This address was given by our ALM Carol on Sunday 28 April 2019. The whole parish worshipped together at St George’s to mark the delayed celebration of St George’s Day.
Easter 2 – John 20:19-31
How many times have you doubted something? Or I’ll see it when I believe it. Or have you’ve said to someone “Seeing is believing”. I know I have from time to time.
One of Jesus’ disciples became famous for doubting that which was actually true. His name was Thomas, and the gospel today highlights what happened to earn him the nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” I suspect there is no scriptural character more misunderstood than the Apostle Thomas, because Thomas lived by the adage “seeing is believing” and he looked for certain tangible signs to shore up his belief.
But let’s take a step back…What do we know about Thomas, except that he was chosen by Jesus to be numbered among the twelve. In order to get to know him better, I set about researching Thomas the Twin. He is first mentioned in John 11. Lazarus has died and Jesus needs to go to Bethany. The disciples think travel is dangerous under the current circumstances: the Jewish leaders were at that very moment seeking an opportunity to put Jesus to death. It is Thomas who realizes Jesus has made up his mind to go to his friends in Bethany. It is Thomas who says to the others: “Let us go to die with him!” Fearless Thomas we might call him; loyal Thomas; loving Thomas. Thomas is willing to stand by Jesus, even to the point of death.
In John 14 when Jesus explains to the disciples that He is going to prepare a heavenly home for them, Thomas blurts out: “We don’t know where you are going. How can we possibly know the way!” Thomas wasn’t alone in thinking this surely, but no-one else spoke out. He didn’t understand and he wanted to! He can’t follow Jesus unless he knows where and how. It’s as simple as that. Straightforward Thomas we could call him, or simple Thomas, or how about refreshingly direct and realistic Thomas. Even, Thomas, the follower of the Way.
These two stories serve us well as background for today’s gospel which tells us of the appearance of the risen Lord amongst the disciples. It was Sunday night, three days after Jesus had died on the cross. The disciples were gathered together in a room–hiding, really–with the doors to the house locked tight. Why? Because they were afraid and wouldn’t we be afraid given the circumstances? When suddenly, and out of nowhere, Jesus was standing there with them in the room. He simply said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them the wounds he had suffered in his hands, his feet and his side.
The disciples who had seen their friend crucified were filled with joy, he was here, alive! Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” And then he told the disciples that he was sending them out into the world, just as God had sent him. But they weren’t going alone. Jesus gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit which would provide them with strength for the journey and power to carry on Jesus’ ministry. Then He left, just as quickly as he had come.
But Thomas isn’t present on this night. He’d just stepped out briefly. Maybe he was doing a grocery run. Perhaps none of the others would put a toe out of the door – but not so, Thomas. He ventures forth – fearless Thomas or just plain foolhardy Thomas – or both. Sometime later Thomas returns, and the disciples tell him they have seen the Lord –- but for Thomas, something doesn’t ring true. If they have seen the Lord, why are they still locked up tight in that room? If they are filled with such joy, why couldn’t he read it on their faces? If they have been empowered by the Spirit of God – what are they waiting for? For Thomas to return? Surely not, or they would have been so breathless and eager that he would have seen the transformation in their eyes.
Thomas – fearless, simple, loyal, loving, straightforward, down to earth, direct -– who didn’t understand but wanted to, who longed to follow Jesus but who needed to know the way — Thomas didn’t doubt the Lord; he doubted the word of his friends! Thomas found it highly unlikely that the Lord was Risen, because he was surrounded by a group of witnesses whom he simply did not find credible.
Then a week later Jesus appeared again and said, “Peace be with you.” This time Thomas was there! When he saw Jesus’ scars on his hands, on his feet and his side, he believed immediately exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” This time, he had no doubt. Jesus appears to Thomas just has he had to Mary and the rest of the disciples. Then Jesus says his famous phrase, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Who do you think Jesus was talking about? Who is it that believes Jesus lives, even though they have not seen him face-to-face? Us! You and me! Jesus was talking about us and all Christians who believe in and serve him. And to us, Jesus also says, “Peace be with you.” We celebrate the Peace of Christ with each other at every Communion Service, why? because we believe.
A week ago, we celebrated the resurrection. There comes a time, however, when we must live the resurrection. That is not always easy. There are days when we prefer to just stay in bed, pull the covers over our head, and close out the world. Some days it seems easier and safer to lock the doors of our house and avoid the circumstances and people of our lives. Just as the disciples were doing, a week after Easter Day gathered in the same house, the same walls, the same closed doors, locked through fear; shutting out the world around them.
Jesus’ tomb is open and empty, but the disciples’ house is closed, the doors locked tight. The house has become their tomb. Jesus is on the loose and the disciples are bound in fear. The disciples have separated themselves and their lives from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Their doors of faith have been closed. They have shut their eyes to the reality that life is now different. They have locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and blindness. They have locked themselves in. All this, and it has been only one week.
I wonder, one week after Easter, how are our lives different? Mine and yours. Where are we living? In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors? Remember Jesus is always entering the locked places of our lives. He comes unexpected, uninvited, and sometimes even unwanted into our closed lives, closed hearts, closed minds. Jesus said when 2 or 3 are gathered in one place He is amongst them. He is amongst us here and now! He offers peace and breathes new life into us. He doesn’t open the door for us, but he gives us all we need so that we might open our doors to a new life, a new creation, a new way of being.
This happens all the time. Jesus comes to us as he came to the first disciples, right in the midst of our fear, pain, doubt, and confusion. He comes speaking peace, breathing into our anxious lives the breath of the Holy Spirit.
As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples — in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine — not wanting any of us to miss out on the life and peace he gives. And he keeps sending us out of our safe, locked rooms, into a world that, like us, so desperately needs his gifts of life and peace. So, we, Christ’s disciples today, should look for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we serve the risen Christ. As we live our lives outside these walls, seeking to see Christ where at first, we would not expect, we can pray that the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see anew, and in seeing, believe.
- Risen Lord, we meet you unexpectedly
- in the breaking of bread;
- in the stranger at the door;
- in words of forgiveness;
- in the kindness of our neighbour;
- and in the silence of our hearts.
- Make us aware of your presence. Amen