Sunday, April 19, 2020
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Each year on this Second Sunday of Easter, we focus upon Thomas, the Apostle, the one we have come to know and love, whom we affectionately call, “Doubting Thomas.”
Thomas is a commercial fisherman. He grew up around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came to Capernaum, calls him, and he follows.
For three years, Thomas follows faithfully. But Thomas is a pessimist. Some people rejoice to see a glass half full, but Thomas always sees it half empty.
Soon, his world falls apart. Thomas sees his Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and Thomas flees for his life. On Good Friday, he watches at a distance as they nail his friend and teacher to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha.
As Jesus’ life drains away, so does Thomas’ hope.
On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter, and he is lashing out.
Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas to tell him what has happened in his absence.
“I don’t believe it,” barks Thomas. “I don’t believe a word of it. You’re seeing what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die, and part of me died with him. He is dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. Give it up!”
“Thomas, we were in that upper room where we’d been meeting. We locked the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appeared.”
“’Shalom,’ he says. Then he showed us his hands. There are jagged holes where the nails had been. He pulled back his tunic and showed us where the spear penetrated his chest. But he isn’t weak or sick or dying. He is alive, raised from the dead!”
Peter pleads with him. “Thomas, I saw him myself. I tell you he is as real as you are!”
Thomas is angry and bitter, with an edge in his voice that cuts like a knife. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
But Thomas’ anger cools, and by the next Sunday evening he is eating with his fellow disciples in the same locked room.
Suddenly, Jesus stands among them once again and speaks, “Shalom, peace be with you.”
All the blood drains from Thomas’ face. Jesus turns to him and speaks plainly, without any hint of hurt, anger, or sarcasm: “Thomas, put your finger here, see my hands.” Jesus holds out his scarred hands for him to examine. Thomas pulls back. Not out of fear, really, but from a mixture of amazement and revulsion.
Jesus begins to open his outer garment and says, “Thomas, reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas is weeping now and then begins to sob out loud. Jesus reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. Then Thomas slips to his knees and says in awe, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas, “Doubting Thomas,” is the first disciple to put into words the truth that Jesus is both Lord and God. Thomas utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.
Jesus replies, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
What happens to him? Doubting Thomas does not stay a doubter. When he sees the risen Jesus, all that Jesus taught over the years now clicks in, and to his death Thomas is an outspoken advocate for his Lord and his God.
Church Tradition tells us that he preaches in ancient Babylon near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in what is today, Iraq.
He travels to Persia, present day Iran, and continues to win disciples to the Christian faith.
Then he sails south to Malabar on the west coast of India in 52AD. He preaches, establishes Churches, and wins to Christ high-caste Brahmins, as well as others.
When the Portuguese land in India in the early 1600’s, they find a group of Christians there, the Mar Thomas Church established through Thomas’ preaching 1,500 years before.
Finally, Thomas travels to the east coast of India, preaching relentlessly. He is killed near Mylapore about 72AD near present day Madras. Tradition tells us that he is thrown into a pit, and then pierced through with a spear thrown by a Brahmin.
He who had so fervently proclaimed his unbelief carried the Christian message of love and forgiveness to the ends of the earth in his generation.
Thomas speaks to doubters today, to those of us who have seen our hopes and dreams destroyed.
Doubting Thomas tells us his story of how Jesus’ life intercepted his own life.
He tells us of his fears and his doubts.
And with a radiant, joyful face, Thomas, Doubting Thomas, St. Thomas, Apostle Thomas, Thomas the Apostle to India, recounts his joy at seeing and knowing the risen Jesus himself.
He confesses, “My Lord and my God!”
And he challenges us, in the midst of all our doubts, misgivings, and confusion, in these difficult days of the pandemic, to be those who are blessed because they have not seen, yet believed, and with Thomas, we cry out, we confess, we proclaim with deep faith: “My Lord and My God.”