Second Sunday of Easter: 8th April 2018

The Rev’d Canon Rosalind Brown

John 20.19-31,

Acts 4.32-37,

Psalm 133,

1 John 1.1-2.2


Thomas, was one of Jesus’s most faithful disciples who has unfairly gone down in history as doubting Thomas. Far from it, he had a track record of stubborn, courageous devotion to Jesus. When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus had died, he announced his intention of going to Bethany, near Jerusalem, where Lazarus lived. The disciples tried to stop him saying, ‘the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ They did not want Jesus to walk into a situation that would end in his death, not least because it would force them to decide if they would take the risk of going with him.  Only Thomas was brave enough and committed enough to Jesus to say to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’


When they did get there, Jesus knew his arrest and death were imminent. He invited them all to what we know as the Last Supper. There, Jesus speaking in what must have seemed like riddles, told them he was going to prepare a place for them and they knew where he was going. Only Thomas dared to voice the question that all of them must have been wondering about, ‘How can we know where you are going?   How can we know the way?’ Jesus’s reply has been a lifeline for millions of people over the centuries, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.’ We have Thomas to thank for asking the question that prompted that reply. He comes across as a man who needed to have things clear in his mind.


Did you notice that in today’s gospel story, a week passes between the two events that we heard about? It’s easy to miss that fact. Early in the morning on the day when Jesus rose from the dead he had appeared to Mary Magdalene, while Peter and another disciple had seen the empty tomb but not Jesus. Imagine the puzzled conversation that day which ended with disciples locked in a house out of fear of their opponents.


They, just as doubtful about the resurrection as was Thomas, had previously not believed Mary Magdalene’s story that she had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Then Jesus just appeared, undeterred by the locked door, showed them his hands and his side so they had recognised him from his wounds, assured them of God’s peace and breathed on them, saying ‘receive the Holy Spirit’. It was only when they saw Jesus for themselves that they finally believed it really true. But Thomas was missing on that occasion and now, a full week later, all he wanted was to see what they saw. They were all doubters: Matthew says of the eleven disciples after the resurrection, ‘When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him, but some doubted’ while Luke describes them as disbelieving and wondering in their joy at seeing the risen Jesus. It did not add up in human terms. But still they worshipped while they doubted. Always remember that there is a place for doubt in worship.


It seems that Jesus was in no hurry to rescue his devoted friend and left it a week before he appeared again to assuage Thomas’ uncertainties. What was it like for Thomas in the intervening days? Jesus stretched him. It is to Thomas’s credit that during those eight days of waiting he stayed around people who had the assurance he lacked and that they also stuck with him. When we have doubts about God’s presence and power, it is tempting to stop showing up at church, to let our doubts dictate our actions. Instead, Thomas’s example is to stick with the people whose faith can support us when our faith is wobbling. Similarly, when we are with someone who has doubts about God, it is tempting to rush in with reassurance and attempts at answers rather than let doubt run its sometimes necessary course, opening us up in greater depth to God’s presence. Just because Thomas had not seen Jesus did not mean that Jesus was not raised; simply that Thomas had not seen him. When we doubt that God is with us or has heard our prayers, it does not mean that God is not there, just that we are not yet aware of God’s presence.


Three times in John’s gospel we are told that Thomas was called ‘the Twin’. Why does that matter? Anyone who is or knows a twin, particularly an identical twin, will understand how easy it is to confuse identities. When I was a Girl Guide, there were identical twins whose only distinguishing feature was a mole. Apparently they once switched boyfriends for the evening and initially neither lad realised. I wonder if Thomas had an identical brother and that they had played similar identity tricks on their friends. If so, confronted by the others saying they had seen the risen Lord, whom Thomas knew had died, his instinct might be to wonder whether this was a case of mistaken identity. Hence, his assertion that he needed to see and touch Jesus’s wounds. It was not doubt so much as needing to be sure the others had got the right person and not fallen for an imposter.


Thomas’s faithfulness in staying put until Jesus made a move led him to believe not just in Jesus – he did that already – but in Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Fired by that unshakeable belief, this man who was once prepared to die with Jesus, left home and, within 20 years of Jesus’s death and resurrection, had travelled over 3,000 miles to India, proclaiming the gospel. The Mar Thoma Church in the Kerala area of South India bears his name to this day and looks to him as its founder. Tradition records that he was martyred in India by being pierced by a lance in 72AD. This was a man who was, indeed, prepared to die with and for Jesus.


So Thomas dared to ask questions, obvious questions, and he wanted obvious answers. He was one of the people for whom seeing is believing, and for whom facts help but when he couldn’t see he was prepared to stick it out and hang around with God until he could see. I wonder if John had him in mind when, some years later, he began what we know as his first epistle, ‘We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us … truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’


The doubting, fearful and at times unbelieving disciples were convinced by what they saw and touched. We, who were not present on those two evenings, can rely on their testimony because they have left us their record in words and in their lives which, were transformed. As we heard in Acts, one of the first effects was on their care of the needy, but soon the people who hid behind locked doors were out in the public places of Jerusalem and eventually around the then known world, proclaiming with utter conviction that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead and turned their lives around.


In a few minutes as we gather around the Lord’s table we will remind us that although we have gathered in this church today, actually we are worshipping with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, Thomas included. We can’t see them but believe we are surrounded by them as we worship the holy God who raised Jesus from the dead. When you have doubts as a Christian, remember that you have been drawn into a vast company of people who through the centuries have not let their questions and doubts hinder them from worshipping God whom they now see face to face. However you are feeling, join in their worship by showing up in church. We should rejoice that Thomas stuck with his friends until he had the evidence they already had and, in the light of that, turned parts of India upside down for Jesus Christ.


Whether God sends you to India or to Adelaide or somewhere in between, draw strength from Thomas’ faithful response to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, ‘My Lord and my God.’ That is our Easter song.