Sunday, April 12, 2015

where was st thomas?

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

Today is often referred to as St Thomas Sunday because of the fact that the gospel reading for the Sunday after Easter is always the account from St John concerning that particular Apostle's very famous denial of belief in the Resurrection, which is then followed by the saint's coming face to face with our Lord and not only realising the error of his ways, but being the first to openly declare that Jesus was not only his Lord, but his God also.

The reason that the reading is so appropriate for this Sunday is rather simple; St John tells us that St Thomas' meeting with our Lord takes place eight days after he first appeared to the rest of the Apostles in that upper room sometime on the evening of that first Easter Sunday; in other words, it took place on the Sunday after Easter, which is, of course, for us this Sunday.

But of course the story of what happened on this Sunday so many years ago would mean little if it were not what had happened the Sunday before, or what didn't happen, which is that St Thomas wasn't with the others when our Lord appeared. Which raises the question of where was he? If you have ever wondered about that, you are not alone; it is a question that even the Church Fathers have been curious about. No doubt even the other Apostles wanted to know where he was, and what he was doing; and they, unlike us, were in a position to ask him directly and no doubt did. But alas, they did not record the answer he gave, if any, and so we cannot know for sure.

But one or two things seem likely. The first comes from the fact that he seems genuinely astonished when he returns to the upper room at the idea that Jesus has risen from the dead. Now we know from the various Gospel accounts that the women had seen Jesus early in the morning; and we know that the women shared this information with the others. In fact, on the road to Emmaus, there is the somewhat ironic scene where the two travelers tell Jesus himself how the women are making this extraordinary claim and they really don't know what to make of it. From this it seems likely that St Thomas hasn't been with the disciples any of that Easter Sunday to hear these stories. And, if he wasn't there early in the morning when the women first set out while it was still dark, then it seems unlikely he was there all during the previous day – remember, Jewish law precluded doing anything much during the Sabbath, which was Saturday. In fact, the last confirmed sighting, as it were, that we have of St Thomas is in the garden of Gethsemane late on Thursday night when Jesus was arrested. 

What he did all that time until Sunday evening and where he was we will never know for sure; but we do get one tantalising hint. And that is from the fact that he seems to know more about Jesus' wounds than he should do if he wasn't in that upper room all during the Sabbath; and that is that he clearly knows about the fact that Jesus had a spear thrust into his side after he died. That wasn't a common thing to happen during a crucifixion; the more usual thing was, as all here know, for the condemned man to have his end hastened by his legs being broken. But the soldiers, finding Jesus already dead, took the unusual step of stabbing him with a spear just to be absolutely sure. 

Now, St Thomas would of course have expected Jesus to have nail wounds in his hands or wrists; anyone who had been crucified would have those. But for him to know about the spear wound, which his statement about only believing if he can put his hand into Jesus' side shows he does, is something he can only know if someone has told him about it or if he has seen it for himself. And since it seems unlikely that he has had any opportunity to speak with the only people who witnessed the execution, the women who stood at the foot of the cross and the beloved disciple St John, then he must have seen it.

So perhaps St Thomas was somewhere at a distance watching all that happened on Calvary. Why not? We know that he was a brave man; was he not the one, when Jesus seemed to be risking death to travel to the tomb of Lazarus, who said to the others 'let us go with him and die with him?' And the mere fact that he is not huddled in the upper room hiding like all the other men when Jesus appears speaks volumes for his courage. And after, according to tradition, he traveled all the way to India to spread the Gospel, further than all the others, to territory more dangerous and unknown than the places they visited, where he suffered a martyr's death. So it would be keeping with his known character that he would keep close to his master after all the rest had fled; that he would have seen him suffer and die; and then, given the lateness of the hour on the Friday, find it too late to return to where the others hid, and taken shelter somewhere else.

Now it would be tempting to think that the shock of seeing what all the other apostles had not witnessed – all, except as has already been mentioned, St John - the execution and death of his master – was what led him to the behaviour that earned him the nick-name of Doubting Thomas down through all the centuries; but that would not be true. For the behaviour of St Thomas, if we think carefully, was no different to any of the other apostles. Consider: none of them believed what the women told them when they returned to the upper room from finding the tomb empty; they didn't even believe that it was empty, but ran to see for themselves; the certainly didn't believe that he had risen; recall the witness of those on the road to Emmaus who as I said earlier even told Jesus about finding what the women were saying hard to swallow. They all only believed when they saw for themselves.

Indeed, while knowing that Christ had risen seems to have brought his disciples a certain amount of joy, it doesn't seem to have brought them much else. They do not rush out, filled with courage, to start preaching his Gospel; think of the ones who were there that first day when St Thomas was not; where are they a week later? They are still sitting in that upper room. Indeed, later in St John's gospel we get hints that, despite having seen the risen Lord they are ready to go back to their old lives; the men who Christ had called to be fishers of men are ready to go back to being ordinary fishermen and they take to the sea of Galilee in their boats once more. 

No, it is not until Pentecost when they are filled with the Holy Spirit that they are empowered to go out, to stop hiding, to boldly preach the word, and win others for Christ. Others, who even though they have not seen, are ready to believe. And this is good news for us; for we, like St Thomas, were not in that upper room when Jesus came; but he has sent his Holy Spirit to us all. We were bathed in that Spirit when we entered the waters of baptism to die to sin and rise to life; and by that Spirit we became those whom Christ said were blessed, for not having seen, still we believe. Our faith earns us the praise of Christ himself; high praise indeed, which I pray will sustain all here, and all our brothers and sisters in faith throughout the world, until the day when they do indeed meet with the Lord Jesus face to face. Amen

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