Sermon St Mary St Peter 3 July 2022 Trinity 3 Year C St Thomas
Ps 66 Responsory Habakkuk 2v1-4 John 20v24-29 Ephesians 2v19-22
Let us pray:
If I ask you what is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the apostle Thomas, what would it be? Probably that he is universally known as ‘doubting Thomas’. But is that really a fair description of him for there is so much more to lean from him, so let us take a quick look this morning.
First, he referred to in all of the gospels. He is actually mentioned some eight times in the New Testament, whereas some of the other apostles only get a passing mention. Thomas is listed with of all the apostles by Matthew, Mark and Luke, and also by John in the list of the seven disciples by the sea of Galilee in one of Jesus resurrection appearances.
He is named as Thomas called Didymus, meaning ‘twin’, but despite much speculation we have no real idea who his twin brother or sister was.
John gives us four occasions when Thomas is engaged in conversation. The two that we have read of in this morning’s gospel and from which the description ‘doubting’ comes. “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”. But is that not a natural human response after being told the impossible, ‘Jesus has risen from the dead’. Would not you and I have responded in a similar cautious, even sceptical manner, whoever heard of one rising from the dead after three days? Well, there was a precedence of course, Thomas must have seen Jesus raise Lazarus after four days, but could Thomas take the risk of letting his hopes be dashed?
I wonder what God has asked us to believe in the past, or even now, and could we take that risk of letting our hopes be shattered? Perhaps with all the chaos and uncertainty in our present world order, or lack of it, with all the pain, suffering, poverty, famine, etc., can we really believe that there is a time when our Lord will return and set up that new order in creation promised so long by the prophets?
But look at the transformation in Thomas’s response when one week later the Lord appears again but with Thomas present. When Jesus invited Thomas to ‘put your finger here and see my hands’, what now was Thomas’ response? A response that I trust we can and have all echoed, “My Lord and my God”. No longer any doubting but a firm acknowledgement as to just who Jesus was and still is, Lord and God of all the created order. O, that more people would like Thomas come to that same recognition today.
No wonder our Collect for this celebration today frames Thomas in a positive light, ‘God for the firmer foundation of our faith, allowed Thomas to doubt the resurrection of your Son’. We may all have doubts at times, but they can lead us into a surer and firmer belief and hope in the promises that God has for each one of us.
And as Jesus went on to say, “Blessed are those, that is you and me, who have not seen and yet have believed’.
Then we also have in John’s gospels (11v16) an account of Thomas’s words that paint him in the most positive of lights, and gives to each one of us a real challenge, a challenge that many of our persecuted sisters and brothers face daily.
When Jesus received a call from the sisters Mary and Martha to return to Jerusalem to heal their brother Lazarus, Jesus was in the Galilee for safety, having a little while before been threatened to be stoned when last in the Holy City. In response to that call Jesus, and knowing what was to lie ahead says, “Let us go to him”.
And what was the bold and brave response from Thomas to all the other disciples? “Let us also go, that we may die with him”.
Is that a response that you and I could, and would, also make? How strong is our faith and belief in Jesus as the risen Son of God? The one who has promised to us that this life is not the end, but just the start of an eternal journey with the everlasting God and our loving heavenly Father.
If we were placed in the position of our present day persecuted believers, in the position of so many of the martyred saints down through the ages, and the position that all the apostles eventually found themselves in, could we say, “Let us die for Jesus”?
But of course we know that there is a hope for us who believe that transcends any such fear. And that hope follows from the final question that John records Thomas asking of Jesus during the last supper (14v5).
Jesus told us that as we believe in God we should also believe in him, as he was going to prepare for us a place in paradise to be with him. Thomas, with his searching mind, quite naturally asked Jesus ‘where was he going’ and ‘how could we know the way’. Jesus reply is one of the most famous and encouraging verses of the whole bible, a verse which for us Christians is the foundation of our hope. Jesus replied to Thomas, and to all the disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It is that statement alone that sets the Christian faith apart and above any other belief.
It is the statement that we who have put our faith and trust in Jesus gives to us the full assurance of our eternal future, for it shows the encompassing love of God our Father to reconcile us to himself.
It is the embodiment of real love, of that love of God which John in his first epistle tells us, ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1Jn4v18).
There is so much more to the life of Saint Thomas that sadly we do not have time for this morning. His mission journeys eventually took him to south India where tradition has him reaching Kerela in AD 52, establishing churches, and finally being martyred near Madras, now Chennai, in AD 72. There are still many thriving churches of Saint Thomas in India today.
So if necessary, let us revise our picture of Thomas, of one who doubted for a reason, to one who went on with a strong faith to serve the Lord as an evangelist almost to the ends of the earth, and lost his life in his faithful adherence to our Lord Jesus.
Let us pray:
Lord our God, King of the universe and source of all truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen