A Sermon for 2 Easter
Sometimes history is not kind. Think of Saint Thomas the Apostle, for example. Thomas was a follower of Jesus from near the beginning. He traveled around Galilee, Samaria and Judea with his Master for the better part of three years, sharing the hardships of perpetual life on the road and the opposition of the ruling elites that Jesus had aroused. Thomas, like the rest of the Twelve, had been given “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.” He had seen with his own eyes the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers cleansed and the deaf hear. He had been there as the dead were raised up and the poor had good news preached to them, and Thomas had rejoiced in his heart at these mighty works of God.
Thomas was as committed to the cause of our Lord as any other apostle, perhaps more than most. When Jesus announced that, despite the risk, He had decided to travel to Bethany to visit his ailing friend Lazarus, some of the other apostles tried to stop our Lord from going--but not Thomas. No, Thomas would follow Jesus wherever He went, exhorting his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Saint Thomas was, in fact, a faithful man and a dedicated servant of Christ who longed to follow His Master with all of his heart. And yet the world remembers him pejoratively as “doubting Thomas” because of the Gospel lesson we have heard today.
This is terribly unjust and inaccurate, for Thomas was not a man made for “doubting.” He was a man of conviction—a believer. Thomas had seen mighty deeds of power at the hands of Jesus and he had believed. He believed that the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the other prophets were being fulfilled in his Master’s ministry. Liberation was coming through the work of God’s anointed, and it was coming soon. Our king and savior draweth nigh. Hosanna in the highest! Jesus of Nazareth is the blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord! Thomas believed that absolutely as he threw his cloak on the donkey and followed our Lord into Jerusalem, shouting for joy. … And then it was all over in an instant.
No, Thomas was certainly not a doubter. He was a man who knew the truth. He knew what Roman thugs could do with their metal-and-bone-studded whips. He knew what nine inch spikes do to a human body when they are driven through hands and feet. He knew what it meant when a clear fluid mingled with the blood that gushed from a spear wound in a man’s side. And he knew with certitude that Jewish peasants convicted of high treason against the Empire did not come down off of their crosses alive. The mangled corpse of Jesus was a cold, hard fact, as cold and hard as the stone that sealed his borrowed tomb. There was no room for doubt.
We don’t know where Thomas was on Easter when the rest of the surviving apostles encountered our risen Lord. Perhaps he was simply too broken hearted after the terrible events of Friday and couldn’t bear to be around people. Wherever Thomas was, he missed something big that Sunday.
“We have seen the Lord!" the other apostles told Thomas, brimming with joy. I can practically hear them now as they filled in the details: “Actually, Thomas, the Lord first appeared to Mary Magdalene and Salome and some of the other women. Mary didn’t immediately recognize Him. She thought He was a gardener, but when He spoke to her she knew Jesus had come back to life. Oh, there were also two other disciples traveling to Emmaus. They saw the risen Lord, too. At first they didn’t recognize Him either. But after He had talked with them about the Scriptures for a while and they sat down to break bread together, they suddenly knew it was the risen Jesus—just before He disappeared from their sight.” And then they gave Thomas the clincher. “The ten of us were all here in this room, with the doors locked, when the risen Lord appeared to us! He bid us “Peace” and then He breathed on us, telling us that we were receiving the Spirit and that we now have the authority to forgive sins. Then He asked for some broiled fish, and we watched Him eat it.” That was certainly a lot of information for Thomas to take in!
Thomas knew these people well and he loved them like brothers, but how could he possibly take what they were telling him at face value? Thomas knew death, just as you and I do. And there was absolutely no doubt that Jesus had died on that Roman cross. But Thomas had also seen people raised from the dead. Jesus certainly had the power to restore the dead to life while He walked the earth. Thomas had seen it with his own eyes. Lazarus of Bethany, the daughter of Jairus, and a young man from Nain had all been raised from the dead at the command of Jesus. But those people had come back from the dead unchanged. They simply got up and they were the same people they had always been. No one would have mistaken them for someone else. They couldn’t walk through locked doors. They couldn’t hop from one town to another in the blink of an eye. These stories about Jesus on Easter Sunday described something quite different. If Jesus had in fact risen from the grave the way Thomas’ friends were now describing, then He must now partake of life in an entirely new way—transcending normal human limitations. If these resurrection stories were true, then the known boundaries between life and death, between the material and spiritual, between time and eternity, had been fundamentally redrawn.
The other apostles, the women at the tomb, and the disciples at Emmaus had each glimpsed this new Reality on Easter Sunday. Thomas would do so as well a week later when the risen Lord appeared to him. And when Thomas saw the risen Christ, when he gazed upon the glorified scars in our Lord’s hands and side, he did not doubt. He believed. With breathtaking insight St. Thomas became the first person to confess the true nature of the One who had become flesh and dwelt among us. “My Lord and my God!” the astonished disciple cried. The entire planet must have reverberated with those five words: “My Lord and my God.”
This heart-felt cry of St. Thomas was unique. The Blessed Virgin Mary had quietly treasured up what she knew about our Savior’s Incarnation in her heart, apparently telling no one. At Caesarea Philippi St. Peter had confessed Jesus to be “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” but when Peter said this he did not yet understand what our Lord’s Messiahship really meant. After all, the kings of ancient Israel had been called “sons of God,” so Peter’s confession was not recognized for the full truth it contained until after the Resurrection. The demons of Hell had recognized Jesus as “the Holy One of God” during His earthly ministry of exorcism, but our Lord had silenced those demons Himself. So the honor of recognizing and confessing the full deity of our Savior fell to Saint Thomas alone. On that first Sunday after Easter “doubting Thomas” became the first human being in history to tell the world the whole Truth—the only Truth that saves: the man Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen One, is GOD Almighty.
There is a deep longing in every human heart to know God and to enjoy Him forever. You and I were designed for eternal fellowship with our Creator, as genuine as Adam and Eve once enjoyed with Him in the Garden. All human spirituality since the Fall has been, in some sense, an attempt to restore our broken communion with the Divine. Unfortunately, not all religious paths lead back to the Creator God. Today’s Gospel lesson shows us clearly where our quest must have its end, if it is to end in Life. If we truly want to find our way back to God, we must meet Him where He wills to be found—in the person of the Father’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God Incarnate. If our spiritual quest does not take us to Bethlehem, and Calvary, and Christ’s rocky tomb on Easter morning, then it will be fruitless. The one true God is a loving Savior, who stands before a fallen world and offers it His own broken and glorified Body as the Way to eternal life. Even now He entreats us, just as He did Saint Thomas the Believer so long ago: “Do not be faithless, but believing.”