Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thomas wasn't the only one!

today's Gospel for Holy Communion is John 20.19-31
   first Mass
     ~collared dove
     cooing outside

Sermon 4.24.2011
2nd Sunday of Easter

May my words be in the of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

I often think that the nick-name 'doubting' is a little hard on Thomas. For a start, if you remember the story of the raising of Lazarus which we had a few weeks ago, you may remember that the other disciples are a bit worried about going back to Judea … they try to warn Jesus not to go: that's the place they were trying to stone you not too long ago … but when Jesus makes it clear that he is going anyway, Thomas is the one who says to the others 'let us go and die with him.' Thomas is a brave man and a loyal follower of Jesus.

Another reason I think it is somewhat unfair to give him the title of 'doubting' is because it isn't as if he was the only one who doubted. Every single one of Jesus followers doubted in some way. They doubted when they fled and left him to his fate in the garden when his enemies came to arrest him; they doubted when they denied knowing him, as Peter did, when things started to look dangerous … and they all doubted on the morning of the third day … not a one of them came to the tomb expecting to find it empty and Jesus risen, despite everything he had told them in advance … and even standing in front of the empty tomb, they still doubted. The first thought of the women was that someone had stolen the body until they met with Jesus in the garden.

And what happened when the women ran and told the men what had happened? The men didn't believe them … they also doubted. That's what we hear about in our Gospel reading this morning … the disciples are hiding themselves away behind locked doors 'for fear of the Jews' … it is the evening of that first day and they still doubt … that's when Jesus comes to them and shows himself to them … it is only then that they cease to doubt …

And poor Thomas isn't there and misses it! Which is a bit of a shame, because think what it means, the fact that he wasn't there – it means that, unlike his friends, he wasn't hiding himself away in a safe place shivering like the others … he is out somewhere – doing what? Trying to find out what happened? Perhaps … but when he comes back he isn't impressed by what his friends who were too scared to go out have to tell him … just as they weren't prepared to believe the women, he isn't prepared to believe them …

In a way, we should be grateful for all this doubt, for this layer after layer of disbelief, for this 'prove it to me' attitude that these disciples adopted … because it shows us that they weren't a bunch of credible individuals, ready to believe anything … they were hard-headed, country folk … they knew they idea of a man rising from the dead didn't make much sense … even if he was a miracle worker who had said that he would … they needed convincing … and convinced they were …

Which might leave you wondering … why in the face of all this doubt did Jesus say to Thomas 'blessed are they who have not seen but have yet believed?' It seems an odd thing to say when you consider that the people who had known Jesus face to face, and had heard him promise to rise on the third day, didn't take the word of others to believe he waas risen … the women didn't accept the testimony of the empty tomb … the men didn't accept the testimony of the women … and Thomas didn't accept the testimony of the disciples … why did he expect that those who hadn't seen would believe … how was it that Jesus knew that we, who have not seen as they did, would live up to his expectations?

Well, if you were paying very close attention to our gospel reading, you might have noticed an interesting detail … when the disciples are gathered together behind closed doors, the evangelist tells us it was the evening of the first day … in other words Sunday … and he also tells us it was a week later when the disciples had gathered again in the house, this time with Thomas present … a week later … in other words the following Sunday … each of these encounters with the risen Lord took place when they gathered together on a Sunday …

The evangelist is reminding us that we encounter Christ in a real and powerful way when we gather together to worship and to listen to the faithful testimony in scripture of those who were there and did see… and especially when we gather round his table to share in the bread and the wine as he commanded we do in memory of him, re-entering into that Last Supper with him as we re-live with him the moment when he told his disciples 'This is my body' and 'This is my blood' … we meet with Jesus in our prayers, in our worship, in our hearing of the word, in the breaking of the bread …

We meet with Jesus just as surely as Thomas did that day when he cast aside his doubt and worshipped … that is why Jesus knew that those who had not seen would believe …. because he knew that we would see … and believe … and be able to declare with as much certainty as Thomas when he looked upon the wounded hands and side of the one he had seen crucified and buried and now stood before him risen and alive: my Lord and my God … amen.


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