April 11, 2021
Bishop Michael Pryse
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said 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.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Dear friend in Christ. It’s a privilege to be with you as a part of this morning’s worship and to be able to give your dear pastor some much welcome relief. Our rostered ministers have been doing such a wonderful job over the course of the past year. But its hard work and we need to do everything we can to give them our encouragement and support!
Today’s Gospel lesson raises questions that cut to the very heart of what it means to experience Christ’s presence; questions that cut to the very heart of what it means to say the words, “I believe.”
We witness the gathering of the disciples on Easter night and we can’t help but asking some very basic questions about the nature of belief. How is it that you believe -or disbelieve- for that matter? Who can you believe? How much proof do you need before you can say that you believe something? How certain does your belief have to be, before you really believe?
I need to tell you that I think poor old Thomas has received a bit of a bum rap by many Christians over time. Yes, he had doubts and questions, but we don’t know that he had any more doubts than the other disciples would have had, given the same circumstances. He certainly had no more doubt than I would have had!
Remember, the others had already seen Jesus; he hadn’t! All he had to go on was the strength of the disciple’s witness, and obviously, it wasn’t all that convincing! If Christ were indeed raised, why were they being so fearful? Thomas didn’t doubt the Lord! He did, however, fail to be inspired or convinced by the witness of his colleagues who claimed that the Lord was risen but were still hiding behind closed doors.
I find it very interesting that, while the Western Christian world typically speaks of Thomas as “doubting Thomas,” the orthodox church of the east calls him “believing Thomas” in reference to his exclamation “my Lord and my God” after having seen Christ and touched his wounds! Isn’t that something?! They choose to honour his exclamation of faith rather than his quite understandable – and temporary – expression of doubt. Furthermore, Jesus honoured Thomas’s questioning in a very special way! Think about it for a moment. He came back, just for Thomas! He’d already visited the others. He returned just for Thomas and said, “Peace be with you. Touch my hands touch my side. See and believe.”
Friends, never, ever be ashamed of your doubts and questions. And let’s be honest; if you don’t have any doubts or questions, you are either fooling yourself or spiritually asleep! Frederich Buechner tells us that “doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving!” Remember, there is often much more faith expressed in an honest doubt or question than in many of the pious platitudes that all to easily cross our lips. In fact, I would maintain that doubt, in many ways, is a precondition of faith!
The disciples of old could not reveal Christ while they remained safe and comfortable behind closed doors. Their witness couldn’t even convince Thomas, one of their own number! And neither will the church’s witness convince modern day Thomas’s so long as we remain in a similar posture; hidden away, seemingly safe and secure behind closed doors.
Those who are seeking a new experience of the Christian life will not be easily drawn to churches that blithely assume the fact of their own relevance or give all too-easy answers. People seeking a deeper experience of theological inquiry will struggle to maintain connections with faith communities that are intolerant of their questioning.
We need to follow Jesus’ example and open ourselves to the honest questioning – to the touch – of those who come seeking a new truth. We need to equip ourselves with the tools needed to engage in mature but robust theological reflection, confident in the knowledge that our faith tradition is robust and strong enough to bear the weight of our critical self-reflection. Indeed, if that faith tradition is to carry any real authority, beyond that of mere lip-service, such reflection is of absolute necessity.
The story is told of a student who asked his teacher about the nature of faith. The teacher told her about a dog who scared up a rabbit and began to chase it. Soon other dogs heard the barking and joined in the chase but slowly they began to drop out, one by one until only the first dog was left. “What does this tell me about true faith,” the student asked? The teacher explained that, “The first dog stayed in the chase because it had seen the rabbit. And for us to maintain a deep and abiding faith, it is necessary for us to have seen and experienced the risen Lord.
Most churches today claim to be very concerned, and rightly so, about questions of evangelism and outreach. And my guess is that the church can do all sorts of things to try and bring people into our buildings. It can put on a kinder, friendlier face; it can use gimmicks, frills and tricks. (Most of us have learned that threats no longer work, if they ever did!) But unless the church provides people with a living experience of the Risen Christ all of its efforts will be for naught. The hounds might follow for a while to see what all the barking’s about, but they won’t stay in the chase because they will not have seen the rabbit. And why should they?
An old saying tells us that ships that remain in the harbour are safe ships. But we need to remember, that isn’t what ships are made for. The same is true for the ship that is the church. It can remain safe and comfortable in the harbour; its disciples can remain safe, locked away behind closed doors. But that’s not what this ship has been made for and that is not what disciples are made for.
A spiritually hungry world is pleading “Show us your wounds.” They are looking to see where God is to be found today. Those who are searching are looking for a body of believers that resembles Christ’s Body, a church that is visibly following Him in the way of the cross. And unless we are serious about providing that kind of a witness, then all our busy chit-chat about evangelism and outreach is really just a lot of empty talk.
We are currently celebrating the season Easter; the holy season of resurrection and new life. It’s an opportune time for us to take a good hard look at the witness we are providing; for us reclaim our place in the pack and dedicate ourselves anew to running the chase of our lives; following Jesus the Christ, our resurrected Lord.
It’s an opportune time for us to join with Thomas in His great confession “My Lord and my God;” an opportune time for us to invite others to join us in that confession by revealing the crucified and risen Christ to them, in our words, but especially in our actions and our choices.
May God help us to be faithful in that task. May God bless the work that you do – as a people of God called to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in your home communities – and may God bless the work that we do together as a wider church community called to show, in thought word and deed, that the Lord is risen! That he is risen indeed, Alleluia!