Cathy Cox

Easter 2C 2004 John 20:19-31 (19-20, 24-31)

John 19-20 – When it was evening of the day of the Resurrection, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

John 20:24-31 – But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.
Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to home, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written 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.

In the Orthodox Church Thomas is highly honored, and clearly he was a favorite of the early Church as well. There are more legends about Thomas than any of the other disciples, with the exception, perhaps of Martha, Lazarus’ sister, and Mary Magdalene. Nowhere in the east do we see the epithet, “Doubting Thomas,” flung in his face with the sneer we often notice in western Christian sermons.

Perhaps that difference reflects the eastern preference for direct experience of God, and the western insistence on correct understanding, right belief.

As Anglicans, we are inheritors of both traditions. Some of us at least love to think and argue and debate theology, but traditionally we expect those conversations to lead us into a more intimate experience of God, God’s-self, and into worship, and not so much into an organized, systematic theology.

( In that way we are different from ordinary western, protestant traditions. The Church of England broke from Rome, but not for the reasons that Luther and Calvin did. And we have been a mystery to continental protestantism ever since. At the same time, Catholics haven’t known what to do with us, either, since we share so much…but stubbornly have refused to submit again to the authority of the bishop of Rome.)

Unfortunately, however, even we Episcopalians, inheritors like most everybody else in America – of western linguistic and literary traditions – have sometimes slid into the American protestant – and Catholic – assumption that the facts of anything can be learned, and should be, and that they form the basis of reality.
In that way of believing, the most dangerous act is to doubt, to question, to refuse to believe something on the basis of someone else’s words. If you grow up in that tradition and tend toward the rebellious, the most radical and epic thing you can do is to doubt, to challenge the facts, to refuse to believe.

Perhaps you have been presented with the “four spiritual laws,” or the “wordless book,” or some other quick and easy system of assuring your eternal salvation. In all those evangelistic tools the goal is to get you to accept certain facts, and then to “accept” Jesus as Savior. Faith itself becomes a kind of mental assent to facts someone else has taken out of the Bible and arranged neatly and cleanly.

But Thomas wouldn’t have any of that. For that matter, none of the other disciples would have, either. He gets a bit of a bad rap, Thomas.
Perhaps you’ve forgotten how miserably the other disciples behaved after the death of Jesus, when Mary Magdalene – the apostle of the apostles – came running to tell them that Jesus was alive and had appeared to her!
They didn’t believe it.

But of course, why should they?
Does the Lord God really expect anyone to believe – on second-hand evidence – that Jesus who was really and truly crucified by the Romans, shattered the power of death itself and rose victorious from the grave?

This is a real question after all.
And the answer we give will depend on what we’re after.
If what you want is a logical affirmation of fact, you might be willing to accept someone else’s research, or observation. We do this all the time. It is foolish and exhausting to doubt every expert. We sit securely here under this high, arching ceiling, without ever fearing that it might just fall down on our heads! We trust whoever the engineers were who designed this structure. We do not have to anxiously do the math ourselves, nor could we.
If faith is like that, then perhaps moving people logically from point to point in a plan of salvation will make convinced Christians out of unbelievers.
But Thomas wouldn’t have bought it.

Jesus was his beloved friend – and only Thomas is reported to have said, when Jesus announced that he was going back to Jerusalem, “Let us go with him, that we might die with him.” If Thomas was a realist, he was a realist who acted out of love: Jesus is going to Jerusalem. They will surely kill him this time. I’m going, too. If he dies, I will die with him.

And at the table, during the last supper, it was Thomas who challenged Jesus,
”But Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”
That isn’t a failure of faith, it is a desperate plea to be told how to find Jesus again, how to be with him? It is love, pure and simple. The others hadn’t even thought to ask.

So when Thomas, the only one it seems who had nerve enough to go out into the streets after Jesus’ death, happened not to be with the others when Jesus came and showed himself to them, risen and glorious, Thomas said, “Until I see and touch my friend, I will’ not believe this.”

He didn’t get a rebuke, either. When Jesus comes to him a week later, and Thomas hears his voice and sees the wounds in his hands and side, Thomas declares what nobody else had dared to say: “My Lord and my God!”

And this is what the eastern church remembers and celebrates:
Thomas is the one who saw clearly that Jesus would die, and was the only one who was ready to go and die with him.
Thomas is the one who, hearing Jesus talk about preparing a place for them, begs to be told what the way was – because he intended to follow it – prompting Jesus to make the famous statement: “Thomas, I, myself am the way…”
And now it is Thomas who, seeing what nobody else dares to see, cries: “My Lord…and my God…”

Thomas is not the western skeptic who enjoys doubt and disbelief for the sake of refusing to make a commitment to the Lord Jesus.
And the author of the Gospel of John is not the western theologian who chastises Thomas for demanding to experience personally and first-hand, the risen Jesus.

And Jesus does not say that Thomas is NOT blessed, or that the others who saw Jesus after his resurrection were not.
He simply says, “Blessed are those who have not seen – with their physical eyes – and yet have come to believe.”

That means everybody who believed after the resurrection, of course.
It includes us.
He spoke of all those millions of Christians from the first century until today: all those who believed in the risen Lord Jesus without seeing him in the flesh, in the first century, in Palestine

Thomas and the others had known Jesus as a man and friend and teacher:
They saw that same Jesus again, alive and gloriously transformed.
That was just what they needed. .

But how did they see him the next year? And the next?
How did they continue to trust that he was alive then?

The same way that we do: by having continued first-hand experience of the Risen Lord present among them.
They baptized each other and knew they were being carried through the death of Jesus and brought up into new life.
They looked at other believers who were not afraid to tell the story of Jesus even under pressure, and saw his face in theirs.
They came together and blessed the bread, broke it and shared it and knew it really was the Bread of Life..
They prayed and sang and sometimes cried, rejoiced, told their stories, and experienced that when they did, he was in the midst of them.

Thomas got what he longed for.
So can we.
So can you.
New every morning.



No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *