Acts 2.14a, 22-32 1 Peter 1.3-9 John 20.19-31
The readings at this time of the year, in Easter-tide, must count as some of the most uplifting of all. And one reason for this is their freshness: however many times we may hear them, they continue to catch us by surprise. This is largely because they draw on eye-witness accounts. So today we have St John’s telling of Christ’s appearances in the Upper room and our readings throughout this season from the Acts of the Apostles give us St Luke’s faithful re-telling of the stories he had learnt in his close companionship with those first witnesses.
Indeed, so vivid are the Resurrection stories that it’s easy to imagine that we’re there too, walking the dusty Road to Emmaus, feeling the wind and salt air of the Sea of Galilee, smelling the fish breakfast prepared by Our Lord or, as in our gospel today, huddling together in that Upper Room on the third day after the crucifixion, the door firmly shut and locked for fear of the Jews, and seeing the Risen Christ greeting us with words of peace, Peace be with you.
So here we have the familiar tale of poor old Doubting Thomas, reproached by Our Lord for his lack of faith. Thomas’ encounter with Christ takes place a week on from resurrection day, when no doubt the rumours of a man come back from the dead have been buzzing around Jerusalem. This time, the disciples are a little less frightened – the doors may still be shut, but they’re not locked, and there is Jesus with them again breathing his message of peace – and Thomas sees for himself.
The urge to see for ourselves is no bad thing. What Our Lord is asking us to think about, along with Thomas, is our own encounter with the Risen Christ. Thomas’ insistence on seeing with his own eyes shows him to be not a weak cynic but one who wants to get the facts right. He is not one to give credence to rumours and idle gossip and we would do well to identify with Thomas not negatively – the doubters – but positively – those who seek a real, tangible relationship with Our Lord. The testimony of the other disciples in their repeated cry, We have seen the Lord! has made Thomas curious and ready to receive the truth. So when he meets Christ and recognises the sheer physicality of his risen life, he is able to acclaim with compete confidence and sincerity My Lord and my God! Here is his absolute conviction in the blinding moment of revelation; no longer Doubting Thomas, but Believing Thomas. In greeting his Lord and God, he hasn’t made a leap from doubt to certainty, but from doubt to belief – a leap of faith. The Lord that Thomas knew before the crucifixion he now knows as the living God, the one in whom he puts his trust.
And there is yet another question from Jesus, Have you believed because you have seen me? And this question to Thomas, like all the other questions Jesus asks of us once he has risen, Why are you weeping? What were you discussing? What is not necessary for the Son of Man to die? and so on, are questions being asked of us, here today, just as they were asked of the incredulous disciples all those years ago. For in asking us questions, Christ is urging us to probe more deeply to find answers. Our weeping, our discussing, our doubting, all belong to the earthly life we live, they are the preoccupations of the world, not of heaven, and in striving to answer them we seek a way forward, just as Thomas did. He believes because he has seen, heard, touched – and blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.
Thomas’ faith is our faith, our God-given faith in the Risen Lord, transformed through his obedience and suffering and restored to life through God’s grace, that we may all be witnesses to his love. Our own ministry, to which we are called as Easter people, has to be modelled on that of the disciples if we are to be effective in our response to God’s mission, his activity on the world. When the disciples cowered behind locked doors, or headed off in the wrong direction to Emmaus, or went off fishing, they weren’t being much use. Only when they were confronted by Christ raised from the dead, when they walked with him, ate and drank with him, saw his wounds and received his life-giving spirit were they empowered to make a difference. Only then, with hearts burning within them, could they be the extraordinary witnesses they were called to be.
After the four gospels, the rest of the New Testament devotes itself to telling of that witness and nowhere more so than in the Book of Acts. The picture we are given is one of constant activity – it is, after all, called the Book of Acts. And here, today, we have part of Peter’s amazing sermon on the day of Pentecost, urging people to follow Christ: this Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses
Today, we too must testify to the risen Christ, to the faith, hope and love of the Easter gospel in what we do. That means that, like the disciples, we have to be Christ-like in our witness, entering into the suffering of the world, walking alongside those in pain so that they may know also that Christ walks with them as he did along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday and on that Emmaus road on Easter Sunday.
As we gather together as God’s Pilgrim people, in all our difference and diversity, we are invited to Christ’s resurrection table. He is here with us now, in the bread and wine of this Eucharist, just as he was in that upper room, or breaking bread at the Emmaus Inn, or greeting his friends on the shores of Lake Galilee, speaking words of Peace. And we kneel before him; in our seeing, hearing and touching, we exclaim with Thomas My Lord and my God! receiving the life-giving Spirit of peace breathed into us. There really is no more important place for us to be than here, gathered around his altar, Sunday by Sunday, as God’s people. And as we share in the broken bread, we touch Christ’s body just as Thomas did, and we taste his goodness. Nourished with the bread of life, we go out from here to do Easter, to love and serve the Lord, confident that it is his Spirit that guides and strengthen us and that all we do is in his name and to his glory.
And in the words of St Peter, one of the first witnesses to the resurrection, despite his catastrophic denial on the dreadful night a few days before, let rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy. Amen.