Almighty and eternal God, who, for the firmer foundation of our faith, allowed your holy apostle Thomas to doubt the resurrection of your Son till word and sight convinced him: grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Almighty God, who on the day of Pentecost sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame, filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel: by the power of the same Spirit strengthen us to witness to your truth and to draw everyone to the fire of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, the source of 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.
I will stand at my watch-post,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me.
3 Be my strong rock, a fortress to save me, for you are my rock and my stronghold;
guide me, and lead me for your name’s sake.
4 Take me out of the net that they have laid secretly for me,
for you are my strength.
5 Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
I put my trust in the Lord.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 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.’
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 3
Thomas is mentioned among the number of the apostles in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke but it is in John’s gospel that his significance is revealed. First, he is heard encouraging the other disciples to go to Judea with Jesus; then, not knowing what Jesus meant when he talked about where he was to go elicited the answer that Jesus was himself the Way. But probably most famously he was the apostle notably unconvinced by reports of the resurrection of Jesus, causing Jesus to show him the marks in his hands and side. Thomas then acclaims the risen Christ with the words that have been described as the great climax to John’s gospel: ‘My Lord and my God!’
These few remarks are from a resource called “Exciting Holiness” which is linked with the lectionary. It is rather a scant record for one of the Disciples, don’t you think? I imagine we would all like to know more about a follower of Jesus – a lesson we might learn, something which might further us in our life of faith. To that end, I cast my net further, first of all going to my favourite book of the saints, The Golden Legend. Then I took the plunge into Wikipedia. Both of these resources told me of a lot of things “Exciting Holiness” did not mention.
What do we remember about Thomas Didymos? Whom do we recall with the name, Doubting Thomas, a name which appears on everyone’s lips when they are afraid that they have no faith in miracle stories? Or often when used accusingly amongst the faithful when someone asks a question about a long-held doctrine. Even my wife calls me doubting Thomas when I wonder about what she is saying. “O ye of little faith” is another trope she throws at me in those moments.
Who do you remember when we talk of Thomas? Is it only Thomas, the doubter? Or Thomas the disciple who wandered all the way to India? Do you know about the Gospel of Thomas? Have you heard him called “the Theologian”? These are some of the other aspects of Thomas which appeared as I prepared for this morning. What do you remember about Thomas? But let’s take side step. There is a more general point that I want to emphasise. We all remember one thing about other people, don’t we? Especially strangers, or mere acquaintances. This is a natural coping mechanism. It is easier for us to deal with a one-dimensional character than to deal with someone as complex and complicated as our brother or sister. But who knows? – maybe we reduce our loved ones to one thing or another in order to be rid of any problems their complexity causes us. It is true, we do simplify our relations with other people in order to function more easily in our increasingly perplexing world, especially as we participate with others more and more.
It is easier for me to put my sister in a pigeon-hole and let her stay there while I go about my day-to-day business, isn’t it? I have put my brother in a particular category, he remains there and so he does not mess me about at all. But is that right? I should by rights want to know more about their complexity and the whole of their lives, shouldn’t I? If I put them in that box, they can never blossom, and I will never know about their own very interesting lives. – Just as they will never know about mine, and we both lose so much.
That is exactly what the parable of the good Samaritan teaches. We gain so much by giving of our selves to others when we allow ourselves to take them out of their pigeon-holes. We can watch them fly away, and perhaps fly with them, if we want. The stranger in our midst offers us this possible experience, doesn’t she? She is mysterious, she is not the usual, she breaks all the everyday expectations. The stranger may smell funny – an aftershave we don’t know anything about or like, the lingering scent from last night’s meal, chips or a curry, perhaps his bad breath. So many singular aspects to the stranger can be the defining of who he or she is to us – the reduction of the stranger or loved one to just one thing. We have to ask: is that right?
No, we all agree that it is not right, but it is practical and it happens all the time. It allows us to move on from this one encounter with another. The philosopher deals with this as one of the fundamentals of existence, calling it “the problem of intersubjectivity.” In other words, how can we deal with the other person? How can we deal with Thomas? Should we only call him “the doubter”?
Let’s consider some of the more interesting bits I picked up from my medieval source book. Let’s just start with the name, Thomas Didymos. Didymos means twin. We never hear about his brother, do we? Or it is his twin sister? What is their relationship? Often we make the joke about our “evil twin” when we have done something bad – we say, “Oh, it wasn’t me, it was my evil twin,” in order to absolve ourselves of blame. Perhaps this twin we attribute to Thomas is merely his alter ego? Or is it an explanation of someone being in two minds? Does this help us understand why the story of Thomas’ doubting appears in the gospel? Perhaps it might help us understand ourselves, when we are doubtful about something.
A more positive interpretation of his name is this: “because he deserved to pierce the deepness of divinity” The questions which Thomas’ doubt raised impels him into the mysteries of the incarnation or maybe he anticipates the philosopher’s intersubjectivity. Thomas elicits Jesus’ revelation, “I am the way, truth, and life.” So we have to say doubt is not the awful thing we normally consider it. Doubt, rather, drives us to truth.
Imagine if Thomas did not doubt – he would never have known the real person of Jesus: he would never have said that ultimate, “My Lord and my God!” would he? Thomas would have have pigeon- holed Jesus as “that strange character” and none of us would have heard Jesus’ revelation of himself as “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Thomas’ doubt drives him into his other mind. No longer is he in two minds, but he is a singular person with many facets.
We must learn more about Thomas, just as we should learn more about one another. This is the mark of agape the highest of christian aspirations, love. We may start with just one aspect of the person staring at us, but that facet allows us to look in and see many other perspectives in and through their eyes.
Let’s take the one aspect we know and open up Thomas the Twin’s life for ourselves. Let’s take Thomas out of his pigeon hole and learn about the value of his doubt in every aspect of life. When we can experience the infinite variety of life through this one aspect of Thomas, we might be able to do so with anyone who comes into our lives. We can experience the majesty of life in all its fullness in the travelling stranger in our midst, if only we would let that stranger fly into our lives.