Given on Sunday 30th March 2008 at The Abbey by Revd Robert Greene
A lot can happen in seven days, even in biblical times. We have just once again relived the events of Holy Week, a week that saw Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph and only five days later dying on a cross. By the eighth day the tomb in which he was buried is found to be empty and the disciples report that they have 'seen' Jesus, that is, all except Thomas who was not present when Jesus first appeared. And now another week has passed. Some weeks seem to fly by, while others can seem to drag: it often depends on how we have spent the time. We remember Thomas to this day for his doubt, but that only lasted for a week. It may have been a week of turmoil for him as he struggled to come to terms with what the disciples told him, and the obvious change that he saw in their lives, yet he being the person he was, needed more than what others told him. "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". This is very emphatic and specific. He needed proof beyond all doubt that Jesus was alive.
So a week later the disciples are gathered together, and this time Thomas is with them. Without asking, Jesus approaches Thomas: 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.' But Thomas doesn't do either of these. Instead he makes the greatest proclamation of faith to be found in the New Testament, "My Lord and my God". When it came to the crunch 'seeing' and 'touching' were not necessary for believing. After all there were some who had witnessed miracles of healing by Jesus, yet questioned their validity, either because they refused to accept what had happened or objected to it happening on the Sabbath. For Thomas, who desperately wanted to believe, he had after all been a loyal follower of Jesus, when faced with his Risen Lord, explodes with faith.
We may envy those first disciples and Thomas who knew Jesus, and shared those Resurrection experiences, but just as then, our faith in Jesus can never be dependent on physical proof. There were many who saw Jesus in his own lifetime as simply a man, the son of the local builder, and said as much. There were others who saw him as a troublemaker and impostor who could endanger the whole political situation, and were prepared to hand him over to the occupying power.
The notion that here was the Son of God was preposterous and offensive: indeed it was the charge of blasphemy that brought about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The matter of 'faith' never entered their minds, so 'seeing' and 'touching' ultimately does not determine faith.
But notice Jesus' response to Thomas' profession of faith: "Have you believed me because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe". Thomas bridges the gap between those who did touch and see Jesus and those since, for whom this has not been possible, and that of course includes us. The blessedness of belief is really to those who believe, not to those who see, and that belief is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was by the operation of the promised Spirit in the heart that Thomas professed his faith in Jesus, and it is by the operation of the same Holy Spirit that we too make that profession of faith.
It is perhaps also good to look at the bigger picture, because to this day there is in southern India a church called the Mar Thoma Church, and the tradition is that it was founded by St. Thomas. Certainly when the Portuguese landed there in the sixteenth century they found a Christian Church, and to their discredit they forced it to become part of the Roman Catholic Church, and many manuscripts were destroyed, but the Church has survived. We need to remember that 'Doubting Thomas' became 'Believing Thomas', and possibly was responsible for one of the most significant missionary outreaches in Christendom. Out of his scepticism and questioning there blossomed full-blooded faith, and the journey he made can encourage us all. If we are genuinely seeking, Jesus will reveal himself to us in one way or another. It may not be a sudden revelation. It may take some time and be a gradual process of growth in faith and conviction. However it happens, conviction in the Resurrection of Jesus will change us and our lives, and with God there are infinite possibilities.