Homily – Sunday, the 3rd July 2022 – St Thomas Day
Reading John 20: 24-28
It is indeed a matter of great joy to be back with you after my first break. Thanks for your prayers and good wishes the marriage of Giji and Arvind went well and at the end of the service I will show some snapshots of the joyous event. They are settling well and are happy.
I join you in thanking God for the life, witness and work of Margaret Bredow who was one of our dearest friends in Freiburg. Across the week we will celebrate her life and I do know how precious she was to many of us and to the ACF. May God give us more hope to face the realities beyond. Special prayers for the bereaving family and friends.
St. Thomas Day: The Day of the Apostle to India
July 3rd is celebrated as St. Thomas Day. Right from our childhood we loved this day because it was a holiday for us. We never wanted it to fall on a Sunday. Legend says that it was the Apostle St. Thomas who brought the gospel to India and specially to my home state Kerala. There are several families who claim that their family history goes all the way back to the St. Thomas Christians. We still have the nine churches in Kerala which is a tourist attraction believed to have established by Thomas. In Mylapore in South India the St. Thomas Mount is believed to be the place where Thomas was martyred. Many of the Christian institutions cherish the history of St. Thomas. One of the major identity demarcators of the churches in India even today is whether they belong to the St. Thomas tradition or the Missionary Movement traditions.
I must also share an attempt at ecumenical coming together of the Malayalam speaking Christian community in Melbourne when I was ministering there. There were many Christians from Kerala and almost all Church traditions had a strong presence. It was a natural desire to come together to celebrate the unity in Christ. But the question was- by what name this fellowship of the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Jacobites, the Mar Thoma, the CSI, the protestants and others be called. The easiest solution was to call the movement STEFM St. Thomas Ecumenical Fellowship of Melbourne and St. Thomas Day was a day of big celebration and community get together. It was almost our Indian Ethnic Christian Day in Australia.
The Story of St. Thomas is mostly confined to the list of apostles in the Synoptic gospels- Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is so in Acts 1:13 too. However in the gospel of John where he is also called Didymus (11:16 and 20:24) he plays a key role in two instances. In the journey to Bethany where Jesus was going the raise Lazarus, in a context where the plot to kill Jesus was already in the air, Thomas says- Let us go even if we have to die with him.
In John 14 it was Thomas who dares to ask the question Lord we do not know where you are going and how then would we know the way. It was to this querry that Jesus answers I am the way, the truth and the life. (v.5-6)
And in the gospel lesson we read today Thomas has a great faith encounter with the risen Lord.
I would want to draw a few insights for us to reflect on from Thomas’ encounter with the Risen Lord
- Into our Doubts and Honest Questions Jesus Walks In
Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the closed room. They were excited when they shared this great experience with Thomas. But contrary to their expectations Thomas was not. He said, Unless I see him and touch his wounds, I will not believe what you are saying.
Thomas is being honest. He wants proof. He refuses to take the experience of another person or the entire community to be his own. He wants an authentic and genuine encounter and experience himself.
What he says is this- Just because everyone else says so this need not be true.
And into this honesty Jesus walks in
“Faith will not grow from words alone,
from proofs provided, scriptures known;
our faith must feel its way about,
and live with question marks and doubt”
Into our faith struggles, into our questions about the scriptures and its authenticity, into our quests for proof and into our queries beyond words, in God’s appointed time Jesus walks in. For Thomas it was eight days of wait for others it has been longer or lesser. But be sure Jesus would walk in.
- Into Our Closed Rooms Jesus Walks in- Peace be with You
Absence and Presence is a powerful contrast in the gospel of John. The gruesome death of Jesus shattered the fulcrum of hope of all the disciples including Thomas. For fear of the enemies, they were huddled in closed rooms. Into that huddle, while the room was still closed Jesus walks in. What they needed most at that point was Peace and calming their turbulence Jesus tells them- Peace be with you.
While this happened last time Thomas was absent but eight days later today when the Theophany repeats itself, Thomas is present. This offer of peace is personally to him.
There are several people in closed rooms today- the elderly, the differently abled, the sick, those who live through war and violence, those facing poverty and displacement, those children and young people facing the trauma of living to the expectations of others.
Into the closed room Jesus walks in
The pattern Jesus showed, we share:
life comes through death, hope through despair.
- Into our faith struggles Jesus walks in- Touch My Wounds
Some wounds are visible, but many are not. There are people living with mental trauma. Wounds that nobody sees. There are people living with emotional trauma. Others live with deep spiritual wounds, which sometimes are not even understood by others.
Imagine you weave your dreams of the future around someone. All that you think, do and imagine is around that person and suddenly that person is brutally taken away from you.
Some memories of what you have experienced can be really traumatic and could break you down.
It is into that wounded brokenness of Thomas that Jesus walks in. He shows him his wounds. Invites him to touch and see.
“God is made known in brokenness
Faith feeds on God’s emptiness”
Wounds are windows through which the light of the divine enters the inner being.
The denouement point in the faith struggle of Thomas was this encounter with the wounds and he submits- My Lord and My God.
And when Jesus literally walks in there cannot be a different response other than a total submission praying- Take my hand and my life
- Into Our Vulnerabilities Jesus Walks In- Doubt Not- Only Believe
When Thomas declared aloud that unless I have proof, I will not accept the story of resurrection he was actually becoming the odd man out in the crowd. Everyone else in the inner circle has had this encounter and the new power they claim was the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Waiting for the Wounded Saviour not knowing whether he would appear again is not easy as we think because you are actually alone in a crowd.
This sense of Loneliness is something we cannot miss seeing. The vulnerability of the lonely cannot be seen lightly.
Jesus walks by to Thomas, reassures him personally, invites him for an experience of the wounds and tells him- Do not Doubt- Only Believe.
In one of the orientation programmes in a Medical College the final year medical students put up a skit and had only one phrase sung through and that was ONLY believe
They depicted several situations of darkness that a person could travel through in mime. And then the refrain- ONLY BELIEVE.
Years later I participated in the annual get together of the batch that was being oriented and several of them said- the greatest sermon they ever heard in their life was that one phrase- Only Believe
The church stil tells how Jesus came
through death to glorious life again –
the strangest story! Yet, maybe,
our faith will thrive on mystery.
In the context of such mystery of faith- Do not doubt- Only Believe
- Into our Scientific Temper Jesus Walks In- Blessedness of Believing without Seeing
Thomas was seeking proof. Thomas was asking questions. Thomas was refusing to believe words and the narratives from scripture. Thomas was wanting scientific evidence.
Don’t we see that very much around us
A generation telling us- we refuse to believe
We need proof that God exists
All these talk about resurrection and second coming does not go well with our scientific temper.
Just because others believe why should I
Unless I see I will not believe
Friends it is into this scientific temper Jesus walks in and it is to that mind Jesus gently talks of the blessedness of believing without seeing
Blessed are they who believe without seeing
Faith takes the little that we know,
And calls for hope, and tells us: Go!
Love and take courage, come what may;
Christ will be with us on the way.
Thomas held that out-streached hand of Jesus. And O what an adventure followed, I can go on on Thomas and India.
Let me conclude
God is made known in brokenness,
and faith feeds on God’s emptiness.
The Essence of the Homily is- Only Believe
Let us in silence reflect on what we heard as we listen to and join in Elizabeth J Smith’s Faith will not grow from words alone
June 5, 2022