holy Spirit into them so they could continue his saving work among the people.
But poor Thomas missed out on this amazing event. We can only guess at his mood – he would have been very disappointed, if not downright grumpy, when his fellow disciples excitedly told him the news. He states quite clearly that he will not believe until he sees Jesus for himself and the marks of his crucifixion. A week later, Jesus obliges Thomas and laid his doubts to rest.
Why was this story included in this Gospel? When any author decides to write a book whether fact or fiction, he or she has to research it, think about it, decide what information or stories to include and what to leave out. You do this yourself when writing a letter or sending an email – you choose the information that you include according to what you want the reader to know or understand. This is certainly true of all the Gospel accounts. John’s Gospel is full of symbolism; he doesn’t include anything that is not significant for his purpose. John admits this when he tells us that ‘Jesus did many things that were 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’.
Put yourself in Thomas’s shoes – would you have found it easy to believe if you had not seen for yourself? Should Thomas be castigated for having doubts?
In human psychology, doubt plays a very important part in our learning and discernment processes and helps to keep us safe. For example, someone rings your phone number or emails you and tells you a seemingly real story about an error in your bank account – you just need to provide your account details and you will receive a refund. You are about to provide your details when doubts creep into your mind and you hang up. You find out later that this was indeed a scam that you narrowly avoided. You learn to be more suspecting and careful next time.
Doubt can also be beneficial in religious belief and help to keep us safe from religious scams. But it also invites us to go deeper into our faith and perhaps discover new insights. How many of us can honestly say that we have never doubted any aspect of the Christian faith? – Especially the resurrection because it turns the rules of natural order upside down. The dead are meant to stay dead.
If you do find it a little hard to believe then you are in good company! You recognize the incredible scope and titanic implications of the biblical witness that when God raised Jesus from the dead God was creating a new reality; overthrowing death, sin, and all that would oppress us; and declaring once and for all that life is more powerful than death and love more enduring that tragedy. God entered the stage of human history in order to create an entirely new reality all together.
What is the character of religious faith? While we may sometimes give the impression that perfect faith conquers all doubt, the biblical authors believed that faith and doubt are actually woven quite closely together. Doubt, questions, even downright scepticism – these aren’t the opposite of faith, but rather an essential ingredient. Faith, after all, isn’t knowledge. Rather, faith, as the author to the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
Resurrection faith came slow to most of the disciples. But when it came it changed everything. They allowed the wonder of God’s activity in the resurrection to break in upon them in a new way. They entered into a new life; they were not the same people post-resurrection as they were before this event. Death does not have the final word. Love and life are stronger than fear and death. The new creation begins with the resurrection and continues until God creates a new heaven and new earth and renews and redeems all things. Until that time, we humans are to grapple with his word and find his meaning of love and mercy for all of his creation. Through doubts, the Holy Spirit can work in us to bring about deeper insights in our understanding of our personal relationship with God.
Jesus told Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’. This is all of us here today. We cannot stand with Jesus like Thomas did, but we like Thomas, long for something we can touch and hold onto. It is very human to want proof, to review the evidence. This is where we can go to the Scriptures and read the eye-witness accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and find reassurance; but it is still an individual experience.
Everyone’s journey is different. No one can tell you what to believe. Also, no one can suppose that the final authority in religion is what any individual happens to think is true – neither can anyone force belief in others. Faith is not always comfortable because we have to accept the mystery of faith and what it means in our lives and the lives of those around us. I believe that God meets us where we are and works with us in that space.
Sometimes we experience a ‘God’ moment, when we have no doubt that God has communicated with us. It may be an answer to prayer or a sudden insight; it may come in a dream or when looking at a beautiful sunset. It may be in the depths of sorrow when you feel the comfort of his presence and somehow know you will be safe in his care. When we feel uncertain and Jesus seems a long way away, this is when we can call on his name and open up a space for him to come to us and calm our doubts and fears, as he did with Thomas. Christ is always with us – it is just that we don’t always see him.
So where are the witnesses today who will tell of the saving works of Jesus and encourage them to touch his wounds and come to believe in him? Well that is us – each one of us. So let us give thanks to God for the gift of faith, even though we cannot fully understand the mystery of the resurrection; let us not be afraid to ponder anew all that God has done for us through his Son, and let us walk in our God-given faith towards the glorious future that Christ made possible on the cross. The Lord be with you