Easter 2A’23
16 April 2023
John 20.19-31
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North LiƩle Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

Everliving God, you did not judge or condemn your servant Thomas for honestly confessing his doubt, but met him right where he was: Grant us your grace that we, like Thomas, might be honest with you, and continually grow in our faith, and friendship with you; in the Name of the Risen One, Christ Jesus, your Son. Amen.

Today at noon we will begin a series of Inquirer’s classes designed for those who want to know more about the Episcopal Church, and for those seeking to become a confirmed Episcopalian. Unlike other denominations we do not require adherence to a strict doctrinal code, and questions are not only allowed but are encouraged. Wherever someone is in their spiritual journey is perfectly acceptable to us. As the comedian Robin Williams once gave his top ten reasons why he was an Episcopalian, besides “color coded worship” and “pew aerobics,” he said that “no matter what you believe, there will be at least one other Episcopalian that agrees with you.”

Statistics show that some 80% of Episcopalians came from some other faith background or none, with only 20% being “cradle Episcopalians” who were born into the church. Myself, being one who came from a different denomination, there were many things that attracted me to this church, besides traditional music and prayer book liturgy, there was an emphasis on the Bible, with more bible read during worship than any other church I had ever attended – two scripture readings or lessons, with a Psalm and a Gospel reading! In sermons I didn’t hear bumper sticker theology like “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” Scripture could be looked at from several angles and was open to different understandings and interpretations.

After attending an Episcopal Church for a while, I noticed the seasonal patterns of the Church Year and that the readings from scripture were organized into a three-year cycle called year A, B, and C. This meant that scripture passages would rotate on and that each year there would be a set of readings that would be different. However, on several occasions throughout the year the same readings would be used for that Sunday.

One of those days happens to be the second Sunday after Easter. Each year on this Sunday you can count on hearing the story of the apostle Thomas after the resurrection. Yes, the very same Thomas that we have referred to as “doubting Thomas.” I have to confess, before coming to the Episcopal Church I don’t believe I ever heard a single sermon about Thomas. In fact, the only thing I can recall is that if he was mentioned at all it was in the negative sense of his terrible doubts – thus the admonition, “Don’t be a doubting Thomas.” How shocking it was that such an anti-hero in many other Christian traditions would be held in such high esteem in the Episcopal Church; so much so that they would give him ‘air-time’ every year on the second Sunday after Easter. Why on earth would we do that? And if they make Thomas almost into a hero, what does that say about the Episcopal Church? What does that say about the kind of God the Episcopal Church attempts to proclaim and share with others?

One of the things we so appreciate about Thomas was his honesty. He had not been there at the house when Jesus made his first post resurrection appearance to the male disciples, the women, as you may recall, were already in the know, having been the first to see the resurrected Christ. When Thomas got back to the house the other disciples were full of the good news about Jesus being alive. Without batting an eye, Thomas blurted the truth right out: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” After all, he was only asking for the same experience as the other disciples had had to see and touch Jesus’ wounds.

A week went by and Jesus returned to the house where the disciples were still hiding behind locked doors, and this time Thomas was with them. On the cover of your bulletin, you have a rendering of the moment when Thomas touched the wounds of Jesus. He approached Thomas directly, and addressed him personally, “Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Jesus had no shame, blame, or judgment to level at Thomas. In fact, Jesus is so desirous to be in relationship with Thomas that he complies with his desires, and offers his wounds to be inspected up close and allows them to be touched. As a result of this personal address and experience of the risen Christ and of his scars Thomas makes an honest and bold, and yes real confession of his faith: “My Lord, and My God.” Not ‘The Lord, or the God” but “My Lord and my God.”

Thomas teaches us that honesty is the path to truth, intimate friendship with God, and that may often include our doubts as well as our declarations of faith. In a word Thomas shows us how to be real. There was no rote recitation of a creed. There was no religious hypocrisy of Thomas trying to ‘fake it until he made it.’ When Thomas got real with God, God got real with him back, and the result was an actual, and intimate, relationship with God through the risen Christ. His doubts perhaps were never fully settled but who his God was – from that moment of actual experience he knew who his God was.

Thomas would go on to do great things for God and the church. Tradition says that he took the gospel all the way to India where he established churches and where he would eventually die. There are many churches across the globe who have made him their patron and namesake. And, the Episcopal Church sees him as a hero, and a saint, not because he was perfect, but because through his doubt he shows us the wonderful God that we believe in, the God who doesn’t shame us, doesn’t blame us, or judge us, but who wants to meet us right where we are, smack dab in the middle of our doubts, and imperfections.

On this second Sunday after Easter, we can remember and know that the God of Thomas was literally dying to get to know us, doing all things necessary to break down every wall of separation and to walk with us as a brother and friend. I wonder what would happen if we followed Thomas’ lead and got honest with God? Who knows, all heaven might just break loose. If this sounds like a God you might be interested in knowing then let me say, ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!’ Amen!