Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Apr. 7, 2024

Posted by on Sun, Apr 7, 2024 in Easter, Sermons

The Second Sunday of Easter

Apr. 7, 2024

“Humans tend to think that because they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all true, says the contemplative. It is necessary to encounter the thing in itself.” Richard Rohr calls it Presence; a different way of “knowing and touching the moment … much more vulnerable, and leaves us without a sense of control.” Thomas had his idea of Jesus, and insisted on touching his wounds before he could ‘know’ the truth.

Thomas was ‘absent’ when Jesus came to the other ten and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them — he didn’t see Jesus, nor receive what they did, and so struggles to believe what they tell him. Even the most articulate among them might have been hard pressed to adequately convey what they witnessed, and it really is a pretty implausible story. So ‘unbelievable’ that in both the gospels of Mark and Luke the women who first see Jesus run to tell the others and those same men don’t believe them either.

What history has called Thomas’ doubt has a healthy role in growing faith, and there may have been more going on in how John’s gospel characterizes Thomas.

Elaine Pagels notes, “many scholars are now convinced that the New Testament Gospel of John…emerged from an intense debate over who Jesus was—or is.” After comparative research on the Gospels of John and Thomas (though Thomas is not in the recognized canon of the Bible), Pagels believes John’s gospel was written amidst controversy and to hold forth some views of Jesus and to resist others. It’s also good to remember we don’t know who actually wrote these scriptures, and so we use the names by which they were self identified; John and Thomas, as well as Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Thomas saw Jesus’ teaching as “knowing God through one’s own divinely given capacity, since all are created in the image of God.” John’s gospel encourages the reader to believe in Jesus, which ultimately helped form a more unified church. Thomas, with an emphasis on the individual’s search for God, did not. We engage both ways, to some extent, with some fluidity towards one or the other. 

Thomas is a first-hand sort of guy and he’s lit up from within with what he learns with Jesus and like the other disciples, the front row seat has transformed him. Living all along in those moments together must have felt electric. So being the only one not part of the big reveal is decisively isolating! Picture them all talking once, telling, describing, urging him to believe their words. I imagine a grieving Thomas stepping back from the enthusiastic barrage. 

Don’t we need to experience something for ourselves, at least at some level, to fully embrace it as our own? Who knew what falling in love was before you experienced it? What child believes or understands that the stove is hot before touching it? We can know some things by reason or rote and accept them intellectually, but tell me what your lived experience of God is—or tell me you have none, and we can talk for hours. And if none, we will help you look for it. To share my mine may be helpful and you are certainly free to borrow it, —until you catch sight of your own.

Today Thomas sounded defensive saying ‘Unless I touch…see…feel…for myself I will not believe.’ The minute Jesus entered the room I think Thomas knew. Jesus invites his touch, and then we never hear that he did so. He knows. And he resumes his deeply faithful walk with God, and goes farther than most with it.

Legend and tradition has it that Thomas landed in India 52 CE on India’s south west coast where he founded a church that flourished for 15 centuries before anyone back home knew anything about it. In the early 16th century Portuguese missionaries arrived in Goa to convert the people, and were surprised to be met by faithful Christians, who had functioned perfectly well for more than a millennium. The Mar Thoma Syrian Church is one of the oldest Christian denominations, with  more than a million members worldwide. It describes itself as “Apostolic in origin, Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, and Episcopal in character.” Thomas’ witness was real enough to reveal the gift of the risen Christ to them, and inspire them to live as such ever since his time there.

Pagels said, “Thomas expresses what would become a central theme of Jewish —and later, Christian— mysticism a thousand years later: that the ‘image of God’ is hidden within everyone, although most people remain unaware of its presence.”

What went through Thomas’ head that day he said he would not believe unless…? Why didn’t Jesus wait until I was here too? Why was I left out? His disappointment puts him at the center instead of Jesus and he makes a list of conditions to be met if he is to believe this resurrection story.

“To wrap your head around resurrection, whether you’re seeing it with your own eyes, or hearing about it from your best friend, requires an imaginative fortitude that wildly exceeds the average daily allotment.” (Carter Florence)

I said doubt can be part of a healthy faith life, and by that I mean we all have times we’d like to blame God for failing to heal, fix, reward, save, etc., and when we get stuck in that blaming doubt is nearby. It becomes more about what I want or what you or you want. That’s when to ask if we’re putting our ego in there first and letting disappointment warp our ‘faithful imagination.’ Sometimes we need to pause and ask; are we “stuck in the inability to change the subject from ourselves to God?” Thomas wanted to see Jesus just as they had, and was looking for vindication that he hadn’t. 

Once he experienced Jesus’ resurrection Thomas could return to putting God at the center, and he embarked on a mission of utter uncertainty. He left friends and family, home and country, walked or sailed right off the edge of his maps, in the opposite direction from where he’d last seen Jesus for himself, all to go and relay the extraordinary message as best he could. Instead of staying stuck there, he went forth with renewed faith to make the glory of God’s resurrection known to what some must have thought was the edge of the world. 

About seven years ago we had a visitor, we welcomed her on arrival, she smiled politely at the peace, and then after the service I greeted her at the door into coffee hour — where she burst into tears and wasn’t sure why. After we talked she said there was a sense of strangely indescribable relief in being here, albeit for the first time, and that she hadn’t known how very much she needed it. I think the ‘it’ was experiencing God’s ready presence surrounding her in community and speaking to her soul. She didn’t know one single person here, but she felt the risen God in the pew with her and in the body and blood of Christ she received. And she’s still here. It turns out that Thomas and John were both right. Amen.

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Tue., Apr. 7, 2026.