Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
But Thomas, one of the Twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other Disciples therefore said unto him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said unto them, ‘Unless I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.’
This is pretty much what Thomas is known for both by us and the general population. He is thus nicknamed “Doubting Thomas” or “Thomas the Doubter.” This scene pretty much summarizes the man Thomas despite his tenacious faith when he exhorted the Twelve to go with Jesus when He had proposed to return to Judea to visit the four-day-dead Lazarus. Recall his words: “’Let us also go,’” Thomas exhorts, ‘’that we may die with Him’” (Jn. 11:16). Certainly, one doesn’t make such life-altering statements glibly, and they certainly aren’t the fruit of doubt. And yet, this one scene post-Resurrection is how must of us remember the Disciple Thomas, Apostle to India and martyr for the Lord Jesus!
Modern Biblical scholarship has sought to rehabilitate Thomas’ reputation, trying to re-cast him in a more favorable light. I have my conjectures as to why this may be, but the fact is the Church for centuries has dubbed Thomas as such, that is, as a doubter. It is one thing when a non-believer doubts, it is quite another when you have spent three intimate years with the Master Who has said on at least three occasions in your hearing that the Son of Man must suffer, die, and be raised again on the third day. Hence, as believers, Sacred Scripture teaches us that we will face greater scrutiny and judgment than those who have never heard the message before. “’[T]o whom much is given,’” says our Lord, “’from him much will be required; . . . .’” (Lk. 12:42-48).
There is one Church Father, however, who expressed a positive take on St. Thomas’ doubt. He averred that Thomas’ doubt was for us and for our salvation, that is to say, God permitted it that we might benefit from the Disciple’s doubt. To be sure, Thomas did not doubt the death of Jesus, it was the Resurrection he had problems with because, quite honestly, dead men typically stay dead. So, when he heard the glorious Good News of the others who all said, “’We have seen the Lord!,’” we can well imagine why Thomas wasn’t buying it. I guess one question is: If we had been in his shoes would we have believed? Of course, do we now believe in the bodily Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ and that it holds for us a precursor for our own resurrection when the Lord at His Coming will re-unite our souls and our bodies so that we may spend eternity in the way we spent our temporal lives? Do we believe this or have we fallen for the myth of the immortal soul that flies away, happily rid of the body, in order to live happily ever after like Caspar the Friendly Ghost somewhere over the rainbow?
It has been suggested by others that the greatest advocate for something is most often one who formerly doubted and was its greatest antagonist. Thomas certainly could be said to fit that mold. Before he encounters the crucified and risen Master, he is committed to his doubt, which is really the belief that dead men do not rise from the dead. He is adamant that nothing will convince him otherwise unless he can physically see and feel the wounds of Jesus for himself. In many ways, he is not unlike many of us. But, then, he comes face-to-face with the Crucified One and beholds with his hands and eyes the signs of the Death and Resurrection. He is converted by the holy wounds of our Lord’s saving Passion preserved in the risen flesh of Jesus.
It has also been suggested that the most damning is one who has apostatized from the Faith, that is, one who used to believe but has now fallen from grace into unbelief; not simply doubt, but atheistic unfaith. Julian the Apostate stands as a ready example of such. Once a devoted believer in Jesus Christ the Galilean, as he used to refer to Jesus, he became a most vicious persecutor of Christians, pursuing with all diligence a return to godless paganism once he had ascended the throne of the Roman Empire. There is no anti-Christian like a former Christian, someone has quipped, and Sacred Scripture speaks a grave and chilling warning: for such a soul there remains no longer a saving sacrifice. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the Truth,” says St. Paul, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” The Apostle goes on to say that anyone who rejected Moses’ Law died without mercy. How much more worse will it be for the soul “who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the Covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” St. Paul concludes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hb. 6:4-8; 10:26-31). “For our God is a consuming fire” Who we must serve “with reverence and godly fear” (Ex. 24:17; Hb. 12:28, 29).
