Sunday, May 04, 2008

St. Thomas Sunday

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

“Christ is risen!”

Last Sunday at Agape Vespers we read the first half of this morning’s gospel lesson [John 20:19-31], ending with St. Thomas refusing to believe the joyful testimony of his fellow apostles that Jesus had risen from the dead. Today we continue the story to find that, one long week later, the disciples were again gathered behind locked doors and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood in their midst, and after blessing them with peace, He summoned the suddenly-not-so-doubting Thomas to examine the wounds on His hands and His side and behold the undeniable reality of His bodily resurrection.

Listen to some of the hymns from last night’s vespers:

O good Christ, when Thou didst enter unto Thy Disciples, the doors being shut, Thomas, who was called Didymus, was not with them. Therefore, he doubted what was told to him. Nevertheless, Thou didst not deem him unworthy for his lack of faith, rather Thou assured him of faith, by showing him Thy pure side, and the wounds in Thy hands and feet. Therefore, having sought and beheld, he confessed that Thou art an unabstract God, and an unsimple Man, crying, My Lord and my God, Glory to Thee.

As the Disciples were being doubtful, the Savior, after eight days, came to where they were gathered and granted them peace. Then He cried unto Thomas, Come, O Apostle, and probe the two palms which were pierced by the nails. O the delicacy of the beautiful unbelief of Thomas, as coming with the heart of an unbeliever to knowledge, he called out with fear, My Lord and my God, Glory to Thee.

There are three things I would like us to take note of today. The first is that our Lord did not despise Thomas for his doubts, but in yet one more example of the immeasurable and inexhaustible divine humility, He offered His hands and side to Thomas for inspection, as the disciple had so brazenly demanded just the week before. Now think about that. Even after all the horrible things that Christ had been made to suffer at the hands of sinful men, He still was not out of patience for sinners. He might have had every right to be angry with Thomas. Instead, our Lord showed great meekness, submitting to His disciple, giving permission for him to poke dirty fingers into His blessed wounds if that is what he still needed in order to believe. We are not told that Thomas followed through on that; possibly by this time he was feeling a bit meek and humbled himself.

Because our Lord spoke so often throughout the gospels on the need for faith, it is comforting to know that He also shows mercy toward those whose faith sometimes fails them. In this world of sin and darkness, in a culture that is increasingly secular and hostile toward faith, we might even say that such struggles to believe are to be entirely expected. The gentle compassion which Christ shows here is an assurance that He knows what we go through and is willing to help us. When Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed,” was He not in fact speaking of us? By so doing He was showing that He knows belief can be difficult at times, but that the mercy of God is upon those who persevere in the struggle to maintain an active and growing faith.

The second thing I would like us to notice is the phrase in that second hymn, “O the delicacy of the beautiful unbelief of Thomas”. Now “beautiful” is not an adjective we might normally associate with unbelief, and yet in this case it applies perfectly, because the unbelief of Thomas was so simple and without guile. Overcome by grief and false expectations the Messiah’s ministry—remember that the disciples were all expecting Christ to take a glorious earthly throne, not to die miserably upon a sinner’s cross—the soul of Thomas was stunned. But when Christ appeared to him and he suddenly began to connect the dots, the great purity of his heart allowed the Holy Spirit to illumine him as he cried out “My Lord and My God!”

There certainly exists simple or “beautiful” unbelief. It can be found in many who have never heard the gospel, or those who, through no fault of their own, have only been exposed to distorted or incomplete versions of it. It can be found in some who have suffered great hurt in life, and who thus wonder if God is indeed good and merciful. When such people are presented with the true gospel or otherwise have their sincere questions answered, they may discover (Somewhat to their surprise!) a deep longing in their hearts for God and will joyously come with faith unto Jesus Christ in His Church to receive holy baptism and divine illumination. Such people are truly blessed!

We must add that there also exists “ugly” unbelief. This is unbelief that is rooted in the passions, not in simple ignorance, and which seizes upon some pseudo-intellectual excuse not to believe in God or obey Him. Most often this is accompanied by the desire to “be free” from the morality of the Church to pursue the lusts of the flesh. This is a terrible spiritual condition, and reveals that considerable darkening of the soul has taken place in a person, most often and tragically with that person’s full consent. People afflicted in this way are by no means beyond redemption, but their path back to God will often involve the painful crucifixion of their enormous pride and an ongoing and difficult renunciation of their enslaving passions.

One final thing I’d like to mention regarding our gospel story is that Thomas didn’t do himself any favors by being off in his own private little hell of despair and disillusionment while the rest of the disciples were rejoicing in the presence of the risen Christ. It is never a wise idea to be a marginal participant in the life of the Church, but it is an especially bad idea to withdraw yourself when you’re faced with spiritual struggles. If anything, that’s the time when we most need the Church, together with the support of our brothers and sisters, our father/confessor, and our loving God. There will always be trials and tribulations in this life. We need to make sure we always face them in God’s Church, united to one another as our Lord intended. In this way, we can also experience all the joys together, such as in our celebration of the glorious resurrection of Christ Jesus.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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