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.” – John 20:27-29 +INPFSS+
Last week we celebrated the day that our Lord was raised from the dead.
On that most important day in all of human history – the first Easter Sunday – our Lord showed himself to several of his disciples, to prove to them that he had indeed been raised. He showed himself to the women who came to the tomb, he showed himself to the disciples on the road to emmaeus, and even though the door was locked, he showed up in the room where the disciples were camped out.
But there is one very interesting detail which our Gospel reading points out this morning: When Jesus showed himself to the disciples, not everyone was present. Thomas had momentarily popped out. Who knows on what errand? He was gone.
Whatever took him away for that brief moment, can you imagine how he felt when he came back, and the remaining 10 apostles relayed with awe and wonder that they had just seen their resurrected Lord and friend?
I wonder if he thought it was a cruel joke? Or a delusion? At some level he must have thought they were hallucinating, because he asks for tactile evidence. vs. 25: Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and then he corrects himself. He doubles-down. Seeing wouldn't be enough. Thomas adds: Unless I...put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
And then a week passes.
Try and imagine what this week must have been like, for the disciples. They know the Lord is risen. But how then shall they live? What should they be doing right now? Was that the Last they saw of the Lord?
And imagine what that week must have been like for Thomas. How the other disciples no doubt kept insisting, “we have seen the Lord!” “we have seen the Lord!”, and the prospect, the doubts, the questions, all gnawing at him. Had they? No. Impossible. Maybe? I wonder if it didn't drive him half mad.
But a week passes, and it's Sunday again. Today, the Sunday after the Sunday of the Resurrection.
As a side note, I think it is not a coincidence that Jesus appeared to his disciples on Sundays, as he continually appears to us, in Word, and Sacrament, through his Spirit, Sunday after Sunday.
But no matter, here we are a week later.
The disciples have gathered again in a secret room. The door is locked.
They were probably gathered to pray.
And as they were praying, he appears again.
Jesus, stands in the midst of them, and greets them as he had the week before: “Peace be with you!”
In my mind's eye I see all the other disciples climbing over each-other to hug their master again, but before they are able to, Jesus immediately faces Thomas and addresses him. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.
In this simple act we see his compassion on all those who doubt.
On all those who have a hard time believing the outrageous and extravagant claims of the Apostles and the Church that was built on them that remains to this day. The claims of a God-man, killed for our sins, raised to immortality, offering free forgiveness and everlasting life, in exchange simply for trust and obedience. Or as St. John puts it in his epistle that we heard: for all those who love God, and obey his commandments.
Many, if not all of us, at one time another, sometimes before we become a Christian, sometimes even after, struggle with doubts about this Gospel. Thomas is a picture of all of us, at one time or another.
And Look how Jesus responds, he doesn't turn away from him. He kept him on tender-hooks for a week, but he doesn't leave him in the dark forever. He comes to him. As he comes to us.
And he reveals that he has been present all along, although unseen with physical eyes, by answering what Thomas had said aloud the week before. Thomas had said he needed to see the wounds, and so that's what Jesus offers: Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
He offers him what Thomas said he needed, but I think after all it wasn't needed. The very manifestation and invitation and familiar voice would have been plenty convincing in itself.
What Jesus proves to Thomas, is that the other disciples WEREN'T making it up. They were telling the truth. Jesus really was risen, and they really had seen him last week. It's all true. All the things Jesus said about himself. All that he promised. It's all true.
And doubting Thomas is instantly transformed into Believing Thomas.
And Thomas then makes the best confession of all. In that moment he becomes a true theologian as he is looking at the risen Jesus and he exclaims, “My Lord and My God!”
As Peter had early recognized Jesus rightly as the Son of God, Thomas builds on that confession by recognizing that God the Son is as much fully God as God the Father. And the man he saw with his eyes, by faith he understood to be God himself as well. And so true Christian Theology is established forever: Jesus is both fully God, and fully man. It would take the Church 6 ecumenical councils spanning over 600 years to fully sound the theological depths of this short statement: My Lord and My God.
The greatest doubter among the disciples, became the greatest confessor.
Yet another prime example in the Scriptures of how God redeems all things, and can make something beautiful out of something ugly.
And the chief virtue that this Gospel lesson holds out for US this morning, is FAITH.
Faith, the first of the three so-called theological virtues which these three Sunday sermons will focus on. The others being of course Hope, and Love.
Faith comes first because it IS first. Until we have faith in Jesus Christ. Until we believe the testimony of the Apostles in the Church, we can have no hope, and we lack the ability to truly Love.
In thinking on this Gospel reading, some of the early fathers of the Church saw Jesus' providence in providing an example to us, all of us who have come in succeeding generations who were not there to witness Jesus' mortal ministry on earth.
As God, Jesus knows at all times what is happening all places. It was therefore no accident that when he appeared to the disciples the first time, Thomas was momentarily not there.
This was intentional.
Because in the second appearance, a week later, Jesus addresses Thomas in a way that seems to be a larger life lesson to all of us who would be Christians later on. Jesus permitted this whole doubting Thomas incident, so that WE, here in Alabama, in the year 2017, could learn from it.
Because we are – all of us – in the exact same position as Thomas after Easter Sunday.
We have heard the Church, the living continuity of the Apostles, telling us Christ is Risen. And upon hearing this apostolic testimony, we are faced with the simple choice: Do I believe it? Or do I not believe it? Will I have faith? Or will I not?
Jesus posed this test-question for one week to Thomas, who flubbed miserably. So Jesus offers him a remedial class – he appears so Thomas can see him. So that he can see that what the other Apostles had said is true, and could himself, as an apostle, bear witness to the same.
And now Jesus is offering us the same test, and he addresses us today, with the same words which he addressed Thomas with: Vs. 27: Do not doubt but believe.
Do not doubt, but believe.
Putting so succinctly the greater truth: You have no need to doubt! You haven't seen me with your eyes, but I am risen! Trust my messengers, the Apostles. Trust their testimony as it is recorded in Holy Scripture, and in the living voice of the Church.
Eyes are nothing! As Jesus says, Have you believed because you have seen me? Odd!
And he adds: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
That's us! We have not seen him. But we believe. Though we haven't seen him. We know he is alive. We know it from the handed-down eye-witness testimony of the Apostles, and we know it from our experience, if we have tried the way of prayer.
Though we haven't seen him, we love him.
Though we haven't seen his wounds, we trust in their saving effect.
THAT's Faith. That's saving faith. That's the ground from which a Christian life steps of. The ground of seeking to know our savior better, through a study of Scripture. The ground from which we would follow where he has led the way, in obedience to God the Father.
And from faith to faith; from saving faith, to the fulness of faith – to the taking God at his word every step of the way, this is our bread and butter, as Christians. Or perhaps I should say, bread and wine. For it is the same thing in our gathering to celebrate the Eucharist, in which we cannot see his presence, but we know that he is here. Incidentally, Thomas' confession on this day has been for many centuries a prayer, an exclamation that Christians have muttered under their breath when the bread and the wine are lifted up from the Table in the Eucharist. In the recognition of the unseen sacramental presence: My Lord, and My God!'
Whether it's his promise to give us his body and blood in this meal.
Or his promise that he will blot out all our sins.
Or his promise that one day he will wipe every tear from our eye.
Or his promise just to be with us, in the valley of the shadow of death.
Whatever he has spoken. Whatever the Holy Scripture proclaims, as it has been passed on by the Church:
Faith says 'yes'.
And it keeps saying 'yes'. Taking up the banner daily: Yes. Yes. Today. Today I believe. Again, Today I trust you, Lord God.