Today is often called Doubting Thomas Sunday. This is UN-DOUBT-edly (you see what I did there!) one of the DUMBEST things Christians have ever come up with in the history of our shorthand devices for holding on to the stories of Scripture.
Thomas is not a doubter. Thomas does not argue with the other disciples who have seen the risen Jesus, declaring that this cannot be so. Thomas does not flatly refuse to believe, he is not an unbeliever, he is not unfaithful; rather, he refuses to acknowledge as Lord and God any Jesus who does not bear the transfigured marks of his suffering. Thomas knows what to look for in the risen Christ: the marks of his wounds. He will be the one who was crucified, died, and was buried. He will be, as the poet Edward Shillito put it, Jesus of the Scars.
We should remember that Thomas is the one who, alone among the disciples, many days before, when Jesus declares he will return to a place where religious leaders tried to kill him, resolves that they should go with Jesus to die with him. Thomas knows what lies ahead of Jesus, and he commits to follow him there. Thomas knows the score. Thomas knows that this way Jesus walks, this path on which they follow him, will cost everything. And it will mean NOTHING, if corruption and collusion among the religious and political powers, driven by greed and entitlement, are not once and for all exposed and judged for what they are. Thomas knows that the way of Jesus will mean NOTHING if this charade by the powerful that passes for faith is not shown for what it actually is: fear, and the idolatry of small things that they will slaughter the Son of God himself to preserve. Thomas knows that it will mean NOTHING if death itself is not turned inside out, if hell itself is not visited by the Son of God, if death and hell are not emptied out into the kingdom of love, the kingdom in which fear gives way to gratitude, power gives way to servanthood, and all are reconciled to one another and to God.
SO: Doubting Thomas? No. If anything we should call him Thomas the Compass. Thomas the Guide. Thomas the Lookout. Thomas who measures straight and cuts true. Thomas will judge the identity of the risen Jesus by his continuity with the crucified Jesus. He will be the one who died, and though he has died, LIVES. He will be Jesus of the Scars.
If we are looking for the risen Christ, we do well to follow the direction of Thomas’ gaze.
If we follow that gaze, we will not find Christ in great worldly power wielded as if it can hold back human frailty and sorrow. We will not find the risen Christ among the prosperity gospel preachers who claim that God’s purpose is to make us materially rich, impermeable to illness, and free of stress. We will not find him in the pretty and the well-heeled precincts of the city of spectacle, where everything is exciting and perfection is trending. We will not find him lingering where the tide of endless acquisition rises, where the consumer gods proclaim that having things is living well.
If we follow Thomas’ gaze, We will find the risen Christ, the crucified and risen Christ, in the back alleys of the city, in the ruined towns of the countryside, in the “abandoned places of empire,” among the poor. We will find him among the lonely. The lost. The broken and grieving. Those who think they are worth nothing. Those who are afraid. We will find the risen Christ among those who KNOW they fall short, who are not hiding from themselves. We will find him among the homeless and the hopeless. Those who put one foot in front of the other each day without certainty they will see the next.
And we will find him among those who, though they do have wealth and security by worldly measures, are working as fast as they can to spend it on those in need, to tell the wounded ones the truth: that they are beloved, that they are reconciled, that they will never be separated from the one who died for them and for us. Those with wealth and security: that is ME, wealthy in a thousand orders of magnitude beyond most people in the world. That is probably you. And giving away more of that than we keep… maybe some of us, like the monastics, like the Catholic Workers, like Francis of Assisi, like the desert fathers and mothers, giving it ALL away… we will then, by grace, be blessed to find the Risen Crucified One among us.
St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest preachers of the Christian tradition, living in the fourth century as Christians began to emerge out of the shadows of persecution and into the halls of power, building beautiful churches with elegant altars and shining appointments, was as clear as can be, as clear as Thomas was, about where we will find the risen Jesus. Allow me to expand a popular and quite accurate paraphrase of John’s preaching, especially his eloquent homilies on the gospel of Matthew:
If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the
chalice. If you adorn your churches with beautiful linens and do not cloth Christ when he is found naked and in chains, you are not giving him honor, but giving offense. If you do not open your doors to Christ “who comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter,” while decorating the walls and the pillars of your places of worship…
well… basically he says, you’re wasting your time.
We must listen to the Holy Chrysostom if our worship is to be in spirit and in truth. We must follow the line of Holy Thomas’ sight if we want to find Jesus. Jesus of the Scars will be found among the wounded, where he will be soothing and healing and reconciling. If we follow him there, we will find our own wounds cleaned and ourselves made whole. We will find ourselves reconciled in him. And we will be able to say with unquenchable joy the words of the ancient Easter song: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing life.”
Sermon preached at Church of the Holy Spirit, Vashon
on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2021
The Rev. James W. Farwell, Ph.D
Professor of Theology and Liturgy
Director of Anglican Studies
Virginia Theological Seminary