A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ 2nd of Easter ~ John 20:19-31
This isn’t the morning after, it’s the Sunday after. The second Sunday of the Easter season. Easter Sunday is thought of as the highest point in the Christian Calendar. Without Easter there likely would not be a Christian Religion. In contrast this Sunday, is often called Low Sunday. Historically the church was full on Easter Sunday, folks came who were called Twicers by my father. They came to church twice a year Christmas and Easter. The attendance dropped on this second Sunday of Easter and some think that is the reason it is called Low Sunday. But it is most often named that because of the let down after all the spiritually deep and moving worship times associated with Easter and the celebration of the Easter morning when we joyously proclaim—Christ is Risen.
Be all that as it may, our scripture this morning was about someone who 2000 years ago was feeling about as low as one can get. Thomas.
Thomas comes from an Aramaic word whose root means twin. But this guy had another name, Didymus and that also means twin. We have no record of this twin, and no way of knowing if Thomas or Didymus was a nickname or the real name of the man in the story. Let’s just take that position and assume he was named Thomas. Often referred to as doubting Thomas, and we will look at that later.
Thomas the disciple is the patron saint of Portugal and tradition says that he was martyred in Indian, pure speculation but interesting. All we know for certain about him is what we read in the Christian scriptures. He is mentioned in the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke in a list of the disciples, and that is all they say about him.
John gives him a voice and he speaks three times, all near the end of Jesus life on earth.
The first is the story of the raising from the dead of Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha. The disciples and Jesus were in Perea, east of Jordan. They were avoiding the establishment who were ganging up on Jesus. The news of Lazarus death comes and Jesus is ready to go to Bethany to his friends. You can almost hear the disciples muttering, ‘This is trouble. We came here to get away and now he’s going back? How can we stop him?’
Into this conversation Thomas speaks and says, “Let us go there too, so that we may die with him.” Sounds as gloomy as Eyore, but it isn’t. He is saying that if Jesus is going to die, and that is a very real possibility of which all 12 would be aware, he is saying, then I don’t want to go on living. Rather than a statement of gloom or despair, it is a statement of his deep love of and loyalty to Jesus. Loyal Thomas.
The second time Thomas speaks is at the Last Supper. Jesus has just told his friends, that he is going to the Father’s house and will prepare rooms for them and will come and take them there. He says, “Don’t worry you know the way I am going.” The disciples may be sitting around the table, looking at Jesus and trying to look wise and full of understanding. One wonders if they were. But Thomas speaks, “No I don’t. I haven’t the foggiest idea where you are going, so how can I know the way?” Thomas is not being disagreeable, or obtuse, he really doesn’t know, he doesn’t understand. At this moment he is Honest Thomas.
Last Sunday, resurrection Sunday in our church, the disciples were gathered and Jesus appeared to them. But Thomas wasn’t there. Where was he?
We are not told, but perhaps we can suggest an answer. I would suggest that he was simply too overcome with grief to be with other people. We heard him infer that if Jesus was dead then he had no desire to go on living. As far as Thomas knows, Jesus is dead. He doesn’t see any point in going on, and he just needs to be alone to grieve, for a time. He needs time as we would say, to process all that has happened, and try to understand and to speculate on his future. Now we can call him Grieving Thomas.
He is looking at a future completely turned upside down in a very short time. Like the others, he was looking to Jesus to establish his Kingdom. The disciples hadn’t grasped that Jesus was not talking about an overthrow of Rome. He wasn’t talking about that kind of revolutionary change. They had heard him say the kingdom is here and now, the kingdom is within you, and among you. But they had a lifetime of looking for another King David. They remembered when they were a powerful, successful nation and that was the vision for the most part. They had not been able to wrap their minds around the kind of realm Jesus was talking about. And now Thomas stood alone in his grief. His teacher, rabbi and friend is dead. His super hero. He has just had an overdose of reality and he didn’t like it or grasp it. He couldn’t see anything hopeful or new ahead of him. All hope had died on that cross. This is the Thomas of Reality
Soon after this experience, Thomas was able to meet with the rest of Jesus followers and they are telling him that they have seen Jesus. Can you imagine the energy in that room? The excitement? The vitality, power and strength? These followers of Jesus, who just a few days before were hiding in grief and perhaps fear, and now bubbling with joy. Ready to take on the world. But Thomas isn’t there yet. He states that until he sees Jesus wounds and touches them he can’t believe their story.
And this is why he has been labelled Doubting Thomas. But he does not ask for anything that the other disciples had not already experienced. When Jesus entered the room where they were, he said, “Peace be with you.” And then he showed them his hands and his side. They had seen him, they had seen the wounds, they had seen proof. John 20:20 just a few verses before what was read this morning states, “the disciples rejoiced because they saw the Lord”.
