A Sermon preached by David Barton on Sunday 3rd July
THE FEAST OF ST THOMAS
Today is the feast of St Thomas. When my wife and were in India a few years ago, we went to the place where Thomas was Martyred. After the resurrection, just as Paul and Peter travelled West to Rome, so Thomas travelled East, first to Persia and then on to the west coast of India. This is, I think, rather more than legend. There was an active trade route and a large Persian community on the West Coast of India, and even a small community of Jews. There have been Christians in India as a result, from the middle to the first century. Thomas appears to have travelled from the West coast to the East Coast, to modern Chennai where he was martyred, and his place of martyrdom is carefully tended and treasured by the Mar Thoma Church, the church he founded.
Its interesting to remember that, and at the same time to read this passage. Thomas is an interesting character. The 4th gospel presents him as a clear thinker. He likes to get things straight. Earlier, at the Last Supper, when Jesus said that he was going ahead to prepare a place for his disciples and they would follow, Thomas said: “But Lord, we don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way?” And the answer was “I am the way the truth the life.”
In other words: you know how I have lived, and how I have acted. Just do the same. And that is all you need to know. The place Jesus was going to was the cross. So now Thomas is learning the full answer to the question he asked then.
Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples. He hears about it from them. And he questions it. I think that this passage is all part of the way the writer of the Fourth Gospel is leading us to a full understanding of the resurrection. I am never sure about “doubting” in this context. There are very good reasons for asking such a question. The disciples have just lived through the appalling, traumatising event of the crucifixion. Does a resurrected corpse make a difference to all that? All that cruelty, all that appalling human behaviour is still there……none of it going to change just because Jesus has appeared – as far as Thomas was concerned – like a kind of ghost. As if all of that hadn’t happened.
In this passage Thomas discovers the deeper truth: the redeeming truth – the truth you and I need to know: that the risen Jesus still carries the marks of the nails and the spear on his body. We easily think of ….cross…and resurrection – two things. But they are not. They are one thing, because the marks of the nails are still there on the body of the risen Christ. Forever God in Christ carries the marks of the nails – always there in the heart of God and so always there with human trauma and suffering. Never absent.
We are not given a magic wand to take pain and suffering away. Look at someone like Dame Deborah James and you can see how suffering can be transformed into something for good. That is the way God has constructed things. That is part of what the resurrection means. God gives us the strength to face into darkness and suffering. To be there with it, and to transform it. That is what Thomas learns when the risen Christ asks him to place his hand in the wounds.
When we look at Ukraine and its suffering, we should know that God is there. And when we ourselves experience the dark moments of our own life, we should know that right at the heart of it is the presence of God, the God who loves us and never leaves us. To make that discovery doesn’t magically wipe everything away. But, equally, it changes everything.