You are here20th April 2020

20th April 2020

By Ian Cardinal - Posted on 21 April 2020

Sunday after Easter 2016.


May what I say and what you hear be to the glory of the risen Lord in the Holy Trinity of God. Amen.


In the immortal words of Max Bygraves: "Listen, I want to tell a story". It is story I came across a year or two ago from a lady acting as guide to a party of schoolchildren going round Durham Cathedral. One of the things that she was showing them was a larger-than-life sculpture called Pieta, of Jesus lying on the ground at the feet of Mary. The sculptor [Fenwick Lawson], had worked with the grain of the wood to bring out the sorrow of the figures. There were nail holes in his hands and feet, and also pock marks from when the sculpture was spattered by molten lead dropping from the roof of York Minster, where it was on display during that devastating fire some years ago.

I've not seen it myself, but I'm told that they add to the sense of suffering borne by Jesus's body. Anyway, while she was telling them the stories it portrayed, one little boy was busy putting his fingers into the nail holes, and she says she was absolutely compelled to ask him the question, but still felt a tingle at the inevitable response; "My names Thomas miss".

A charming story, that only goes to reinforce the universal perception of Thomas the twin, as "Doubting Thomas". But I'd like to take a minute or two to think about whether this rather negative nomenclature is either accurate or fair. And I’d like to suggest that Thomas has had a raw deal from history.

Whatever the reason for Thomas missing Jesus' 1st resurrection appearance to the apostles in that locked room, we can't doubt the enormous regret this caused him. He couldn't do anything about it however, he couldn't just make Jesus appear again, he had to wait. In this context, John’s almost casual remark: "a week later-----Jesus came and stood among them" is important. A whole week had passed; and it is now the Day of Resurrection again. 7 whole days of nothing happening. What had Thomas done during that time?

Well for a start, the remarkable thing is that Thomas was still with the others. Far from doubting the testimony of his colleagues, he appears to have believed them, and stuck around. Now I know it comes across as a statement that he had no faith that Jesus had risen from the dead, if we just see his words "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my fingers in the mark of the spear in his side I will not believe"

But yet, on the contrary, something in his faith was keeping him, someone for whom seeing was believing, with the others, waiting to see what would happen next.

Saint Luke records (C 20 V 41) other disciples as "disbelieving for joy and still wondering", after they were invited to touch Jesus' wounds. Even after touching, which Thomas hasn't yet done, it was still too much for some of them to take in. Having seen Jesus die a horrible death, they found it hard to make sense of seeing him alive again. So I wonder whether we do Thomas something of an injustice, and misunderstand how he spoke those words.

He was looking for no more than what the others had experienced, and what we don't know is the nature of his tone of voice. I'm going to suggest that it could have been one of amazed delight: he could have been meaning; "I'll be able to take this in properly, when I've seen it for myself". Until then, he, like some of the others, was disbelieving for joy, and left still wondering.

So, instead of sulking because he had been left out, Thomas committed himself to staying with the disciples, until faith yielded to sight. And he had to wait that whole week, but the one thing we do know is that—wait—he-- did. And far from being out of the norm for Thomas, this fits in with the rock solid commitment that he displayed when Jesus was about to walk into danger, as he set out to go to Lazarus’ tomb. Let's not forget that this is the Thomas who said at that time: "Let’s go also, that we may die with him". (John C 11 V 16)

That level of allegiance and faith would not have been abandoned easily, especially if the people who were reporting that Jesus had appeared to them alive, where those very people he trusted most. Or to put it into modern language, he needed time to get his head round it, until when, he was willing to be carried along by their testimony.

We mustn't under estimate his loyalty and devotion. He was steadfast in his commitment to Jesus and the other disciples the whole of that week of testing silence. When Jesus does appear to him with the same offer he made to the others the previous week, Thomas's exclamation "my Lord and my God" was the most sure, instantaneous, response of any of the people to whom Jesus revealed himself.

It suggests that he had pondered deeply, the implications of what the others told him.

According to early Christian tradition, Thomas, like all the other simple, generally uneducated, Galilean peasant's who had once met in fear behind locked doors, having seen and touched the risen Jesus, set out on evangelising journeys that would lead to either exile, or death, or both, rather than deny the conviction of their faith in the Resurrection. We understand that Thomas went 1st to Edessa in Syria, and then in A.D. 52, to India, where the Mar Thoma Syrian Church still claims him as its founder today, and where he himself was martyred, by being stabbed:

I think that we are very lucky that the Gospels are not afraid to let doubt sit alongside the resurrection appearances, just as many of the Psalms let faith and doubt interact in a curative, prayerful tension. If you remember, even at Jesus's final appearance to his disciples, we are told they worshipped him, but that "some doubted". (Matthew C 20 8V 16)

Undoubtedly, much pastoral work takes place as a response to the apparent silence of God, and we should learn from Jesus’ example, to resist the impulse to rush people towards a cast-iron certainty, that dishonours faithful questioning.

Thomas set us an example of Easter Alleluias that embraces doubt. More than that, for me, Thomas generated that blessing of recognition and acceptance of the faith that we share, here together in this church today, when Jesus told him: "Blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet have come to believe".

Alleluia, Alleluia,