St Thomas encounters the Risen Lord.
During these past eight days (which the Church views as a single day) we have celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord. A day of joy, a day of peace and the source of our hope. It is with great sadness, however, that our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka have now endured, since the events in Christchurch, another horrendous act of violence perpetrated on Easter Day. What an antithesis of this great feast. Christ has won for us the gift of redemption and we hope in this gift but as human beings we have so much still to be redeemed. So much innocent blood spilt for what? Our faith and hope are certainly tested in times like this.
The Gospel today taken from John 20:19-31 focusses on St Thomas. An appropriate man to reflect on given the present circumstances. He was a man who lost hope and lost faith with the circumstances of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. Now, in this account of Jesus after the Resurrection we see him transformed. There was nothing uncertain about his unqualified profession of faith when he said to Jesus, "My Lord and my God." While he was the last of the apostles to believe in the risen Christ, he was the first to make such a profound confession of His divinity. In a milli-second, his faith had taken a quantum leap.
The Gospels tell us Thomas had a twin. Who is his twin? I’d never really considered it before. I read somewhere an interpretation which I found helpful that you can take or leave that the ‘twin’ could be you and me. We are all a mixture of doubt and certainty, pessimism and trust, unbelief and belief. On those days, when doubt, pessimism, and unbelief hold the cards, it would be a wise thing to hold onto Thomas' cloak and not let go.
The story of St Thomas is such an important one for us as Christians. Pope St Gregory said that
"The slow surrender of Thomas is of more advantage to strengthen our faith than the more ready faith of all the believing apostles”.
Keeping faith amidst times of darkness
So often we miss the presence of Christ in others including people in our own families because we can focus on the mistakes they have made and not the good they are doing. Thomas doubted because he could not get beyond the foibles and humanity of the other disciples and failed to hear the truth of what they were saying about Jesus being alive. Perhaps we can’t get past the senseless acts of violence and horror perpetrated by those in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Easter reminds us that violence and death will never have the last say though given its immediacy it can seem like it.
Thomas doubted because he was disappointed in himself. He went into hiding with the other disciples during Christ’s hour of need. We have all done this. We have all been disappointed in ourselves. Doubting in ourselves and in other people eventually leads to doubting in God. To be people of faith we are called to continue trusting in ourselves as well as others even faced with dark times, failures and disappointments.
God loves us. God forgives us. God is with us through it all. He never abandoned his Son though at the time it seemed like it. He will never abandon us even though at the time it may seem like it.
We can doubt our own abilities, and perhaps that’s the humble thing to do. Maybe we are not all that sure about the faith of others, but we have to trust that God also works through them. We can jump and we can take the leap into faith when we realize that God is there to catch us. His Son entered completely into the wonder and mess of our humanity and the stone holding us back from what we are destined to be has been rolled away. Christ leads the way. Once we leap into faith, we are called to live it and that’s how we share it.
Tradition teaches us that St Thomas went onto become the great apostle of India.
As we take this time to think and reflect, we could say a prayer in gratitude for the apostle Thomas who not only made a great leap of faith but went on to tell others about it. He could have wallowed in self-pity and doubt, but he did not allow that side of his personality to have the last word. He encountered the Risen Christ who changed him forever. He matured in trust even to shedding his own blood for the sake of the Good News. May our encounters with the Risen Christ in the ordinary and extraordinary events of our lives and in the lives of others who inspire us, build our faith and enthusiasm to share it.
St Thomas was changed by the encounter he had with Christ in the upper room. It was as if he was born again experiencing a new dawn, a new day beyond his imaginings. He journeyed from doubt into faith. That is the promise of Easter.