The Reverend Tony Kyriakides Priest Vicar
Sunday, 23rd April 2017 at 11:15 AM
Here at Westminster Abbey, in the South Cloister, lie buried the ashes of Max Warren, a leading evangelical and for ten years, between 1963 and 1973, a Canon and Sub-Dean of this Abbey Church. It is reported that he said this: ‘Faith is important not because it provides answers but because it helps us to live with the questions.’ In that nugget of wisdom we learn something about the essence of faith; that there is more to faith than dogma or doctrine inasmuch as authentic faith stems from a personal relationship based on trust and confidence in God. If there is no relationship then cognitive, propositional statements of theology will be lacklustre and lifeless. Faith involves both heart and head. Thomas, the central character in our gospel reading, demonstrates this in a journey of faith which displays both scepticism and insight.
Down the centuries, he is a disciple who has been dubbed ‘doubting Thomas’, when, more accurately, he might be described as ‘courageous Thomas’. I have in mind that episode when Jesus decides to go to Bethany having heard that his friend Lazarus is desperately sick. As Bethany is close to Jerusalem, and the Jewish leadership based there are plotting to rid themselves of this troublesome so-called messiah, all of the disciples try to dissuade Jesus probably fearful for their own lives: all of them, that is, except Thomas who strikes a more strident chord. ‘Let us also go’ he says, ‘that we may die with him’: Thomas, the man of courage.
Or, then again, there is ‘straight-talking Thomas’ for he is willing to be blunt and say things the other disciples may be thinking but are too embarrassed to admit. It is the last supper, the disciples’ feet have been washed and Judas has left the room in order to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities. Jesus seeks to reassure his disciples, that even though for a time he will be separated from them, they know where he is going. It is left to ‘straight-talking Thomas’ to be candid with Jesus: he has - they have – no idea where Jesus is going so how can they know the way?
‘Courageous Thomas', ‘straight-talking Thomas’, ‘doubting Thomas’ and, of course, ‘Didymus Thomas’: didymus which means ‘the Twin’. I wonder what Thomas’ twin was like: courageous, straight-talking, doubting. Possibly his twin was a sister, not a brother and, perhaps like me, you would be proud to own Thomas as your twin because he is someone who speaks for you in the Easter story.
When Thomas says that unless he sees the mark of the nails in the hands, unless he puts his finger there, unless he places his hand in the side of Jesus where the soldier’s spear pierced the body, he will not believe, he is asking for no more evidence of resurrection than the others had already been given. Everyone except Thomas had encountered the risen Jesus in the locked room the week before and try as they might to convince Thomas that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Thomas refused to believe it. He was no stranger to their in-fighting, their betrayals, their blindness, their duplicity, their deafness, their hardness of heart, so unsurprisingly, he wanted to see for himself: to hear, touch and smell Jesus. Wouldn’t you? A week later and Jesus comes to his disciples this time gently chiding Thomas: ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ In response, Thomas makes a confession of faith which while reminiscent of Peter’s earlier statement – ‘You are the Christ, the son of the living God’ – takes us a step further along the journey of faith: ‘My Lord and my God.’
Thomas is no scapegoat but the hero of the moment. Thomas may have received the resurrection-news secondhand, but he becomes the most powerful of witnesses. Thomas dares to express for you and for me the meandering doubts that criss-cross our minds but doubt is not the same as unbelief. Unbelief is a decision to live my life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that he stands for. Doubt is something quite different for it is a part and parcel of faith. It is a pent-up longing to be sure of those things in which we trust. Just because I cannot prove my faith in God doesn’t mean that it is ill-founded. It is those doubts – Jesus’, Thomas’, our own –that fraught hungering, longing, thirsting, questioning, yearning and panting after God (as the psalmist puts it) that demonstrates that there remains a place within you and me into which the risen Christ has yet to be invited.
Then again, rather than ‘doubting Thomas’, I prefer to think of him as ‘sceptical Thomas’ for the Greek word skeptomai ('σκέπτομαι) means to watch and search closely. The skeptikos ('σκέπτομος) is the careful investigator, not one who rejects ideas and evidence on principle but someone for whom the object of his search is truth. In the English language, sceptical has meant ‘inquiring’, ‘reflective’, the ‘watchman’. What every Christian should be!
Doubting Thomas, courageous Thomas, straight-talking Thomas, sceptical Thomas, and eventually trusting Thomas, who demonstrates how we can be honest doubters and genuine seekers as he holds out his empty hands to touch the broken Christ whom we also want to believe did rise, is alive and shall come again. Which are you? Hopefully all of them: at times, yes, doubting, but also courageous, straight-talking, sceptical and trusting.
Gandhi once remarked, ‘If it weren’t for Christians I would be a Christian’.
The question each one of us needs to answer – and answer honestly, is this: through us, are others able to touch and to trust Jesus, our Lord and our God?