On the Sunday of Thomas


Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, May 12, 2024 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA

Have you ever noticed how before the explosion of Pentecost, everything is still quiet and hidden? Let me explain. We exist in a liminal time, an "in-between" time. In between the poles of creation and the kingdom of heaven, and right now between the time of Pascha and Pentecost. 

I love how St. Thomas Sunday always comes the week after Pascha, just after we’ve been rejoicing and celebrating the resurrection. But after the high, comes the low, after the party comes the crash, and “Doubting Thomas” is one of us. And Jesus is right there ready to lift him up and us with him. He comes quietly, speaking peace.

The disciples are gathered in the upper room with the door bolted and they are afraid. For them, there is no resurrection. Jesus is dead. And they cry out, “shut the door and keep it shut! Don’t let anyone in!” They fear for their safety. This is after both Mary Magdalene and Peter have witnessed the empty tomb. In fact, Mary sees and speaks with the risen Lord. He tells her not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to his Father. It seems like there is a kind mini ascension here, a reuniting with the Father before he appears to the disciples. It is hidden like a whisper. That was the morning.

Now it is evening, the first day of the week, the day after the sabbath. Jesus appears and stands among the disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” He cries out again, Shalom! My peace be with you. As my Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is not the Great Commission, like we heard at Orthros this morning. It is a mini commission. Jesus’ disciples are being sent into the world, but they have no idea what is happening. In Luke, it says, “They were startled and thought they saw a ghost.” They are afraid because they have failed him. They fell asleep. They ran away and dispersed. They are deeply distressed and lost.

But Jesus shows them his pierced hands and his side. And the disciples are overjoyed when they see him and hold him. He breaths on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This blessing anticipates the Pentecost. It is a mini-Pentecost, still hidden, like a whisper of breath from his body to theirs. It is like God breathing life into Adam at the moment of creation. Jesus imparts his own life, his breath onto us, freely offered.

We tend to focus on Thomas’ statement, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” But what happens next is more important and is a real statement of faith.

Jesus appears again to Thomas the following week, and says, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Place your hand in my side. Do not be faithless but believing.” Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus tells him, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” That’s us of course. The gospel says that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”  John is addressing a living church here, speaking to people who must believe in the apostolic witness. He is speaking to us.

I just reread A Wrinkle in Time in which there is a great character named “Aunt Beast” who, though blind sees things as they are. She doesn’t even comprehend what sight is, but she doesn’t need to see because she has spiritual insight. She wraps around Meg to comfort her in a time of great danger, to give her courage to descend into darkness alone to rescue her brother. Jesus is a little like both Aunt Beast and Meg when he says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Those who believe are able to see in a different way, a new way, a way that is often hidden.

In this way, our hearts become an empty tomb, full of hope, full of trust, and full of light. We emerge from our own empty tombs victorious, a new people, better radiating the light, peace, love, and joy of Jesus Christ. Thomas was being fashioned into a new type of being, with all of his doubts, and all of his faults, he was becoming a new creature, alive in a new world, endowed by Jesus Christ with new possibilities and powers. And Jesus will grant this power of faith to anyone who will accept it, that by believing, we may have life in his name.

Thanks be to God.