Sermon preached by Fr. Mark D. Stuart
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This first Sunday after Easter is commonly referred to as “Low Sunday.” Low” is hardly a term ever associated with St. Thomas the Apostle Parish! But Low Sunday it is and this day acquired its name from the custom of observing an “octave” for major feasts; thus Easter was the greater Sunday of the octave and Easter II was the lesser, or “low” Sunday. From the traditional Gospel reading appointed for this day, today has also been known for centuries as “Thomas Sunday.”
St. Gregory the Great wrote: “More does the doubt of Thomas help us to believe, than the faith of the Disciples who believed.” Ad yet from the famous post-Resurrection story related in St. John’s Gospel, Thomas is known for all time as “Doubting Thomas.” This faithful Disciple deserves to be remembered better than this! As the patron of our Parish, we certainly honor him as is his due – but popular culture and most Christians, for that matter, pay him little more attention than through the label of “doubter.” His lifetime achievement as an apostle, missionary to India, and martyr there are practically forgotten by all.
He didn’t come to be known as Thomas the Great, or Thomas the Just, or Thomas the Beloved… he is Doubting Thomas. That’s pretty tough in our culture. We honor people who are sure of themselves and their beliefs. We remember Union Admiral Farragut for shouting, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” in the Battle of Mobile Bay, which led to that Confederate city’s capture and downfall late in the Civil War. If he had said, “I think we better turn back.” He probably wouldn’t have even been a footnote in a history book.
We honor people who have it all together. We honor people who are sure of themselves. Well, Thomas the Apostle was sure: He was sure that unless he could see the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands and the wound in His side, he would not believe that His friend and teacher had been raised from the dead.
According to the Gospel, Thomas was not in the room when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. We don’t know where he was at the time. He was out. By the way, these same disciples were the ones who doubted the women who found the empty tomb on Easter Day. Like them, the last time Thomas saw the Lord, he was dying on the cross. Like them, he knew Jesus died and was not coming back. So, when the disciples tell Thomas they have seen the Lord, he says exactly what he feels, probably the same that you and I would have said, “I don’t believe it.” But Jesus does not want to lose Thomas; He returns and invites him to touch him for proof. The Gospel never says whether Thomas actually did so, but his doubt is dispelled and he makes the strongest proclamation of Jesus’ nature we find in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!”
Some love Thomas because of his doubt. He seems more down to earth, approachable, and similar to us; like Peter. Thomas’ doubt gives doubters hope; because people of faith are not immune from doubt. In fact, if we are not touched by doubt, we are probably not paying attention to the world around us: If we witness a child dying from malnutrition, or gunned down innocently on our streets; or look into the eyes of a loved one stricken with cancer, AIDS, or addiction and do not doubt whether God really has the world in hand…If we hear reports of the violence on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or see mounting victims of a war based on deceptions and falsehoods drag on for two years and do not doubt a loving Creator…If we walk through the numbing ordinariness of our days and ever struggle with fatigue and depression over life’s unhappy events which may come our way and sometimes do not doubt God’s purpose for us…Then we are kidding ourselves!
Doubt has always been as much a part of the journey of faith as belief; and Thomas does not hide from this. He has seen his beloved teacher and Lord broken and crushed by the self-interests of religion and politics. There is good reason for Thomas to doubt that God is really up to much of anything that matters. But his doubt is not a sin. His doubt does not mean that he is a lost cause. His doubt is virtuous, because it is honest and open and ready for belief when belief is called for. Thomas was an honest doubter and Jesus loved him and revealed himself to him.
Sometimes I am an honest doubter; perhaps you are too. Thomas gives us hope that Jesus may come to us, and show himself to us, as well. For some people it is Thomas’ move from doubt to belief for which they love him, like our Lord did. They are struck by his readiness to proclaim Jesus as Lord when belief is called for. His confession is the occasion for Jesus to pronounce blessing on all those who like us have believed when we have not seen. As Fr. Davies reminded us in from this pulpit in Lent: we must be careful not to confuse faith and certainty; if we were certain, then there would be no need for faith!
Furthermore, Thomas gives us hope in something more. He knows that the only risen Christ worth believing in is the crucified Christ. The only One whose resurrection means anything to us is the One who was wounded, as we are. The only Christ worth believing in at all is the One who was crushed by what crushes us; Who knows pain and anguish and longing and confusion and ultimately death. I am wounded, as Thomas was… as you are. A remote God in the heavens who merely offers rest to the dead or the occasional granting of a wish or two is of little help to me; to maybe get an eternal reward if I get through my years with enough good points to outbalance my bad ones, does not give me spiritual strength. I am wounded; I need a God who can heal my wounds and make me a wounded healer. I am a prisoner and I need to be set free. I need – we need – the God of the crucified Christ, whose wounds are the sign of life.
So, what happened to Thomas after he first encountered the risen Lord? According to the last chapter of St. John’s Gospel, he was with the six other disciples who later went fishing in Galilee and then met Jesus again on the shore of the lake and had breakfast with Him. The last we hear of Thomas in the Scriptures is that he was among those who were gathered in the upstairs room in Jerusalem waiting for the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. There is a strong tradition that Thomas took the Gospel to India, where an ancient branch of Christianity traces back its history to the earliest centuries and claims to have been founded by Thomas.
Here at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish we are named after him; we remember him at every Mass in this place as our patron; we beg his intercessions on our spiritual journey…because we are “Thomas Christians.” We are all here together, wounded, every one of us…by the burdens of life and by secret pains, by sin and suffering and threat of dying. We are here because we are looking for One who lived the life we live, wounded as we have been, and was healed. He is here: the Christ of God, Jesus of the scars, who brings life from death and salvation from sorrow.
Jesus loved Thomas, not in spite of his doubts and fears, but perhaps because of them. Jesus called Thomas from his doubt to belief and from his belief to missionary ministry to the poor, the lonely, the hurting, the poor. We Thomas Christians are called by our Lord to do the same: We are called to go to the lonely and befriend them. We are called to go to the crying and dry their tears. We are called to go to the wounded and dress their wounds. If we do accept our Lord’s mandate to us, then we just might find ourselves touching the wounds of Christ and in those moments looking and looking into the eyes of Christ Himself saying, “My Lord and my God!”
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