In this sermon preached at St Michael’s, the Revd Lynda Taylor reflects on the story of ‘doubting Thomas’, which reminds us that our journey of belief can be confusing and far from straightforward. But Jesus still stands alongside us and says ‘Peace be with you’.
Preacher: Revd Lynda Taylor
Date: April 8th 2018 (Easter 2)
Reading: John 20:19-end
Down the centuries the Church has sometimes seemed to give priority to the spiritual over the physical, but the Church also recognises God’s commitment to his creation and all his creatures in the doctrine of the Incarnation. Whatever anyone else may try to tell you, never forget that the Christian faith is a historically-based faith – with strong historical evidence pointing to the physical life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and it is a faith which values and celebrates our earthly existence alongside our spiritual destiny.
We don’t know what the disciples’ immediate reaction to seeing the resurrected Jesus was; but we can imagine that it was probably initially one of shock and disbelief, and that it took a little while before they reached the stage of believing what their eyes were telling them. It’s perhaps no surprise that Jesus needed to repeat those words ‘Peace be with you’ by way of reassurance as much as greeting. And eventually, seeing did lead to believing: John tells us ‘the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord’.
But there was at least one disciple absent on that first remarkable evening: Thomas. The gospels don’t tell us why Thomas wasn’t there on that first occasion when Jesus appeared to his disciples. But perhaps we should be grateful that Thomas wasn’t there because it allowed John to include in his gospel an additional and significant encounter with Jesus which took place a week later. Once again it is the resurrected physical body of Jesus that is placed centre stage, banishing any lingering doubts about whether God is concerned with flesh and blood as well as the spirit.
There are only a handful of references in the Gospels and in Acts to the disciple called Thomas, but we do know that he was a straightforward and honest man, a loyal friend and follower who was not slow to ask Jesus questions when he didn’t understand something. Jesus is not offended by Thomas’ doubt or scepticism but responds in a direct and loving way, encouraging him to experience the reality of the resurrection for himself through touch. And, as a result, Thomas comes to a deeper belief and acknowledgement of who Jesus truly is for him – his Lord and his God.
This passage in John surely speaks powerfully to all of us about what it means to meet Jesus, to hear and see him, even to have a sense of touch, and to grow in faith, even in the midst of chaotic and fear-filled circumstances of our lives. The experience of the disciples on that evening of this first resurrection day is one we should take encouragement from. For it still happens today.
In the chaos of grief, fear and bewilderment, Jesus came to stand among his disciples – speaking words of peace and reassurance. Jesus still does so today and there are some of us here who will be able to testify to that reality in our daily lives.
And if your own life just now seems to be marked by grief, fear, bewilderment, disappointment or some other emotion which troubles you or causes you to want to hide away behind closed doors like the disciples – then I pray that you may know Jesus standing alongside you. I pray that you may hear him saying ‘Peace be with you’. Look for the presence of Jesus nearby, listen for his words to you as you read the bible or as you pray or as you share with Christian friends.
As the disciples struggled to know what to do next, Jesus breathed his spirit on them and gave them a mission – the task of unlocking the doors and going out into their neighbourhood to exercise his ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. Today, Jesus still breathes his spirit on his disciples, sending us out to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation in our families, in our neighbourhood and further afield. I wonder where God is calling you to bring a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation this week – in your home, in your workplace, in our church?
Thomas struggled with his doubts and his lack of understanding. It took time and the support of others before Thomas finally came to believe in Jesus as Lord and God. His friends and fellow disciples helped him by recounting and sharing their earlier experience of meeting Jesus. Thomas’ honesty as he spoke aloud of his doubts helped to open up a safe space so those doubts could be dealt with. And his close encounter with the risen Jesus finally opened his eyes to see the way, the truth and the life standing before him.
We too need to recognise that coming to belief in Jesus as Lord and God can take time. It needs good friends who will share their own experience of coming to faith in Jesus. It needs open and honest discussion about the things in the Christian faith that we struggle with or find difficult to understand, and the doubts that hold us back from growing into the people God calls us to be. It needs a personal encounter with Jesus – through the pages of the Bible, through prayer, through the life of our church family. If that rings bells with you, then feel free to come and share your doubts or your confusion with David or myself – we would be happy to talk further with you about your faith journey.
Last Sunday Nigel and I celebrated Easter Sunday with thousands of others in York Minster and the service included a chance for us to remember and renew our baptismal vows to follow Jesus which was a lovely way to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary together. Yes, we did get married on April Fools’ Day! Moments of remembrance and renewal such as these are important in our lives and in our journeys of faith. And over the coming months there will be confirmation services at both the cathedral on Pentecost Sunday and in our deanery area in early July. If you have not been confirmed, this may be of interest to you.
Today’s gospel passage reminds us that John wrote his book so that, just like Thomas and his fellow disciples, you and I and all of us may come to see and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and may come to live full, fruitful and faithful lives reflecting that truth.
Alleluia. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!