This week’s talk/sermon

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SUNDAY SERVICE 3rd July 2022

Talk by Peter Walley

‘Doubting Thomas?’ – Something strange is going on when a crowd of people start celebrating at the sight of a scarred and wounded body. When did the sight of someone disfigured or tortured last fill you with joy? Surely a victorious body like Christ’s, a body that has conquered sin and death, that has broken out of the grave with radiant new life, will be whole and without blemish? It seems that the cross has left Jesus marked for eternity. Charles Wesley took this up in his lovely hymn Lo he comes with clouds descending

                Those dear tokens of his Passion

                Still his dazzling body bears,

                Cause of endless exultation

                To his ransomed worshippers:

                                With what rapture,

                Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Wesley was reflecting on the picture from Revelation of the worshippers surrounding the lamb who was slain, in complete awe of Jesus and what he had done for them. Well here, in the locked upper room we read that the disciples did indeed rejoice when they met the risen wounded Christ, but Thomas when he hears about it afterwards was sceptical. Poor old Thomas! –  Where had he gone to? Was he taking an urgent phone call? Had he popped out to collect a takeaway meal? We can imagine him returning with the food: ‘Pizza and chips, seven beef sausages and chips, two cod and chips, three pancake rolls, a large bottle of diet coke and two tubs of Ben and Jerry’s!’

When the door is finally unbolted, he finds everyone so overwhelmed and excited by meeting Jesus that no one is interested in eating. He hears astonishing stories of Jesus appearing to them. ‘We have seen the Lord!’

How would you or I have felt? Thomas is remembered for his doubts, but he might equally be remembered for his unfortunate timing.

Apart from this resurrection story Thomas only makes two other appearances in the gospels. We first meet him after Jesus had announced that he was returning to an area where only recently his life had been seriously threatened. When the disciples failed to change his mind, Thomas turned to the others and said: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11:16). Whether this was meant sarcastically or out of misplaced bravado we don’t know, but he shows no understanding of what Jesus is saying or doing.

On another occasion, Jesus was preparing his followers for his coming ‘departure’. He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for him. ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’ he says. Thomas bluntly contradicts this statement. ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ His honesty or cheek is rewarded as he draws from Jesus one of the most famous sayings he ever gave ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14: 6).

Taken together then, these three stories give us a picture of a very blunt no nonsense kind of person. Every Christian community needs a character like Thomas – someone willing to ask the questions that no one else dares to. Such people are truthful and keep their friends truthful too.

Secondly, it is important to recognise that in this resurrection story Thomas in some way represents all the disciples. The Gospels record that they all doubted the resurrection at one point or another so maybe we need to look at the relationship of doubt and faith in the Christian life, because the popular Christian understanding of faith too easily leaves us feeling that our doubts and questions are not acceptable. We must hide them. Doubt is seen as a lack of faith, as the opposite of believing. The tragedy of taking this view is that it has nothing to give us when we most need help. I am sure many of us have thought or said something like: ‘I know I shouldn’t doubt, and I should have faith, but I do find it hard to understand why God allowed this to happen.’

At those times thankfully it is often those around who can carry us when a tragedy or a loss occurs when we find it most hard to stand. In that way we truly become the body of Christ. And if we are in that dark place God can cope with our doubts, our questions and even our anger. In the Bible, it is primarily through the Psalms that we see a truly honest approach to God. All human emotions are expressed, sometimes very strongly indeed. Jesus’ response to Thomas’ declaration should also give us hope. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed…’

A Christian writer David Runcorn put it like this:

‘Risen life means learning to live between the absence and the presence of Christ and to love the space in-between. For to know and experience the risen Jesus, Jesus the Lord, is an absence that is never abandonment and a presence that is not possession. May that be so for us – Amen.