Homily preached by the Reverend Adam Yates
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2011
I’m afraid that Thomas has received a bad rap over the past few millennia. For many years he was the example of “weak” faith, faith that needed “proof.” More recently, liberal Christians have reclaimed him as an example of the importance that doubt plays in our faith formation, which is absolutely true. Yet still the focus is on his doubt, and the focus is so much on his doubt that poor Thomas becomes known only for his doubt. We title him “Doubting Thomas” and this Sunday where we remember his story becomes known informally as Doubting Thomas Sunday. The writers of the Lectionary then put his story on the Sunday after Easter. After such a huge celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, of God’s endurance beyond death, “Doubting Thomas” is a big old wet blanket.
When we look at the text however, it is hard to see why Thomas was singled out for his doubt, for he asked only to see and experience what the other disciples had seen and experienced themselves and he had missed. Further, it is not like the other disciples had some pious faith in Jesus’ resurrection. They hadn’t exactly believed the story from the women who discovered the empty tomb until they saw Jesus themselves. There’s really nothing exemplary of Thomas’s doubt when compared to the doubt of the other disciples. If the other disciples hadn’t believed the word of the women who encountered the resurrection the first, why should Thomas have believed their story? If anything, this is just as easily a story about tardy Thomas and the importance of being at church functions on time.
If we can peel back the layer of doubt that we have focused on for so long, we can see that there is something else also happening in this story. Under this veneer of doubt is Thomas’ desire for an encounter with the risen Christ, a bodily, physical encounter. You see, faith is not a thing of abstract theological formulations, logical explorations of the divine, or carefully crafted proofs because ultimately faith is much more than a belief of the mind—you cannot “think” yourself into faith!
We are spiritual, physical, thinking creations and as Episcopalians, we believe that our faith is formed not by someone telling us the right things to believe, but by our real encounters with Christ, our repeated encounters with the Living God! We encounter God when we gather together to celebrate the sacraments, we encounter God in our neighbors, friends, and enemies, and we encounter God at our shoulder as we go out and do God’s work in the world. What’s more, these real and repeated encounters with God lead us to an understanding of our faith that reason alone never could. When Thomas did finally encounter the risen Jesus, he did not simply believe then that Jesus had actually come back from the dead. No, through this very real encounter, Thomas’ faith grew and he saw that Jesus was not just their teacher; that he was not just the messiah, but that Jesus was God. Thomas is the very first person in the Gospel of John to recognize Jesus for who he was, the very first person to see that it was God who stood before him.
So, yes, this is a story of doubt, but it is also a story of faith and encounter with the living God. It is a story of Thomas who pursued God, desiring to encounter the risen Jesus. It is a story of God’s response to Thomas’ pursuit. It is a story of the expansive faith born of our encounters with God.