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Readings: 2nd Sunday of Easter

28 March 2013

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Exodus 14.10-end, 15.20-21; Acts 5.27-32; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-end

Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

THOMAS has had a raw deal from history: defining him as "Doubting Thomas" seems unfair if we look at his story more closely.

For whatever reason, Thomas missed Jesus's first resurrection appearance to the group in the locked room. No doubt this caused him enormous regret, even remorse. He could do nothing about it, however; he could not 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; it was now the day of resurrection again. There had been seven days of nothing happening. What had Thomas done during that time?

The remarkable thing is that Thomas was still with the others. Far from doubting the testimony of the other disciples, he appears to have believed them, and stuck around. This does not come across if we see his words - "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my finger in the mark of the nails in his side, I will not believe" - as a statement that he had no faith that Jesus had risen from the dead.

His faith was keeping him, someone for whom seeing was believing (after all, he was a twin, and was perhaps used to mistaken identities), with the others, waiting for what happened next.

Luke (23.41) records other disciples as "disbelieving for joy and still wondering", after they were invited to touch Jesus's wounds. Even after touching, which Thomas had not yet done, it was too much for some of them to take in. Having seen Jesus die horribly, they found it hard to make sense of seeing him alive again. I wonder whether we do Thomas something of an injustice, and misunderstand how he spoke the words.

He was looking for no more than the others had experienced, and his tone of voice could have been one of amazed delight: "I'll be able to take this in properly only when I see it for myself." Until then, he, like some of the others, was disbelieving for joy, and still wondering.

So, instead of sulking because he was left out, Thomas committed himself to staying with the disciples, until faith yielded to sight. It turned out to take a week, but he stuck it out. This fits with the rock-solid commitment that he had displayed when Jesus was about to walk into danger by going to Lazarus's tomb, and Thomas said: "Let us go also, that we may die with him" (John 11.16).

That level of allegiance and faith would not be abandoned easily, especially if people he trusted were reporting that Jesus had appeared to them, alive. In modern parlance, he needed time to get his head round all this, and until then, he was willing to be carried by their testimony.

We should not underestimate his loyalty and devotion. He was steadfast in his commitment to Jesus and the other disciples for that whole week of testing silence.

When Jesus did appear to him, with the same offer made to the others the previous week, his 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 the implications of what the others told him. So convinced was he, tradition tells us, that he travelled to southern India to proclaim the resurrection; and the Mar Thoma Churches there bear his name.

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 curative, prayerful tension. Even at Jesus's final appearance to the disciples, they worshipped him, but "some doubted" (Matthew 28.16).

Much pastoral work is a response to the apparent silence of God, and we can learn from Jesus's example to resist the impulse to rush people towards the cast-iron certainty that dishonours faithful questions. Thomas sets us an example of Easter alleluias that embrace doubt.

Faced with another startling victory snatched out of the jaws of death, Miriam and the women sang, in possibly the oldest text in the Bible: "Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously." Thomas would echo that, doubts and all.

 

 

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