On this Sunday of Antipascha, that is, the Sunday “in place of Pascha,” the eighth day after the Resurrection, we hear of our brother and glorious Apostle Thomas’ own personal struggle with doubt. Thomas wasn’t suffering from atheism, but he was suffering a severe case of doubt in light of what he knew: his Master was dead and buried, and dead men do not return to life, generally speaking, unless you were Lazarus who was the beneficiary of Jesus’ power. But, the One Who had raised Lazarus was now Himself dead. Who would resurrect Him? Part of Thomas’ problem, however, was that he had forsaken the assembling together of the Disciples on the evening of the Resurrection. In doing so, he missed the revelation of God in that assembly of neophyte Paschal believers. And yet, as some have proposed, Thomas’ doubt becomes our opportunity for belief – for faith in the crucified and risen Jesus. In the Providence of God, all things are possible to those who believe and God is about the business of saving those who are called to His purpose by working all things together for good to those who love Him (Mt. 17:20; Mk. 9:23; Rm. 8:28). Perhaps it was beneficial that one of Jesus’ own challenged the script of the other 10 who claimed to have seen Jesus very much alive because the dead do not arise. And yet, this wasn’t any old man. It was and is the God-Man, Jesus Christ, Who is in and of Himself the Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25-26). Jesus crucified and risen has the power of the Resurrection residing in Himself, a reality He revealed on the Mt. of Transfiguration!
Thus, this doubting Thomas, to his credit, believes the greatest living sign of the Resurrection – our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Unlike so many others, Thomas was willing to believe when presented with the living Sign of the Resurrection. He was willing to surrender to the Truth standing before him which is what faith is, beloved, a surrendering to God. There are those who might say that Thomas had no choice when confronted with incontrovertible evidence. But, that isn’t the case. There were many others during our Lord’s three year ministry who saw His miracles – signs and evidence! – but who did not believe because they were not willing to yield to God. It still takes faith even when one reaches out his finger to explore the nail prints and thrust his hand into the gaping wound in the side of Jesus. Did Thomas fully comprehend the Mystery before him? Very doubtful. But, he was willing to confess in faith, “’My Lord and my God!’” Having rock-solid, irrefutable, incontrovertible proof doesn’t always win the day. One must still confess, “I believe!” Indeed, “’Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
But, before we close, let us return to this notion of the eighth day. Sunday is the day commemorating our Lord’s Resurrection, so it is always a little Pascha each and every week. It participates in the new reality the Church has always known as “the eighth day,” that is, the new day of the new creation, the day beyond time, the day that characterizes eternity. Just as our Lord was sent on His mission by the Father, He likewise ordains the Twelve to continue the Father’s mission in the world. Jesus blessed and sanctified the Twelve to bear Him witness, to say His words and to do His ways. Ultimately, it is to bear witness to His Resurrection from the dead, just as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles. And, it is the apostolic Church that continues this saving and sanctifying mission in the midst of the world. She preserves and bears witness to the divine revelation entrusted to the Apostles. She is the greatest living Sign of the Resurrection because she is the true Body of Christ. In her and through her the saving and sanctifying wounds of our Lord’s Great and Holy Passion come to life as she preaches His Word, ministers the Mystery of Repentance and Reconciliation, eats the divine Flesh of her Lord and Master and drinks His divine Blood, prays for the world and for its salvation, and heals the sick, the possessed, and others ravaged by the powers of sin, death, and the devil.
It is here, then, in the assembly of the believers gathered together on the eighth day, the new day, the Lord’s Day of Resurrection that we are enabled to see and touch the Life-giving wounds of our crucified, buried, and risen Jesus! We hear His words to us. We smell the sweet aroma of His Sacrifice. We taste His true Body and His true Blood and in doing so we physically partake of His divine nature unto the healing of our soul and our body! So, when we like Thomas fail to assemble with the Church on the Lord’s own appointed day wherein He chooses to make Himself known, we absent ourselves from the mighty saving and sanctifying deeds of God, and by doing so we injure our souls. In fact, we hurt our brethren in Christ and we may even deny ourselves His salvation!
In the Hebrews’ passage I quoted regarding those who fall away from the grace of God, St. Paul says this:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hb. 10:23-25).
“’Keep the Sabbath Day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. . . . [R]emember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and an stretched out arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath Day’” (Ex. 20:8-11; Dt. 5:12-15).
Indeed, beloved, remember Pascha!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!