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The Legacy of St. Thomas – Br. Curtis Almquist

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curtis4John 20:19-31

The apostle Thomas has been branded “Doubting Thomas,” but that’s unfair, and it’s inaccurate.  The opposite is true.  There are two scenes in the Gospel prior to what we’ve just heard that shed light on the apostle Thomas.  One scene is when Jesus was trying to say “good-bye” to his disciples, just prior to his being seized in the garden at Gethsemane.  Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled….  I go to prepare a place for you… and you know where I am going….”   No.  Not so.  Not at least for Thomas.  It seems only Thomas has the courage to admit that he is clueless.  “My Lord,” Thomas says, “We don’t have the slightest idea where you are going!  How can we know the way?” (1) (It’s a good question; an honest question for us, too.  How can we know the way, especially when the path is dark and the risks are many, and the fear is great, and the route is unsure?)  “How can we know the way?”  Quite.

There’s another glimpse of Thomas in an earlier scene when Jesus first said to the apostles that he would return to Judea because his friend Lazarus had died.  The disciples knew full well about the death threats for Jesus (and probably also for them).  Many of the other apostles protested Jesus’ plan to return to Judea.  Not all of them.  The brothers James and John, in their grandiosity, were very eager to return to Jerusalem, in the very center of Judea, because they were convinced Jesus was going to be crowned king.  James and John’s delusion was to sit at Jesus’ side as prelates in his forthcoming reign. (2) But it was Thomas who really got the picture.  Thomas plead with his fellow disciples not to desert Jesus but to stay with him.  Thomas said, “Let us go that we may die with Him!” (3)

Perhaps more than any other disciple, Thomas was prepared to die with Jesus all along. Thomas had been following a Messiah whom Thomas knew would suffer and die.  Not true, it seems, for the other disciples.  When the resurrected Jesus had first appeared to the other disciples who were hiding in the Upper Room, Thomas was not hiding with them: neither hiding his willingness nor his readiness to serve His crucified Lord, even to follow Jesus to death.  What exactly Thomas was doing that evening, when all the other disciples were huddled together, we don’t know.  But given the evidence, we could well imagine that Thomas wasn’t hiding out; rather he was out doing what he had always done with and for Jesus: helping, healing, feeding, loving, speaking in the name and love and power of Jesus.

And that is a much fuller picture of Thomas.  That is his story, what we know of it.  When Thomas later meets up with the disciples, and they tell him their news that Jesus has appeared to them, alive, Thomas is incredulous.  Thomas knows these other disciples.  He knows their arguments, their betrayals, their blindness, their duplicity, their deafness, their hardness of heart.  Could he possibly trust their report?   No.  Clearly not.  He doubted their experience, because their experience was not his experience.  It didn’t fit.  It didn’t ring true.  With such wonderful, refreshing honesty, Thomas says, “Unless I see in Jesus’ hands the print of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.  I simply cannot believe… you.”  And so it was.  Not until Thomas had personally, physically, undeniably seen and been touched by Jesus was he, Thomas, willing and bold to respond, “My Lord and my God.”  I find Thomas a great hero because of his courage and clarity to know his needs and express them.  He’s not asking to know about Jesus; he’s not banking his life on other people’s experience of Jesus; he needs to experience Jesus’ resurrection power personally.  And so do you.

You may be wondering this Eastertide, “Where is the risen Lord among the war-torn areas of the world, or where people live under tyranny or terror?  Where is the risen Lord in Palestine, or Syria, or the Crimea, or Zimbabwe ?  Where is the risen Lord amid all of the suffering that surrounds us and fills our lives and wounds our hearts?  And you may find yourself doubting that God is anywhere in sight.  What to do?  For us, like for Thomas, the report of others is not enough.  Archival information about God is not enough.  We need to be able to touch and know and undeniably experience Jesus at work in our own world and in our own lives to be able to believe in Jesus’ resurrection.  The apostle Thomas gives us a very helpful example.

  • For one, name your doubts; pray your doubts.  Alfred, Lord Tennyson said:
    “There lives more faith in honest doubt,
    Believe me, than in half the creeds.” (4)

Pray your doubts.  Your doubts are the seedlings of your faith.  Pray your doubts, and pray your desires.   Ask God for what you need to experience to know for sure that Jesus is alive, and present, and powerful in this world and in your own life, now.

