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Second Sunday of Easter

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31 There are twenty-one chapters in the Gospel of John; but according to most scripture scholars, the original version of this Gospel ended with Chapter Twenty, from which our Gospel account this morning is taken; that is, with the story of the disciple who has come to be known to us as the Doubting Thomas. It may seem strange at first glance to imagine any of the four Gospels ending with a story of doubt, but the story of the Doubting Thomas is in reality just the opposite; it is a story of profound faith, a story of revelation and truth and life. And if you are wondering about Chapter Twenty-One, know that it contains additional stories of the Risen Christ, material surely for another occasion and another sermon. In the Orthodox Tradition of the Eastern Churches – and by the way the Orthodox celebrate Easter today -- in the Orthodox Tradition of the Eastern Churches the disciple Thomas is more commonly referred to as Thomas the Believer or Thomas the Faith-Filled. Which, when you stop to think about it, might be a much more accurate moniker or appellation for him than Doubting Thomas, considering the denouement of the story. In any case, this account of Thomas occurs only here in the Gospel of John; not in any of the other three Gospels, the so-called Synoptic Gospels; and it suits John’s unique perspective on our Lord and his mission, as we shall see. To recap, Thomas, as we just heard, for reasons unknown and unstated in the Gospel text, is not present with his fellow disciples when our Lord appears to them, behind locked doors no less. Perhaps Thomas had errands to run. The disciples later excitedly tell him of the encounter, but he remains skeptical, to put it mildly, proclaiming that he will not believe until he has put his hand and finger upon our Lord’s wounds. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,” says Thomas, “I will not believe.” Strong words. Still, Thomas here unabashedly, if a bit rashly, raises important questions of faith, seeking answers to the unanswerable, explanation of the seemingly incomprehensible; as most of us at some level and in our own way do still to this day. He was no dummy, after all. Thomas knew, as well as we know, that the dead do not rise back to life; and that extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. When Jesus next appears, Thomas of course is present. And astonished and overcome with awe, his doubt

melts away like ice in a flame, and he blurts out, “My Lord and My God;” the first time, as best I can tell, that anyone in any of the Four Gospels, or the entire New Testament, has directly addressed Jesus as God. No wonder then that so many biblical scholars think the original version of the Gospel of John must surely have ended right here, right here in faith and in the life it promises; right here in the Story of Thomas the Believer. For in a sense, the Gospel of John itself has now come full-circle. Remember that “in the beginning was the Word,” are the very first words of the Gospel of John; “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Fitting then, that the Gospel should now end with Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and My God.” Thomas comes to realise and proclaim what we as Christians now very nearly take for granted, that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. That Jesus is God. Needless to say, this is the defining moment along Thomas’ journey of faith; and it surely was a defining moment in the developing consciousness and faith of the early Church. In some very real sense, it is the very doubt of Thomas that ultimately brings his faith into full relief and meaning. His doubt, if we are to give him the benefit of the doubt, is not so much the opposite of faith as it is its prerequisite. Thomas’ inner journey takes him from the therefore of evidence and everyday experience to the nevertheless of faith and spirit. To the nevertheless of God. For, if God is always beyond us, God is yet always with us as well. That is the mystery of faith. Today’s Gospel story is a dramatic portrayal of this simple Christian truth. Our world is of course still full of doubt and unbelief. This is nothing new. God is impossible, some contemporary philosophers and thinkers tell us; yet God nevertheless adamantly refuses to go away, nevertheless refuses to head off quietly to a well-deserved retirement. And as with Thomas, it is often as not our own times of crisis, doubt, and despair that bring this reality back to us, back full-circle like the Gospel itself, back to our own spiritual origins. For centuries, the debate among theologians, and for very practical reasons among artists and painters as well, has been this: whether or not Thomas did actually put his hand and finger upon the marks of Jesus’ wounded Body. In other words, did he do what he proclaimed he wanted to do, needed to do, in order to believe: to touch the Lord. So, did he accept Jesus’s invitation to do just that...or not? Good question. The text does not tell us. What do you say...? Was Christ’s appearance standing there in front of him enough for Thomas...? Or did he finally need still more...? Did he reach out his hand and touch Jesus...? Personally, I think he did, but not necessarily because he needed to in order to believe, but rather because he needed to in order to understand fully just who this Christ is. For in a real sense, it is nails and spear-point that bring Thomas to faith. After all, Christ is a Lord and a God who also knows what it means to suffer and die. Jesus invites Thomas to share in his pain as well as his joy by extending his hands and side to him. It is just this which unlocks Thomas’ mind and heart. Only as he touches Jesus’ wounds does he come to understand the full meaning of faith, of the Cross, of the Resurrection. For us, as the Evangelist explains, the words of the Gospel are meant to bring faith, and that is why they are written, that through believing “we may have life in his name.” A lot to think about on a Sunday morning, on Low Sunday of all days, but questions which in turn challenge our faith still today; challenge us, with Thomas, to see the signs all around us, as the Evangelist again suggests we should; to recount in our times of pain as well as joy the miracles which God has wrought in our own lives,

wrought in the miracle of our very existence, wrought in the miracle of love and redemption. And so this day and every day we proclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” That is where the Gospel of John probably ends because that is certainly where the Gospel of Christ ends. And that, my friends, is where this sermon ends. Amen. The Revd Dr Frank Hegedűs

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