In the Synoptic Gospels Thomas is only mentioned as one of the twelve; but in John’s Gospel, Thomas’ words are recorded on three different occasions. The first time is in Chapter 11 after the death of Lazarus and Jesus wants to go to Bethany. Although the other disciples attempt to dissuade Jesus, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”[i] At the last supper during the long discourse following the washing of the disciples feet Jesus begins to explain that he must leave to prepare a place for the disciples. “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”[ii] The third time Thomas speaks is the Sunday following the Resurrection of Jesus. Thomas was not present on Easter Sunday evening when Jesus appeared to the other disciples. When Thomas does return the rest tell him that Jesus appeared to them, but Thomas refuses to believe it and says to the others, “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.”[iii] What follows seven days later is Jesus’ confrontation of Thomas’ lack of faith in what the other disciples told him. Although Thomas makes a profound profession of faith when he encounters the risen Lord, he will always be remembered as “Doubting Thomas”.
Thomas is far more complicated than to be known only as the doubter. He certainly did doubt, but he also demonstrates a sense of stoicism and practicality in his approach to faith in Christ. In the first episode Thomas is willing to suffer and die with Jesus. This stoic quality is incongruent with the man who doubts that Christ rose from the dead. In the second episode, Thomas is asking what appears to be genuine interest in following Jesus, but he is not clear about where Jesus is going. There are all sorts of arguments about Thomas’ and the other disciples’ lack of faith and understanding; but he does ask the question. It is the third episode that forces Thomas to be remembered along with all the other nonbelievers. Let’s face it; Thomas got a bum rap in John’s Gospel. We don’t remember Peter as “Peter the Denier”, or the young man, sometimes known as Mark or John Mark, in Mark’s Gospel who followed the arrested Jesus, but ran away naked when the Temple guard grabbed his clothing. There is no reference to “Naked Mark”. We could remember the rest as “Afraid Andrew, Cowardly Philip, Deserter James” and so on because the disciples deserted Jesus when he was arrested. The point is that we do not remember any of them by these monikers except for poor Thomas.
Perhaps I sympathize with Thomas because his reactions are so often mirrored in our reactions. I think there are times when we are stoical about things that we are getting ready to face or going though. There are times when we stand up for our faith and what we believe and do not give even a second thought to what criticism might follow. There are times when it is important to ask questions about things that are not clear to us. Thomas was asking Jesus for direction; don’t we do the same thing in our prayer life. Finally, is our faith so crystal clear that we never question the Scriptures, the Creeds, the teaching of the Church and the Church’s direction about certain matters?
The revelation of God did not cease with the close of the Apostolic Age. God continues to teach, to disclose God’s love and will throughout all the ages of humankind. Thomas’ statement that gave him the nickname of “doubting” was answered in just seven days by a direct appearance of Jesus. Blessed are you who continue to hope and wait for answers all the while remaining faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.
A blessed Eastertide to all of you!
[i] John 11:16b
[ii] Ibid, 14:5-6
[iii] Ibid, 20:25b
~ Fr. Al Jewson
How many resurrections have you experienced in your life? This is a question much deeper than the number of Easter Sundays you have celebrated and it speaks directly to this life rather than the Last Judgment. If we are content to cast the word, “resurrection,” in its narrower sense then it means only to rise to life after death; but, if we are willing to think beyond narrow parameters, then the word, “resurrection,” takes on a whole new perspective. Do you think that Jesus intended the narrow sense of the word when he said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”? (John 12:24) Biblical scholars and theologians from our catholic Traditions do not think so. They have continued to speak of resurrected life in terms of reformation.
So often we think the word “reformation” only refers to an event that occurred in the sixteenth century. Reformation is not a past event, but rather, a continuing process in which the followers of Jesus Christ conform over and again to the Paschal pattern of Christ’s dying and rising. The Apostle Paul certainly believed that resurrected life is a process of becoming and not something static. He wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) He reminded the Ephesians and us that, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”(Ephesians 4:15&23)
How many resurrections must you and I experience in our lives, in the life of the broader Church, and in the life of St. Paul’s Church? If we are being called to conform our lives, that is our personal lives and the life of the Church, over and again to the Paschal pattern of Christ’s dying and rising, then it is a continual process. It is a reformation, “re-forming”, of old ways to new ways, ways that speak the message of Christ to new people hungry for salvation. It is a resurrection from dying to self and patterns that do not produce fruit (John 12: 24) to the reforming of self in an ongoing encounter with the living and risen Lord. St. Paul’s Church is continually being called to conform her mind and ways to the mind of her namesake, the Resurrected Christ.
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Every year on the first day of spring, Snoopy, the sagacious beagle from the late Charles Schulz comic strip, performed a dance to honor spring. As he twirled and hopped across a landscape bedecked with spring flowers and greening grasses, he recited an ode to spring. The last year Snoopy appeared in his dance to spring, snow began to fall and eventually covered Snoopy and the landscape with a mask of white, and, in the end, he stood frozen in the timeless warp of winter.
Spring is upon us. We have had a mild winter only to be greeted by snow late in the season. A late Canadian cold front brought frozen temperatures and a setback to spring colors and budding new life. The early plants – budding jonquils, daffodils and hyacinths were damaged. How fragile new life can be! The long anticipated colors of spring faded into winter grays and browns, setting back our own dance to new and emerging life. However, we are not like the cycles of the seasons, we are springtime people. Easter is a little more than a week away – our time for celebration of new and renewed life. We are Resurrection people, people of the empty tomb!
In St. John’s account of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene came to an empty tomb early on that first Easter morning. Her dance to the spring of new life became frozen in the timeless warp of the death of Jesus on Good Friday, and now, she comes to mourn what could have been but is no more. Mary had faith, but faith based more on her expectations of Jesus than on Jesus himself. She stands next to an empty tomb weeping, not yet recognizing the newness of life, not yet realizing that she has become a Resurrection person, a person of the empty tomb. Through her tears, she recognizes Jesus when he appears to her in the garden, and begins to see with the eyes of faith, faith in Jesus.
In the garden, Jesus commanded Mary to go to the disciples and witness to them on his behalf, to share her newly budded faith in the springtime of eternal life. She obeyed Jesus and began to dance to the emerging spring of new life as she ran to the other disciples and witnessed to the Easter message, “I have seen the Lord!”
Jesus calls to each one of us just as he called to Mary in the garden and like Mary, we see Jesus through the eyes of faith. Like Mary, we must set aside our own expectations and set our hearts and minds on the expectations of Jesus. Like Mary, each one of us must respond in obedience to the Easter message. Like Mary, each one of us must be willing to dance to the spring of new and eternal life as we share the Easter message with those we meet, “I have seen the Lord!”
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.