  • Secondly, draw from your own miracle memory how you have experienced life coming out of death in your own past.  You have probably already died, and maybe more than once.  There is something in your life’s experience that has just killed you.  Maybe your heart didn’t stop pumping blood, but your life, as you had known it, came to an end.  Finished.  And you couldn’t imagine how-in-the-world you could take the next step, much less face the rest of the day.  You’ve probably already died more than once… and look at you!  You’ve come back to life.   Like Jesus, you’ve got your wounds, too.  You may not have wounded hands or a wounded side, like Jesus, but you well understand wounds.  Wounds to your body; wounds to your soul.  Maybe you, too, have been betrayed or abandoned, just like Jesus, and it’s just killed you.  You, like Jesus, are walking wounded.  What killed you, what was your breaking, is probably also your making.   You have come back to life – miracle of miracle – and you are probably more real, more alive, more strong, more able, than you’ve ever been before.  That’s an experience of the resurrection power that Jesus promises us all.In the ancient vocabulary of the church, this is called “the Paschal Mystery”: “paschal,” which comes from the Latin,  meaning “Easter”; and “mystery,” from Latin mysterium, which is a secret.  And it’s an open secret you share with Jesus, that life can come out of death.  Your life, has come out of death… already.  It’s nothing less than a miracle.  By the sheer fact that you are alive, you already know something about Jesus’ resurrection power and presence in your past.  And there’s more where that came from.  You can take Jesus at his word that he will be with you always, and in the most amazing ways.  You can faithfully believe that God’s miracles in your past will continue in the present and future.  You can have faith in Jesus’ promise of resurrection power.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” – this is from the Letter to the Hebrews – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (5) You may not be able to see you way ahead, but Jesus can, and he is with you.  He will lead you, and he will provide for you in the most amazing ways, as amazing as your past.  “Believe me.”  That’s what Jesus says.  “Believe me.”
  • And I’ll name one other way to get in touch with Jesus’ resurrection power today.  Do what Thomas did when he extended his hands to touch Jesus.  We’re actually doing this very thing momentarily as we extend our hands to receive Jesus’ body and his blood in Holy Communion.  It’s an experience of union with Christ; it is a co-union, a communion with Christ – your body, your broken body, being filled with Jesus’ body, Jesus’ broken body.  There is tremendous power in this union, in this communion.    What is it you need from Jesus?  What of his resurrection power do you need to take in today so that you can go on?  Ask Jesus for this as you extend your hands and open your heart.  Jesus is really present to you.

Someone has said that “faith is a series of doubts vanquished by love.” (6) Jesus is dying to love you.  And he’s come back to life to assure you of the same.  Nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God is what we experience in Jesus. (7) Not even death.  Not even when you die before you die.  You just wait.  You’ll be absolutely amazed how life, the abundant life that Jesus promises, will come out of our experience even of death.  With every death, there is a rising.  Absolutely!  Absolutely!


  1. John 14:1-7.
  2. Matthew 20:21; Mark 10:37.
  3. John 11:11-16.
  4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892), Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland, in Section XCVI of his “Memoriam A. H. H.: An Explication.”
  5. The Letter to the Hebrews 11:1, which continues: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (11:3)
  6. The Letter to the Hebrews 11:1, which continues: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (11:3)
  7. St. Paul writes: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

 

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5 Comments

  1. Michele on April 29, 2014 at 10:32

    My sister, Christine, passed Feb. 15,2014. In the time leading up to her death, we talked a great deal about her her passing. She is a woman of great faith and love of Christ. But, she was afraid. She was afraid that she did not know what to do, how to die. It sounds strange to some, but it is a question that all of us will face. How to die. She believed that she would be with God, our family and friends who have passed. But, was there something she was to do? How might she know the way? We spoke a great deal of St. Michael and her guardian angels. It was comforting, but still fearful. Thank you for your posting.

  2. Mary Howe on April 28, 2014 at 09:26

    Thank you, Br. Curtis…..thank you.

  3. David Hollingsworth on April 28, 2014 at 02:19

    Unknown to many, there is a Gospel of Thomas in the Nag Hamadi finds. Thomas also went to India where founded the Church of St Thomas. Br Curtis’ comments are right on the money.

  4. Ruth West on April 28, 2014 at 00:47

    Br. Curtis, thanks for giving us an expanded picture of Thomas. I never refer to him as “Doubting Thomas.” Better to say “Honest Disciple.”
    I love the Easter Season! “By his death He has destroyed death, and by his rising to life again he has won for us everlasting life.”

  5. Tinka Dawson on April 27, 2014 at 20:30

    I really appreciate these words tonight. My physical mobility is severely limited and I’m unable to attend and participate in life as I used to be. Tonight I was very depressed at several things that occurred today. Although I don’t often doubt, tonight I was very discouraged and now I’m ready to pray and ask for help. Thank you.

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