Sermon delivered April 26, 2009.
Christ is Risen! This is our greeting of the past week since the celebration of Pascha and we will continue to use it for the next five weeks in order to spread the Good News that Jesus our Lord has defeated sin and death. I think the pious tradition of constantly exchanging this greeting is to help reinforce the message with in us that truly Christ is risen. In other words, by repeating it over and over we help dispel any and all doubt about it.
The Apostle Thomas tends to get a bad reputation because of his doubt about the resurrection of Jesus. The label "Doubting Thomas" is a familiar and much used in our culture to point out people who are skeptical regarding matters of faith, not just in God but in anything. However, before we get up on our high horse, sneering down at Thomas, let's take a closer look at him and the other apostles in today's gospel reading of Antipascha (John 20:19-31).
The resurrected Christ appears the first time to the apostles but Thomas was not present (v.24). The other disciples tell him that they saw the Lord but Thomas does not believe them (v.25). Lev Gillet points out in his book, "The Year of the Grace of the Lord," that the other ten apostles also did not believe in the resurrection, in this case the witness of the women who went to the tomb, until Christ appeared to them Himself. Their unbelief and fear is represented by the shut and locked doors of the house where they were (v.19, 26).
Now Thomas was very emphatic and specific about his unbelief. He said "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" (v.25). The fact of the matter is that each one of us is a 'Doubting Thomas' because all of us put conditions on God in order to believe in Him or give Him more of our trust. "I'll believe You God when you heal me or my loved one. I'll do this for You, when You get me this or that." I believe that some people don't attend church regularly because, whether they're conscious of it or not, they have put some specific condition upon God that has not yet been met. The ancient Church Father, Peter Chrysologos, says that the locked up house also represents our heart. We say, "Don't come in here unless I know who you are and that I can trust you."
Thankfully, the risen Christ is not bound by a rock over a tomb, nor by locked doors of a house nor of a human heart. Christ appears a second time the apostle and Thomas is present (v.26). As He did the first time (v.21), Jesus immediately says, "Peace be with you" (v.26). "The peace He gave was Himself, since His presence always brings tranquility of soul" (Cyril). It's as if Christ is saying, "It's ok, you can trust me." Immediately, Jesus addresses Thomas telling him to "see Me and touch Me, do not doubt but believe" (v.27).
I assume that each one of us is here today because sometime, somewhere the risen Christ has appeared to us, spoken to us or touched us dramatically and movingly in someway. Either that or we are looking for the risen Christ, waiting for Him to do the same for us. If the latter is true, then we have come to the right place. "The disciples were assembled on the eighth day when Jesus appeared among them, a practice that still continues as the church gathers on the eight day to receive its risen Lord in the Eucharist" (Cyril). Perhaps our motivation to look for the risen Christ is because we have been hurt, we suffer and we're looking for comfort. Again, we've come to the right place for "The wounds(of Christ) that brought us healing also heal unbelieving hearts" (Leo). "Throughout this account, Christ shows His patience with Thomas' lack of faith, and ours (Cyril), since he knows that many blessings that lead to resurrection are indeed hidden under the outward veil of suffering (Ambrose).
After Thomas sees and touches the risen Christ, he confesses Him "My Lord and my God!" (v.28). Christ responds by saying, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (v.29). Thus, "Jesus proclaims the special blessedness of those who, without debate, believe as soon as they inwardly hear the word of the Master, for they have recognized a unique and loved tone of voice in this word" (YGL). "So that those of us who were absent, like Thomas, should take to heart Jesus' imperative to stop doubting and believe" (Gregory of Nazanzius).
Why? Because, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb.11:1). Why? Because, "If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21).
At the end of the passage, it says, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."
"For the rest of the Church (unlike the Apostles themselves), the Holy Spirit working through the word of scripture brings the vision of Christ It is to Christ's word preserved in this written document (John's Gospel) that the Church is expected to turn as to its teacher" (Tarazi).
So to all of us Christ is saying, "Do not be faithless, but believing," and "believe without seeing Me but you will only see Me if you see My wounds in your life and touch the wounds of others in order to help them and heal them. By doing this, you will have life in My name. Amen! Christ is Risen!
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.