Monday, April 4, 2016

Totall Thomas

April 3rd, 2016             “Totally Thomas”             Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 20:19-31
          I sometimes think that the first Sunday after Easter could officially be called “Wait a minute, what?!?” Sunday.  Last week we were all here to celebrate the risen Lord with joy.  We all listened to the story we know and love so well, about the empty tomb and the risen Christ.  We all said “yes, we believe in new life.”  And even though it was snowing outside, we all went home with our hearts lifted in the joyful spirit of Easter morning. 
          Now that a week has passed, I think many of us have a sense of waking up back in the regular world.  Attendance is back to normal, spirits are more subdued, and when we hear the Easter story this morning we are tempted to say, “Wait a minute, what?!?  Did that really happen?”
          We of course, find ourselves in good company in the Scriptures.  Today is all about Thomas.  One could say the first Sunday after Easter is totally Thomas.  For some reason his story is always the story we tell this Sunday.  While the liturgical readings often jump around from book to book as the calendar year progresses, the Sunday after Easter is always the gospel of John, and it’s always this story of Thomas.  We are totally Thomas today because like him many of us find ourselves saying, “Wait a minute, what?!”
          Our story takes place the very same day as Easter morning.  The way John tells the story, Mary Magdalene was first at the tomb.  Upon finding the tomb empty, she ran to tell Simon Peter, who literally raced with the beloved disciple to the tomb.  Mary then encountered Jesus as she wept in the garden.  We pick up our story that very night.
          The disciples are gathered together but they are hiding for fear that they will experience the same violent fate as Jesus their Lord.  As they are locked away, Jesus himself appears within their midst.  He offers them the gift of peace as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He shows them his resurrected body.  He still wears the marks of his crucifixion so the disciples know it is him and not some imposter.  Like our experience last Sunday, this is an amazing faith filled event for the disciples.
          Of course, Thomas wasn’t there.  And when the disciples tell him all about what happened his response is “Wait a minute, what?!?”  Thomas is famously called a doubter but really he just wants what everyone else has gotten; a chance to see the risen Lord in person.  Today I want to purpose three other titles for Thomas instead of doubter.  I want to call him Tenacious, Trusting, and Truthful.
          Tenacious Thomas is one who is willing to wait and hold on for what he wants.  It will be a full week before Jesus again appears to the disciples.  Thomas is willing to spend time in that uncomfortable space as he waits for his opportunity to see the risen Lord.  It would have been a long week, and the other disciples surely derided him for his unwillingness to just go along with the program but Thomas is tenacious. 
          Have you ever had a time in your life that called you to wait in the uncomfortable space on unknowing?  Like waiting to see if your child got a spot in your first choice pre-school or waiting for a call back from the Doctor’s office; life often calls on us to wait in the uncomfortable space.  We are called to simply be still and wait for the next chapter of things to unfold.  I believe Thomas was in that space.  Thomas was a tenacious waiter.  Rather than being a bad thing, I think his stubbornness could be good.  Thomas has the patience needed to develop a deep level of faith.
          That leads us to trusting Thomas.  Rather than being doubtful, Thomas is trusting that Jesus will come and meet him where he is.  Thomas remembers the things Jesus has taught, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.”  Perhaps Thomas has greater faith than the other disciples for he truly believes in this statement.  He is asking Jesus for a personal appearance and he trusts that Jesus will come and grant him that. 
          We too are often called to trust in the stories of our faith.  We trust that God will bring healing, even if we can’t discern what that healing looks like right now.  We trust in God to come and touch our lives, even though God sometimes feels miles away.  We even trust that this Easter story is true, even when we are tempted to say “Wait a minute, what?!?”  Thomas teaches us to trust in God, because he is trusting in Jesus to come and meet him where he is.  Rather than being a doubter, this is trusting Thomas.
          Of course, Jesus does return and stand among the disciples again.  This gives us an opportunity for truthful Thomas.  At the end of the week the disciples are still hiding behind locked doors.  Even those who experienced the first appearance have been unable to shake free of their fear.  This time Jesus approaches Thomas individually, inviting him to touch the wounds.  Thomas responds with the highest Christological statement in the whole of the gospels “My Lord and my God!” 
          We too are called to tell the truth about our encounters with God.  In our world we have plenty of opportunities for truth telling.  In our personal lives, we can share our faith with friends and colleagues, letting people in on the truth that gives us the hope to face each day.  We can also speak God’s truth of love and justice in our world.  Thomas speaks one of the greatest truths of our faith, Jesus is Lord.  Truthful Thomas states one of the most important sentences in all of scripture.
          Close readers of scripture will notice that Thomas seems to have a special name in the Bible.  Thomas Didymus, or Thomas the Twin.  What is that all about?  Well, there are several theories as to how this name developed and what it could mean.  First of all, some scholars say that Thomas itself is a nickname meaning twin.  In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, it says that Thomas’ given name was Judas.  So, scholars think he was nicknamed “Thomas the Twin” to help distinguish him from Judas Iscariot.
          The Gospel of Thomas is from a cult of Thomas so it naturally has a very high opinion of Thomas himself.  It seems to imply that Thomas’ twin is Jesus.  In that gospel Jesus says “whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am, and I myself will become that person, and the mysteries shall be revealed to him.”  In her book on the gnostic gospels, scholar Elaine Pagels explains that the idea was that whoever followed Jesus super closely, would become so like Jesus that they would be twins.  So, Thomas is Jesus’ twin.
          If that is true, than the gospel of John is deliberately countering that tradition with this story of Thomas.  In John’s gospel Thomas is certainly not Jesus’ twin since Thomas is one who does not believe, or at least pauses to say “Wait a minute, what?!?”  One commentator I read this week suggested that maybe Thomas was meant to be our twin.  When one studies the gospel of John, Thomas could be seen as the twin of the reader.  I love this idea.  Try looking at this story with Thomas as your twin.  Perhaps we ourselves are “totally Thomas”.
          Instead of casting Thomas aside as a doubter, what if we modeled the faith that Thomas models?  Perhaps our call as Christians is to be tenacious like Thomas, waiting for the Lord to reveal faith to us in God’s good time.  Perhaps we can be trusting like Thomas, resting in the assurance that the things Jesus taught were true, and that Jesus will give us the gifts we ask for in the best way for us.  We could certainly model the behavior of truthful Thomas, announcing our belief in the lordship of Christ loud and clear and sharing our faith with the world around us.  Maybe that twin idea isn’t so farfetched after all.
          This week, as many of us find ourselves in a “wait a minute, what?!?” space around the story of resurrection, we can align ourselves with our friend Thomas.  Let us wait with faith for Jesus to show us something more, to offer us the gift of peace, and to help us believe in this unbelievable story of life after death.  Let us be twins, let us be totally Thomas.  Amen.    


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