They are never called doubting Peter, John or Matthew.
At this point in the story, Thomas had only their words.
A week later we find the disciples again in the house, and this time Thomas is with them. He has walked through his dark valley and is now going to re-connect with this community where he had spent three wonderful years. Once again Jesus appears and greets them with “Peace be with you.” He then shows Thomas his wounds, and Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God.” A statement of what Thomas believes. Believing Thomas.
There is no rebuke from Jesus. He doesn’t for one moment reprimand Thomas. He simply offers him the same experience the others had a week before. In the previous incident the bible says the disciples rejoiced, but none of them called out an affirmation of faith such as Thomas did.
Rather than an inferior doubter, Thomas emerges as a model disciple. He states what he now believes in very strong words. It is an affirmation of faith, from a believer. Faithful Thomas
Thomas is for me, one model of how to becomes a follower of Jesus. He heard him preach and teach. He sat at Jesus feet and listened. He saw Jesus draw apart to spend time in prayer. And he wanted to be like him.
I would give Thomas another name as well. Thomas the Realist. He knew that there was a cost to following Jesus, and if that cost was going to his death with Jesus, he declared he was ready. But he wasn’t ready to go it alone. After he saw Jesus die, he lost his will to follow him. When he was face to face once again with Jesus, he was ready to join the other disciples in sharing good news.
Doubting Thomas. Honest Thomas. Believing Thomas. Faithful Thomas. Realistic Thomas.
I think the doubting Thomas label is the least deserved. Yes he asked for reassurance, but is that so unreasonable given the events of the story?
We live in a hyper-rational, society where many assume that things not observable by physical senses and not understandable by the human mind either don’t exist or have no importance.
I remember an episode of the Golden Girls. Sophia, the mother of Dorothy, choked on some food. She lost consciousness and when she revived she told Dorothy that she had been to heaven and had seen Sal, her husband. Dorothy tried to convince her that she was seeing things because she was not conscious. After a couple of tries, Sophia shrugs and says I am going to bed.
She says, “Good night spumoni face.” Dorothy is shocked and asked why she called her that because that was the secret name her father gave her when they went to the kitchen and snuck a bowl of ice cream. “I told you I talked to your father, and he said, “Say good-night to my little spumoni face and tell her I’m proud of her.” The scene fades with Dorothy saying to herself, “Maybe there are things that we just don’t understand yet.” Doubting Dorothy
As Larry keeps reminding us, God is present, we just have to notice.
Jesus said to Thomas, “reach out your hand,” He is inviting Thomas to step into his circle, to come to him in faith, in trust, in belief.
Jesus says, Reach out to me with your questions. Reach out to me with your doubt.
Reach out to me with your concerns. Reach out to me with your emptiness.
Come and be heard. Come and feel compassion. Come and be filled.
At the end of our reading Jesus names both Thomas doubt and his belief.
But then Jesus says. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
That’s us folks. You and me.
Let me tell you a story about a time when seeing for me was a very profound spiritual moment. I was in Israel, in Jerusalem. The tour took us to a house that is believed to be the site of the last supper. The exterior was like many of the other ancient buildings in Israel, a simple plain square structure. In the room I was looking around and was listening to the guide as he told us the history. I could see early construction from the first century, overlaid by addition s from the Byzantine and Crusader conquerors. Research suggests that is has been a synagogue, a Catholic place of worship, and a Moslem Mosque. I stood and looked around, but was untouched by the experience. So, like Thomas I went outside to be alone, to try and get my head around it all.
I sat on a stone bench and drew a few quieting breaths and then I noticed. In front of me were the exterior steps leading to the second story and the upper room. They had been cut and shaped and laid in place many centuries before I walked up and down them. The places where people had stepped were worn down by the feet of millions of pilgrims seeking to spend a moment in this historic room. As I thought of the people, I thought of the devotion, the love, the faith that called so many to this place. Sitting there in the hot Jerusalem sun, I knew exactly what people meant when they referred to a thin place. A place where if we notice- God is in that place. And that happened for me that day. Like Thomas I had an epiphany. A moment that revealed a deep truth to me. In Thomas words, “My Lord and my God.”
On this earth, I will never see that man who walked the shores of Lake Galilee, or trod the lanes and paths of the villages nearby. I will not see the wounds or hear his human voice. But if I am open, I can notice a presence in a holy place in a sacred moment. And like Thomas I could say, “I believe.”
May it be so for each of us as we continue our journey through the Easter season.