for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred
open the doors of our hearts today.
Help us when we are slow to believe, bring us to a place where we can say, ‘My Lord and my God’,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen.
The tomb is empty, Christ is risen, death has been defeated, love wins, we are a resurrection people, nothing on earth will ever be the same again.
That was last week! Right?
But this week…the Easter lilies are wilting, the chocolate has been eaten, the eggs have been found, it feels wrong to eat hot cross buns and the rest of the world has moved on. Welcome to the Week After.
Now what? Where do we go from here?
Fortunately, in the church we have a few weeks to contemplate the events of Easter, meet the people who were there and see the effects that Jesus’ resurrection had on them and the rest of the world for the last 2000 years.
The Gospel for the first Sunday after Easter traditionally features the story of Thomas. I find Thomas to be a rather interesting character. There is very little mention of him in the gospels; he first appears as a name on the list of the chosen disciples. There is no information about what he did for a job, where he came from or his family, only that he was a twin. Thomas is usually portrayed as the dogged disciple, often accused of being slow on the uptake, the doubter. Poor Thomas. Many a sermon has been preached as a warning to not be like Thomas. Thomas the 50% believer; the one who needed everything proved and crystal clear before he could believe.
Don’t doubt just believe! So easy! Sure if you don’t want to think too hard about anything. We live in an age where doubt has become the predominant form of belief. Fake news, fake images, filters to make photos look better, everything needing to be verified due to a lack of trust. There is so much more government legislation now than at any other time in history due to a breakdown in trust.
Daily we put ourselves in a high number of situations that we should doubt more than do. We doubt both what we see and what we don’t see.
I think there is another side to Thomas; he needs another look in. Maybe Thomas was the disciple who was asking the questions that everybody had but didn’t want to ask out loud. Before his comments that made him the poster-boy of doubt for all eternity, Thomas is quoted on two other occasions.
The first is found in John 11 as the news of Lazarus’ illness reached Jesus and the disciples. The authorities are looking for Jesus and it was dangerous for him to be travelling around. The disciples are trying to dissuade Jesus from going to be with Lazarus, Mary & Martha; Jesus is not concerned with the threats to his life. In the middle of this Thomas declares, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’. The other disciples were ready to run the other way but not Thomas, he was prepared to go to the wire with Jesus. This doesn’t sound like a man who doubts. Maybe Thomas was the disciple who didn’t say much but when he did everyone else listened? Know anyone like that?
The second account is in John 14. Jesus is explaining to the disciples that he is going to leave them. The chapter starts with the reassuring words ‘do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house…’ Jesus is explaining where is going and what he is going to do there; he also tells the disciples that they know the way. It is Thomas who says, ‘we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?!’
Jesus responds to Thomas with some of the most beautiful words ever to fall from his mouth. Jesus tells Thomas ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Thomas has been told; he has seen the Father in the Son.
So where was he on the evening of that first day of that week when Jesus appeared? The news of the resurrection was fresh and raw, the disciples were living in fear of the Jews and had locked themselves away. As we know the end of the story, their confusion and grief can often escape us. Maybe it was all a bit too much for Thomas? Some people stay away and hide when life gets tough. The disciples were together but Thomas was not with them.
That following week must have been torture for Thomas. The disciples had received the Holy Spirit (a whole sermon on its own for another day!) and were in much better moods! I am sure we have all had to miss events due to circumstances. Then those who did attend the event talk incessantly about it, down to every last detail, the play by play of every moment. And no matter the minutia of detail – you still weren’t there!
It would be reasonable to believe that Thomas became more entrenched in his declaration to see the nail marks and the side wound. Jesus returns again. This time just for Thomas. Thomas, the one who doesn’t get much mention, says a couple of brilliant things that we know about, was there through it all and then disappeared in grief and confusion. In a moment in the presence of Jesus, Thomas’ excuses and defences are dropped. Jesus invites Thomas to put his fingers in his hands and on his side.
The text doesn’t say if he did or not. All it gives us is Thomas’ verbal reply of ‘My Lord and my God.’ In this moment, Jesus firmly but gently reminds Thomas that he believes because he has seen (at least twice). Thomas is responsible for the blessing that the whole rest of the world gets for not seeing and yet believing.
I want to finish off with a final observation:
Thomas was part of a community where he openly voices his doubt. Like I said, Thomas has been portrayed negatively as the doubter, one of weak faith, the cynic, the holdout. These are often seen as spiritual flaws. I don’t see Thomas as weak, I see him as a man who wanted a living encounter with Jesus. Thomas wasn’t going to settle for someone else’s experience of the resurrection but wanted his own. Thomas was willing to admit his uncertainty in the midst of those who were certain. This is bravery.
How does this community respond to doubt? Is this a place where they can be shared openly without fear of judgement or silencing?
When Jesus’ wounds met Thomas’ doubts, new life erupted. In Acts 5 the apostles are performing miraculous signs and wonders among the people of Jerusalem, people were believing in Jesus and being healed. I wonder how many times Thomas told people ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed?’
What happened to Thomas? Tradition holds that when the apostles were dispersed after Pentecost, Thomas was sent to evangelise the Parthians, Medes and Persians before he ultimately reached the Malabar coast of southwest India. There is a large native population there calling themselves ‘Christians of St Thomas.’ Unlike most of the other disciples/apostles who were killed for their faith in quite gory ways, it is thought that Thomas was killed in a tragic peacock hunting accident when the hunter missed the bird and hit Thomas instead.
This is not a man of weakness but rather one we can learn from, even if uncomfortably. The things that make Thomas seem weak or doubtful are what makes him strong, his willingness to press on and ask the questions that others won’t. Thomas shares his doubts willingly and Jesus responds and meets him where he is at.
The good news for us the week after Easter is that Jesus still meets us where we are at too. He is not afraid of our doubts, our wavering or our slowness. We, like Thomas, can hope for more. So let’s.