Part 1 (confused, uncertain, slightly hyper, critical of self)
My name is Thomas.
He’s gone. Jesus that is.
Not just dead, but dead and gone. Gone from his tomb.
Peter, Peter said so. John backed him up.
Mary, well Mary Magdalene, she reckons he spoke to her.
Outside the tomb when she hung around after Peter and John had left.
But she told us that he had said he was going.
Returning to his Father. Father God.
His Father, our God.
Our Father, his… him… his God.
So he wasn’t God after all, like we’d almost started to believe.
So perhaps he rose from the dead, but he’s gone again.
Jesus is properly gone.
At least that what I thought at lunchtime yesterday.
The rest of them, they met up last night.
The story was out, that Jesus was gone from his tomb and us lot,
well we were getting the blame.
Can’t think why we’d want to steal Jesus’ body,
or how the heck we’d hide it
given the smell of a bloodied copse after three days in this heat;
but I wasn’t going to risk getting picked up by the authorities and taking the blame.
I was more sure of seeing the others in daylight today,
when the risks were fewer.
So, I stayed home, whilst the rest of them got together in that room.
I think the intention was to try and remember what Jesus had said,
and work out what the heck was was going on.
The rest of them?
They’re nearly as unsure as I am!
Anyway, apparently he hadn’t gone.
Jesus that is.
Because he showed up.
That’s what they’ve told me to today.
They’d been careful to lock themselves in.
The shutters were closed, the doors locked.
And apparently, he just appeared.
We’ve been together three years now,
and witnessed a lot of strange things on our journeys with Jesus.
Signs and wonders that would have been beyond belief,
if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes.
I’d actually made us go with him,
when Jesus went to Lazarus’ sisters after the lad died. (John 11)
So yes, I know Jesus raised him from the dead.
But the stone was removed first; I watched them do it.
And when he came out, he shuffled and staggered,
all wrapped up in his death bandages and stuff as he was.
Lazarus didn’t roll his bandages up neatly and leave them on the side,
and then just stroll through a wall, or a door, a few hours later;
which is what the guys are saying happened last night.
Well, they say Jesus came back.
Like he’d said he would, not long ago.
At least that’s what the others reminded me.
It was after we’d got into Jerusalem, and Jesus had us all together.
He did a lot of talking.
We,… we were confused, like normal, and just asked questions.
He’d said something about going,
but not leaving us as orphans,
and coming to us again, (John 14:18)
in a little while. (John 16:18)
It was mixed up with some stuff about who was going to be able to see him,
and who wasn’t.
Who he was, who we were, and how that fitted in with God,
who he insisted on calling Father.
Our God, his Father.
Oh darn it, I don’t know.
I wasn’t there last night, so I don’t really know what happened.
Not really, really know.
It’s not like we’ve covered ourselves in glory, running away and hiding.
I for one had said I’d die with him (John 11:16);
Peter,… Peter had said he’d lay down his life for him (John 13:37).
Neither of us had the courage.
We’ve just hidden, and watched them crucify him.
From a safe distance.
If he could come back,
why would he want to come back to us lot?
I probably I should believe them,
they’re normally trustworthy, about stuff like that anyway.
As long as it doesn’t involve getting killed.
But no, no I can’t.
I will NOT believe.
Unless, unless I see him for myself.
I need more than just seeing.
I need to know that it’s really, really him,
I need to touch,
touch the wounds,
the things that will make me believe he’s real.
But that’s hardly going to happen, is it?
Because, he’s gone.
Part 2 (calmer, much more assured, confident, certain)
My name is Thomas.
I had said to the others, privately,
that I would only believe if I touched him.
My Lord, and my God.
He was with us tonight.
Among them all, all my friends.
Things have calmed down somewhat in town, so I’d felt able to join them.
They’ve been really rather patient with me, all things considered.
My considered, and considerable uncertainty as to what to believe.
So we met again earlier.
To break bread like he’d asked us to.
To remember him.
To try and understand how bread and wine might help us encounter his presence.
(OK artistic license, but some commentators think this is what they’d met to do!)
And suddenly his presence was all too obvious.
He greeted us with words of peace.
Words that became peace, peace like I cannot describe.
It was like something from another world, (John 14:27)
and, even as he spoke directly to me,
I could feel the anxiety melt away,
the fear and doubt evaporate.
Jesus knew exactly what I’d said to the others,
what I thought I needed to believe them, to believe he’d really risen.
His rebuke was gentle, his appeal firm.
His offer clear and beyond anything the others had talked of.
And yet, and yet with him there,
I needed nothing more to confess from the very depths of my being…
My Lord and my God.
They hadn’t said,
when they told me they’d seen him last week,
that he’d given them a mission, and a gift.
