Summary: Thomas as Everyman: Doubting Thomas or Believing Thomas?
Assessed Sermon: Easter 2, RCL Year A: John 20:19-31
“My Lord and My God”
In the name of the +Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thomas must have felt that he had a bit of a raw deal. For he really missed out on that first Easter Sunday. Thomas must be the definitive everyman, for there is a little bit of him in each of us, and what he missed has much to teach us.
“Peace” Jesus said to the disciples in the locked room. What a relief for them, a frightened, persecuted, and bewildered group, hidden away in a locked room “for fear of the Jews”. It could conceivably have been the same upper room that was the site of Christ’s final, most significant teaching: triumph become disaster within only a few days. His first words were “Shalom” – “Peace”. He could have spoken first of his disappointment, of his anger at them for their denial, abandonment, misunderstanding and betrayal. However, Peace is what he bestows on his disciples, and in saying this he echoes what he had said in that same room on the last night he had been with them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”
And Thomas missed the peace.
Next, Pardon. Our Lord had already forgiven or pardoned the disciples when he bestowed peace upon them; but he spoke explicitly of pardon when he spoke of forgiving and retaining sins. What Christ empowered the apostles to do, his Church continues…
The pardon of our Saviour can be available to us, only if we make some concessions: God cannot fill our cup with forgiveness if it is already filled to the brim with bitterness.
God cannot embrace us with forgiveness if our arms are carrying the heavy burden of resentment.
God cannot take our hand in forgiveness, if our fists are clenched in anger.
God cannot forgive the malevolent, shadowy side of our spirits if our minds are darkened by revenge and hate.
In his cry of doubt, Thomas shows his own unwillingness to make concessions to Our Lord, expecting Christ to come to him and show even his most intimate wounds, associated with the world’s greatest humiliation, with nothing given in return.
So Thomas missed out on the pardon of Christ.
Finally, Presence. The real, concrete, Glorious Presence of God came to those disciples. Woody Allen said that “95% of life is just ‘showing up’” Thomas had simply failed to ‘show up’.
And so Thomas missed the presence.
He missed out, and that must have hurt; especially for one so previously intimate with our Lord. Peace, Pardon and Presence, Thomas missed them all. In their place he demanded a substitute for them, something which our cynical society constantly craves, and which we, in our inmost, darkest times before the dawn hanker after, another “P” – “Proof”
And this is why I must conclude that Thomas must be the definitive everyman, because although graced with apostolic sainthood, he is shown to be above all like us. In our struggle to maintain the Christian life, we too miss out on Peace, Pardon and the Presence of Christ, and in return we torture ourselves over Proof.
Despite being promised how blessed we would be if we believe without physical proof, the burden of rationality rests upon our faith like a cumbersome weight - `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’. Thomas craves certainty, clarity, proof: an empty tomb and the reports of his colleagues are simply not enough. And these things have not changed: the quest for proof to bridge the gap between us and the living Godhead remains constant through the ages: from the Upper Room, past the Enlightenment and into our present age.
Thomas. How like the rest of us, Thomas manages to be; unwilling to commit to faith, I imagine him being borne by the tide of apostleship: to join the band, caught up but not caught in.
How often we treat our membership of the Church like this: caught up, but not caught in. A central part, a leader of worship and a focus of ministry even, but without having that final act of faith.
So, was Thomas just going through the motions of discipleship? Was he incapable of commitment to faith beyond proof? I think not, for he learns in his shame that his Lord was indeed his God: a shame almost comparable to the remorse felt by Peter when he had denied Christ. Both are forgiven, both are justified by the risen Christ, and they are used as examples to us, we the less immediate disciples: learn from Thomas and believe without having to put your hand into his side.