Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Reformer Martin Luther was inspired by remembering the saints, and so he wrote, “Next to Holy Scripture, there is certainly no more useful book for Christendom that that of the lives of the saints… For in these stories one is greatly pleased to find how they sincerely believed God’s Word, confessed it with their lips, praised it by their living, and honored and confirmed it by their dying.” Today, on the Low Sunday as in Low Attendance, we remember the life of St. Thomas-Apostle to India and Martyr. Regretfully, some people only know him as Doubting Thomas.
Interestingly, on the inscriptions of Orthodox Icons they do not mention, doubt. Instead, the icon is known as the “Assurance of Thomas,” or “The Touching of Thomas,” even “The Belief of Thomas.” In the Orthodox icon for this Sunday, Thomas is bending before Christ to touch His wounds, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” The scene does show a “Doubting Thomas,” but a reassured Thomas. The Church Fathers recognized that while Thomas doubted, his doubt was not unreasonable, and as such Christ responded, encouraging Thomas to voice a confession of his divinity more explicit than anywhere else in the Gospels.
Unfortunately, for the majority of the Christian world, Thomas has never been treated fairly. But I believe Thomas is a saint we should remember- perhaps especially in the doubt filled, questioning, soul searching moments in life. That is what I would like to share with you today.
Few details of the life of St. Thomas are actually recorded in the New Testament. Nevertheless thanks to the Evangelist St. John, we know more about Thomas and his personality than that of any other of the twelve who were closest to Jesus- except perhaps for Peter. Thomas is the ardent follower, the grand inquisitor, and the redeemed and welcomed lost soul.
For three years Thomas had trusted the words which his friend Jesus had spoken. He had, however, also witnessed the angry disputes that occurred when Jesus preached- especially in Jerusalem. The crowds threw stones to drive Jesus and his disciples out of the city which forced Jesus and the twelve to taken refuge in the desert. While they were there, they received word from Mary and Martha, that their brother Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was ill. Now, the village of Bethany was only a short distance from Jerusalem, so the disciples were relieved when Jesus said they would wait another day or two. But then to their surprise, Jesus announced, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples were all reluctantly shocked. Only Thomas dared to say, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” And that moment, there was certainly no doubt that Thomas loved Jesus, and that he was willing to follow him- even in the face of death.
Again, it was Thomas who raised his voice during the disciples’ last meal together with Jesus. After Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, announced his imminent betrayal, and then warned them, that he was going to prepare a place for them, saying, “And you know the way to the place where you are going.” Only Thomas was confident enough in his relationship that he could ask the question that all the other disciples were wondering. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
It’s one of the most honest and human confessions in all scripture. And Thomas says it for us. There are times when we simply don’t know or understand what God is doing. We may have the security of words of holy scripture, the presence of the promised Holy Spirit and even the mystery of the church in this world, but we still wonder what God is doing and where we are going. Thomas captures all our insecurities and anxieties and dares to ask, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And Jesus simply reassures him with, “You will know, since you have a relationship with me.”
Finally, we have the story from St. John’s gospel which earned the apostle Thomas the title Doubting. He questioned the good news that Jesus had been raised from the dead. “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.” He loved Jesus so much that he refused to believe.
Unfortunately, that’s how many men and women fall from the Christian faith and the life of the church. At some crucial moment in their faith journey, they find themselves standing in the wrong place, and ever since then it has been difficult to return and to believe.
Throughout my ministry, I have known men and women who like Thomas have been equally troubled in their faith. They held high expectations for God’s assurance, but along the way they were met with disappointment, and they became skeptical. Perhaps, you count yourself in that number. Doubt breaks in in all sorts of ways. Tradition doesn’t match truth. Or perhaps you were offended one of God’s messengers along the way. More often than not I hear stories of men and women who have been treated poorly by their priest or pastor and then refuse to return to the church. With others it is a struggle with question of suffering. For every doubting disciple I have known, suffering in the world has been a major stumbling block.
The more I have grown to know the modern day Doubting Thomases, the more I have grown to understand that faith and doubt are often closely linked. Doubt doesn’t need to destroy faith. After all, doubt did not destroy Thomas’ faith. But rather doubt inspired, encouraged and drove Thomas to seek that faith in Jesus which would transform his life.
It was that recognition that set Thomas back to the place where he could meet Jesus anew. Thomas had come to the realization that the place to search for the answers to doubt was not within himself, but rather within the company of other believers. So eight days later when Jesus returned again, Thomas was there. And Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” It was an invitation to see and believe, for our Lord affirms as well, that seeing is believing. My friends, if you have doubts, you needn’t give up or given in. Christ will meet you in your moments of searching. Martin Luther himself wrote, “When the believer feels himself doubting, let him practice faith, fight against doubt, and labor to capture certainty.”
According to tradition, St. Thomas sailed to India in AD 52 to spread the Christian faith. He began on the western coast of India preaching first among the minority Jewish community who had settled in India there 6 centuries earlier. From there he journeyed south to Kerala and preached to the Tamil people. His followers established the church in India that still bears his name Mar Thoma, 15 hundred years before the arrival of the first European missionaries. He died a martyr in India on December 21, 72 AD. There was no doubt about his faith in Jesus- even to die with him.
My friends, in the midnight hour of the soul, when you are wrestling with doubt, when everything you have been holding onto seems to have fallen away, turn again like Thomas to the places where your faith can be nurtured, and where Christ promises he will meet you- in the mystery of God’s word and sacrament. Yes, these in simple means of grace, Jesus invites you “to place your fingers into the nail prints” and to “place your hand into his side.” So that you too may confess, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.