The apostle Thomas is often branded as the stooge of the apostles – “Doubting Thomas” – but that is both unfair and inaccurate. In actuality, the opposite is true. There are two encounters in the Gospel, prior to what we’ve just heard, that shed light on the apostle Thomas. One scene was in Galilee, when Jesus first said to the disciples that he would return to Judea because his friend Lazarus had died. Very risky for Jesus. The disciples knew full well about the death threats against Jesus (and probably against them, too). Many of the disciples protested Jesus’ plan to return to Judea. But it was Thomas who really understood Jesus. Thomas pleaded with his fellow disciples not to desert Jesus but to stay with him. Thomas said, “Let us go that we may die with Him!”[i] Perhaps more than any other disciple, Thomas was prepared to abide with Jesus to the end. Thomas had been following a Messiah whom Thomas knew would suffer and die. Not true, it seems, for the other disciples.
The other scene was in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before Jesus was seized. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…. I go to prepare a place for you… and you know where I am going….” No. No idea. It seems only Thomas had the courage to admit that the disciples were clueless. “My Lord,” Thomas says, “We do not have the slightest idea where you are going! How can we know the way?”[ii]
There is a word that is used to describe Christians, a word that sets them apart from others and captures the essence of who and what they are. It is a word that has been with us from the very beginnings of the Church, when those who identified themselves as followers of Jesus began to gather together to worship and to share their lives with one another. The word is “believers.”
Christians became known as “believers” because they believed and trusted
that Jesus was the Son of God,
that he had come into the world to reveal to us the true nature of God,
that after his death on a Cross he had been raised from the dead,
and that he was with us still, and would be to the end of time.
“Believing” is one of the principle themes of the Gospel of John, from which our gospel lesson today is taken. John begins his telling of the Good News by revealing to us, his readers, who Jesus is and why he came into the world. It is as if he is drawing aside the curtain, letting us in on the secret, true identity of this humble teacher from Galilee, letting us glimpse what he and others have come to know over time. John begins his account by telling us that Jesus is “the Word” who was “with God” and who “was God” from the very beginning of time (John 1:1). He tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (1:14), bringing “light” and “life,” in order to reveal to us the nature and purposes of God. “No one has ever seen God,” he tells us, “it is God, the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18). And “to all who receivedhim, who believedin his name,” he proclaims, “he gave power to become children of God” (1:12).
This morning we hear one of the most quintessential stories in all of the gospels; so definitive in fact that it has given birth to a term that is used to label a person we deem as a skeptic. When someone we know is unwilling to believe something without concrete evidence, we call them a ‘doubting Thomas.’ Beginning with Easter Day we hear an abundance of post-resurrection stories witnessing to the disciples and those close to Jesus seeing, speaking, and eating with Him, giving credence to the fantastic rumors that His body had not been stolen, but that He had in fact risen from the dead three days after his gruesome crucifixion, just as He had prophesied. Our lection from John begins with one of these accounts: it is the first day of the week following the crucifixion and Jesus’ disciples have hidden themselves behind locked doors out of fear for their lives. Jesus appears among them bidding them peace, and then he immediately shows them his hands, feet, and side: the wounds that were inflicted on him to assure his torture and resulting death. John says: ‘Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.’
But the gospel writer says that one of them was missing: Thomas, who was called ‘the twin.’ Where was Thomas? Was he out surveying the scene, plotting a safe exit from Jerusalem for the others? Was he discreetly purchasing food and other provisions that they needed? We don’t know, all we can surmise is that Jesus’ disciples were hiding in fear and that Thomas was not with them. Considering the little we know about Thomas, this is not altogether surprising. There seems to be an implicit bravado associated with him. Earlier in John’s gospel, it is Thomas who exclaims “let us also go [with Jesus}, that we may die with him,” demonstrating that Thomas was utterly devoted to Jesus at the most, and at a hothead at the very least.[i]
Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 5: 27-32
Revelation 1: 4-8
John 20: 19-31
Something strange is happening.
Something strange is happening. A band of terrified, grieving women and men who spend most of their time behind locked doors in fear, are changing. Their fear is changing into faith. Their terror is changing into courage. Their grief is changing into joy. And soon, no door could keep them in, and no door would be able to keep them,or their message out.
Here is my sermon preached this morning at the Chapel of Bethany Convent, Order of St. Anne, Arlington, MA. I got many comments in appreciation of sharing my thoughts, and subsequent use of Thomas’ reply to Jesus, “My Lord and My God” as a prayer of affirming faith.
Bethany Convent, OSA, Arlington, MA
[John 20:19-31] The faith of Thomas
The Gospel Reading for this Sunday tells us about the first two appearances of Jesus to his Apostles after his Resurrection. Thomas, who was not there the first time, was with them the second time. We can learn something from this second time.
Thomas is often referred to as “Doubting Thomas”. I don’t think that is an appropriate way of referring to him. Doubt implies a negative way of looking at life. Thomas was not really negative. He had a literal way of thinking about things.
We have heard and will soon sing: “The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!”
Perhaps you can sing this with confidence; you know it to be true. If so, give thanks! Perhaps you find this hard or impossible to sing. It may sound good, but life still feels full of strife. Triumph isn’t how you describe reality. Death and cruelty, sickness and sadness remain in the world and weigh on your heart.
Remember the Jesus’ friends. They didn’t wake up singing alleluias. They were confused not confident, shattered not excited, looking straight at death, not imagining something better. They often didn’t recognize Jesus when he appeared. Mary thought Jesus was a gardener. On the road to Emmaus, he seemed a clueless stranger. While fishing, the disciples didn’t realize that it was Jesus beckoning to them on the beach.
John 20: 19-31
Something mysterious happens to us when we find something to believe in. We discover that some task, some project, some idea has so captured our imaginations that we want to give ourselves wholeheartedly to it. We become dedicated to its fulfillment. Perhaps it leads us to support a cause or join a campaign, perhaps to take up a new role or responsibility, perhaps to make a commitment of time, energy or financial resources.
Have you ever had the experience of taking a photograph of someone and then finding the result rather disappointing? Not necessarily because the person you photograph is out of focus; not because the color is funny; not even because the composition is off-balanced… but because the person captured in the moment of photograph is not reflective of the real essence of the person.