As we move through the Easter Season we are taking a closer look at the disciples of Jesus - their lives, their backstories and how they used the gift of following Jesus to bless the world. Here is the sermon manuscript from week 1; Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas.
As an introduction to this morning’s gospel lesson – I’d like to finish the reading from Easter Sunday – as you remember, the women – Mary Magdalene and others, went out to the tomb and found the guards passed out from fright, the stone rolled away and an angel greeting them with the Good News that Jesus was risen! They even met him in the cemetery garden – and Jesus told the women to share with the others that he was risen – and would meet them in Galilee and then he sent them away.
11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. And this report has spread throughout all Judea to this very day.
Things did not look good for the followers of Jesus. And so we turn to the Gospel of John for the rest of the story…
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
24 Thomas, the one called the twin, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
I don’t know about you, but I believe Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas, gets a bum rap. Over the years Thomas has been lifted up as an example that of course – seeing is believing…but truth be told, given that Thomas wasn’t with the other Christ followers locked away in a room, I might add, frightened out of their wits, Thomas undoubtedly heard the rumors flying around Jerusalem, spread by unholy alliance made between the guards and the religious officials – Jesus’ body was stolen by the remaining followers as a ruse – to make everyone THINK that Jesus was risen. A likely story…
‘I want to see it for myself,’ Thomas declared. In the muddled up mess that was the early church, Thomas wanted cold hard facts.
Thomas isn’t any different from most of us. We want to know – without a shadow of a doubt – that Jesus IS Risen – because if this is true – then this changes everything. Christ’ resurrection - not resuscitation mind you – but resurrection – is a game changer. How so? Note in verse 19:
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”
and again a week later in verse 26
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”
A resuscitated Jesus does not walk through closed doors – but a resurrected Jesus does. And acknowledging how mind boggling this all is, Jesus offers the words: “Peace be with you.”
Thomas – now confronted with the reality of Jesus resurrection is brought to his knees – and proclaims…”My Lord and My God”
It was a game changer for Thomas. Seeing was believing – and because he saw – not only that day, but several more times during Jesus’ 40 days with his disciples before his ascension to heaven – after the day of Pentecost we don’t hear anything more from Thomas in the scriptures.
But historical records of other sorts do give us a sketch of what was next for Thomas the twin…
According to reliable traditions Thomas preached throughout much of Asia – and especially in the region we call India. In the 1500s when Portugese explorers arrived in India they found a church there that identified itself as the Church of Saint Thomas; and a 6th Century book tells us that a traveler in India found a church in Malabar, as well as a bishop in Galiana, south of Bombay. According to tradition, Thomas died a martyr’s death, on a mountain that now bears his name – Mount Thomas. His death came by the piercing of a lance, and so the symbol for Thomas is the lance, for his martyrdom and a carpenter’s triangle since he was supposed to be a carpenter by trade.
Thomas – known for doubting – seems to have traveled the farthest to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world!
What about each of us – how has our experience of Jesus infused our lives? How and with whom are we sharing our God moments – or are we waiting to see before we can be all in for God?
I think faith contains a lot of both/and moments…Thomas held back – he wasn’t quite sure what to believe – and yet when he was confronted with the risen Lord he went all in…
Have you had a God experience that has changed your life? If not, what evidence do you need to be all in for Christ?
I asked some of our youth this same question the other night – and one was brave enough to say what many Christians say – my faith is a private, personal thing… Thomas shows us another way – a bold way – a way that may just be more suited to our 21st century ways…
First – you must be present to win – Thomas doubted because he missed out on Jesus first visit with the larger group of disciples… I’m sure he was trying to process what all he had seen himself the earlier week – but the others were together – when we are confronted with doubts, fears and loss – being in community with one another makes a difference – you must be present to win.
Second – seeing IS believing – when you have a God experience – name it a claim it for what it is – God is present in the ordinary and the extra-ordinary – I firmly believe this is true – but I also know that I am often so busy that I don’t take time to tune in to God. We could all use some remedial work in this area – open our eyes Lord – I want to see Jesus…
And Finally – tell someone about it – the Good News is just that – its good – and its news – its meant to be shared…one of the things I appreciate most about Facebook is the opportunity to see pictures posted by people. To post a picture is to say – I saw something in this – and I want to share it with others because I hope that it has meaning for you too…
Thomas did just this traveling far and wide in places you wouldn’t expect – to share the Good News that God did indeed send the Messiah – we know him as Jesus – and in and through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension we may know God and be in relationship with God that is life affirming, loving and that compels us to love the world with open arms. To seek peace, justice and extend mercy to others – but especially the least, the lost, the widow and the orphan.
As we prepare to be fortified by the sacrament of Holy Communion – let us also laugh at death – with great joy – as we join Thomas and others in proclaiming that Jesus is our Lord and our God! Alleluia – Christ is RISEN!
in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.