What had made the deepest impression was obviously his physical,
risen presence among them.
at least not now I’ve encountered him myself.
What he’d apparently said to them last week was
what I experienced today.
With this overwhelming sense that he is our Lord,
there is a sense of forgiveness,
that I felt before I’d even understood my need for it.
And yet this is depsite him knowing how weak we have been;
Peter, myself and the others.
It was like being made whole again,
having the broken pieces of what had been me,
glued back together again.
But, that’s only the part of it.
I discovered in this brief exchange I was part of something bigger,
a journey that he is sending us on.
We,… all of us,
have to chose what is the trigger to our belief.
Are the words and testimony of friends good enough?
What happens if we can never see Jesus,
can’t touch him, can’t seem to sense how close he is to us:
Does that stop us believing, like it nearly did with me?
I guess this means we have to choose to believe
and in choosing to recognise the risen Jesus as real,
encounter his immediacy in our lives.
Yes, this is what it means to believe.
That there is no classification system for faith,
how, or when we should believe, how much or how little.
There is simply believing, and what we chose to do with that belief.
‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
This isn’t about me.
That beatitude, that blessing poured over us,
like those he’d taught with on the hillside in Galilee, (Matthew 5)
it wasn’t for us,
but for all those who were not there tonight,
had not been there last week,
had not stood at, or hidden from, the cross,
and those who aren’t here now,
will never see him physically in his glorious, risen flesh.
Our Lord and our God.
Part 3 (equally calm, confident, believing, with a degree of urgency).
My name is Thomas, and I am a follower of Jesus.
The work has started.
The journey has begun.
we’ve made a start.
Here in Jerusalem, today, among the crowds gathered for Pentecost.
Our Lord Jesus has really gone this time,
from our visible presence that is,
ascended to be with the Father, ours and his.
We had gathered together again, as we have daily since he finally left us,
praying, listening, sifting our memories,
tying together what we now know and believe,
with all those things he has patiently said, done and taught us
over the last three years.
We are not alone, we are no longer hiding, and we’re complete.
Yes, we’re complete in that we are twelve again, with Matthias among us.
But we are also complete inside,
made newly complete in each moment,
through the power that he has left with us,
which was so visible today, not just in the flames and the wind,
but in our understanding of the task ahead,
and in the knowledge that this Spirit the prophet Joel spoke of
gives us the strength to do more than we can ask or imagine.
This was the gift that meant many who gathered today for Pentecost could understand us.
The same gift, that gave Peter the strength to speak out
with boldness and authority from among us.
Among our Jewish brothers and sisters there was no point us all talking at once.
Neither was there any point relying on the miraculous
to make the connection with our Lord and God who they,…
but who had risen again, uncorrupted by death.
King David was the vital reference point.
They know the stories of his sin, his corruption;
they know his words, his prophetic instinct,
the music of his psalms.
His belief should have been their belief, our belief,
in the prophesy that God’s rule would once again come to his people,
through David’s own line of inheritance.
The people of Israel,
the people we’ve met and seen daily for the last three years,
who’ve witnessed and willingly accepted Jesus’ miracles, just as we have;
they knew Jesus.
They knew he was of the line and lineage of David. (Luke 2:4)
That had, after all, been part of the curiosity factor that drew them to him.
Even if he wasn’t quite what they had expected or hoped for.
Their unbelief in the next step of the Davidic connection,
that he was of God, one with God,
meant they were easy prey to the seeds
of doubt and fear sown by the Scribes and Pharisees;
but that made it all the more important, that they understand this prophesy,
that they are given the tools to understand, to make the connection, to believe,
that God had raised the beaten, tortured, tormented, and crucified Christ,
If the people,
Israelites and Gentiles, everyone,
Don’t have anything solid to believe in,
it makes them unwilling to challenge the corruption of others,
because it might force open the cracks of their own double standards.
We live lives under the burden of our doubts,
our fears and uncertainties hovering constantly
under the surface of otherwise confident actions;
our unwillingness to believe what we can not see,
do, what we might otherwise shrink from.
I know, because I’ve carried this burden of unbelief through all my travels with Jesus,
through the worst of my incomprehension as we listened to him talk
and I asked him dumb questions that proved I hadn’t understood;
in the best of my intentions as we stumbled on his way when he sensed it was right,
through to that day he came and sought me out…
Death couldn’t hold Jesus, and neither can our unbelief,
even when it comes back to haunt us.
It must not be allowed to restrain anyone,
to keep people from the paths of life,
or withhold from us all the joy of knowing
his presence alongside us as we take this journey of faith.
(Delivered as my sermon at St. Peter’s Yateley 27th April 2014 – my last sermon in my sending parish before ordination.)
This is also available as a podcast on the parish website.