Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter (Year B)
This sermon was preached by Fr. Daniel London at Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka CA on April 8, 2018.
One of the first things I learned about Episcopalians is that they don’t ask people to leave their brains at the door. Generally, Episcopalians are quite comfortable with questions and actually invite people to inquire and to probe, to challenge and to investigate. In fact, the Book of Common Prayer calls us to pray that each baptized person be given “an inquiring and discerning heart.” For this reason, we Episcopalians tend to be much more sympathetic towards Jesus’s initially incredulous disciple Thomas. While many other Christians tend to disparage Thomas by calling him “Thomas the Doubter” or Doubting Thomas or the stubborn skeptic, Episcopalians often like to follow the Eastern Orthodox tradition of appreciating Thomas as a bold inquirer and discerning investigator. So with this appreciation of inquiry, let us probe more deeply into our Gospel reading this morning, a Gospel reading that, on the surface, seems to portray Thomas as a less-than-ideal disciple, as someone weakened by doubt.
When the disciples tell Thomas that they have seen the Risen Lord, Thomas openly shares his doubt with his friends, instead of silently cowering in fear. As a result, Thomas receives a personal visit from the Risen Christ, who is more than willing to meet Thomas’s criteria for belief. Thomas then becomes the first disciple to confess Jesus as his God. Thus Thomas becomes the model disciple, arriving at the very conclusion at which the author of John wants the reader to arrive, when he says, “This is written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31). In fact, our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters often call “Professing Thomas” or “Thomas the Believer” because he is the first and only disciple in all of the Gospels to profess Jesus Christ as his God.
Now Jesus then says some things to Thomas that, at first glance, seem to be rebukes for his doubt. First, he says to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.” However, in those words, I do not hear Jesus scolding Thomas because of his doubts. Rather, I hear Jesus leading Thomas into a deeper faith. A more accurate translation of Jesus’ words would be, “Do not become someone who never believes, but rather become someone who is trusting and believing.”
Then Jesus asks Thomas a rhetorical question, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” And then he concludes with a Beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” These words also seem to be admonishments for Thomas’s doubt. However, I do not hear reprimand, but commission. Whenever the Risen Christ appears to someone he always gives a commission to go and share what has been witnessed. A few verses earlier, he commissioned the other ten disciples when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, giving them the divine power of forgiveness. Thomas receives his own personal commission from Christ, whose words to him convey the Holy Spirit, the power of forgiveness and the promise that many who have not seen will come to believe. Many who have not seen will come to believe because Thomas will tell them! According to Christian tradition, Thomas evangelized Parthia, a region that is now covered by modern-day Iran and Turkmenistan, and then traveled even further east to evangelize southern India, where believers today still call themselves “St. Thomas Christians.”
When Thomas was honest with his doubt, Christ invited him into a deeper faith and then commissioned him to confidently broaden his vision of Christ’s power and influence, all the way to India. Honest doubt, we learn from Thomas, can deepen our faith and broaden our vision as well.
“The beginning of wisdom,” according to medieval theologian Peter Abelard, “is found in doubting; by doubting,” he says, “we come to inquiry, and by inquiry we come to truth.” And the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister says, “Oh, doubt is a wonderful thing, and it’s what people fear most and what people castigate themselves about most. Doubt is that moment in the faith life when we put down everybody else’s answers and begin to find our own. We look at everything we’ve been told is holy, is true, and we test it.”
Thomas, the patron saint of doubt, did just that. And he was not ostracized for it. Instead, his community held him close. And Jesus did not reject him. Instead, Jesus appeared to him personally, inviting him into a deeper faith and a broader vision. Today’s Gospel invites us to inquire and to be honest with our doubts and not exclude others for theirs because when we come together as a loving, open and inclusive community, there is no doubt that the Risen Christ will meet us here.
Finally, I feel the Gospel this morning inviting us as a community to ask ourselves a question. The Gospel passage begins with the disciples hiding in fear, behind closed doors. Then Jesus miraculously appears among them saying, “Peace. Forgive. Believe,” thus empowering them all to no longer cower in fear behind those locked doors, but rather to go out boldly in love to proclaim the Gospel to the world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whom our founder Thomas Walsh described as the “Door to Heaven.” So the question I want to ask and inquire of myself and us this morning and these next several months or even years is: In what ways can we practically and sensibly fulfill Thomas Walsh’s vision for us (Christ Church Eureka) to be an ever more welcoming and open door to heaven?
As we continue to experience the Risen Christ among us here, let us listen to how he responds to our doubts, and questions, and inquiries; and let us also listen to how he is commissioning each of us to help us open our doors in love and compassion to all of the pain and sadness and doubt in Eureka; and let us listen to how Christ is commissioning us to be for Eureka that open door to Heaven.
 Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Acts 9:6; John 20:21-23.