I enjoyed giving this sermon today, I’m not overly happy with the narrative and I think I’m on dangerous theological ground – however – I’m in that wonderful position during training that means I know enough to be dangerous but am still blissfully unaware of a great deal!
So dig in and enjoy and please give me feedback – I am very open and accepting of any criticism on these sermons so do shout.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today is Low Sunday. It’s the first Sunday after Easter and I suppose we are all feeling a little low, the excuse to eat excessive amounts of chocolate is past, the party that was the initial celebration of Jesus Risen is over and we’re now, effectively, in the hang over period – a little ‘churched out’ perhaps.
However, Low Sunday isn’t called Low Sunday because of our self induced hang overs but because it closes the Octave of Easter – the eight-day period from Easter Sunday until today. It is also called St. Thomas Sunday and this Sunday the reading is always John 20 19-end and relates to the appearance of Christ to his disciples – this time with Thomas now present.
You’ll all have heard of St. Thomas of course – otherwise known as Doubting Thomas. Hardly a great title but there you go. Thomas is also referred to as Didymus (which means twin) and although the name Thomas is actually an ancient name (not as English as it may sound) we’re not really sure that was his name at all. In fact we don’t know a great deal about Thomas full stop. He only appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke when listed with the other disciples and he only appears three times in John.
What we do think we know is that St. Thomas travelled to India and spread the gospel there. For many centuries the Christians of Kerala have called themselves St. Thomas Christian’s. The information that he went there – and was martyred there – is the subject of a long document of the third or fourth century called the Acts of Thomas. It’s a terrific read and fascinating part of the Apocryphal writings (the books that didn’t make it into the Bible) and if you’ve not read it it’s worth digging out.
However, The Acts of Thomas is considered to be more popular romance than historical document and was probably written in the interest of gnostic teaching rather than an accurate record.
It’s certainly not impossible that St. Thomas went to India and that he also evangelised Parthia – it’s thought his final resting place, or at least where his relics are claimed to rest – is at Edessa in Mesopotamia – current day Turkey – although dangerously close to the Syrian border.
But, for the moment let us stick with the Thomas we’ve got to know in John, the Thomas that we’ve heard about in todays reading.
We meet him first in John 11, verse 16 – “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. He was referring to the death of Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus – the other disciples did not want to go – or for Jesus to go – to Lazarus – they felt it was too dangerous – but here is Thomas – at the vanguard and ready to go with his teacher to his friend and share his fate – even if that means death. More Loyal Thomas than doubting Thomas. He would rather face death with his Lord than to live without him.
Next, we meet him in John 14, verse 5 – “Lord, we do not know where you are going, How can we know the way?” This time Thomas is asking the question the other disciples do not.
Jesus is telling them that they shouldn’t be troubled (for Jesus already knows what he is to face) but to have faith and believe in God because in His house there are many dwelling places and if He were to leave them then they would know how to follow – not now, but later.
You can see the other disciples sat around the table nodding sagely as if understanding what Jesus was saying – but Thomas was the one who said – hang on a moment, what on earth do you mean? How can we actually know the way? You’ve not told us the way!
Thomas was confusing what Jesus was saying with an actual place – and that question leads to one of the most well known and most loved verses in the Bible – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him”. Doubting Thomas? No, more like Honest Thomas. The Thomas who wont sit there and nod sagely but will ask the questions that need to be asked.
We meet Thomas for the final time in todays reading, in John 20 and sadly where he gets his nickname from – Doubting Thomas. Thomas was not willing to believe that Jesus was risen because he had not seen him.
The previous two times we’ve met Thomas he’s demonstrated that his is not fearful and doubting but loyal and honest. We don’t know where Thomas was the previous resurrection Sunday – we’re not told – but you can easily see that he must have been distraught – this loyal and honest man wasn’t there because his world had been totally shattered and torn apart – he wasn’t there because his heart was broken – his teacher was dead.
So now, he’s being told about the resurrection of Jesus, he’s being told about the Presence of the Lord, the Power of the Lord, the Peace of the Lord, the Praises of the Lord the Promotions of the Lord and the Provisions of the Lord – all these things happened on the day Jesus revealed himself to the other disciples – that’s a lot to have missed out on and hardly something that is easily told – it’s something you have to see for yourself. It’s easy to see why he responded the way he did – I don’t believe you!
He had not placed his fingers in the mark of the nails and had not placed his hand one Jesus side where the spear had torn into his flesh. Imagine, this loyal and honest apostle, this man who had been told that his teacher was dead, being told that he was alive – he really was low, this really was the ultimate low Sunday – why should he believe? Why should he just take their word? One last time Jesus replies, once again Jesus is there to hold the hand of this loyal, honest and questioning follower.
Jesus appears to the disciples, coming through locked doors and says 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’.
And you know what? Thomas does! ‘My Lord and my God!” So Doubting Thomas? No, more like Faithful Thomas.
For me the story of Thomas through John is one that I wish more Christians would hold onto. It’s a story of a man who is not afraid to ask the difficult questions, a man who is not afraid to challenge or speak truth unto power – he is a man who does not leave his brain at the door when he encounters Jesus – he is a man who embraces his faith and continues to question.
It’s something the House of Bishops have asked us to do at the coming election – and so as I head to May 7th, perhaps feeling a little low and wondering what possible difference I can make, I will take Doubting Thomas’ example – I will ask the difficult questions, I will be loyal to my faith and I will be honest to myself and my Christian values.
I’m a little bit in awe of St. Thomas – I think he teaches us an important lesson and I think he opens the door for us to have a greater understanding of Jesus, so I’ll head back to my bible and read those passages again, this time without first thinking of Thomas as doubting, but thinking of him as loyal, honest and faithful.