Transforming unbelief through loveA sermon for Easter 2, 2021 on the Believing Thomas April 11, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
So, the Doubting Thomas turned to his friends,
many of whom were climate-change deniers, science-skeptics,
And he said:
“Unless I can see a coronavirus with my own eyes,
unless I personally know someone who died of COVID,
I will not believe this pandemic is real.”
It seems there are a lot of COVID Doubting Thomases around these days.
They protest against government lockdowns, obligatory mask-wearing, and peddle a range of conspiracy theories.
Some even cite freedom of religion, cherry-pick from the Bible and claim an anti-Christian persecution from police and government.
The 1st pandemic wave prompted a lot of fear in people,
The 2nd wave brought frustration,
But now that we’re in the 3rd wave, there is a lot of anger,
All you have to do is scroll through the comment sections in online media channels.
Now, of course it’s OK to criticize the government,
and you don’t have to believe everything you see or hear in the media,
but at a certain point,
it sometimes seems that reason and common sense are thrown out the window.
In an era where anybody can be an expert,
and actual experts who have studied the science for decades are dismissed,
how can you prove things beyond the shadow of the doubt?
How can you move from doubt to belief?
How can you convince people that vaccinations are beneficial and can help us beat this virus scourge?
I wonder what the original Thomas, the friend of Jesus,
would say about this pandemic we’re in.
Would he want more facts, and be sceptical about the published data?
Would he need to see a coronavirus with his own eyes,
and know someone who died of COVID-19 for him to believe what we’re seeing is real?
This is a bit of a sketchy introduction to our Gospel text,
but it raises the question of
how we move from doubt or unbelief to belief and acceptance,
esp. when the object is so incredible, so out-of-the-ordinary,
so unbelievable, that we shake our heads and wonder “what just hit us?”
And back then, on the first Easter Evening,
Two days after the events on Calvary,
the disciples were basically knocked out, in the corner,
reeling, when Jesus comes for a visit the first time.
Now Thomas: he likes facts, he is valiant, and loyal.
Nowhere in the Bible is he referred to as Doubting Thomas.
Rather his nickname is the “Twin”.
But when the disciples share the exuberant news that they had seen the Lord,
Thomas responds, perhaps a little sadly,
“unless I see the mark of the nails,
put my fingers in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side,
I will not believe.
I need full proof,
otherwise I cannot believe this insane theory you are proposing.
Stop being a sheep and make up your mind based on the evidence presented you.”
Now, the Disciples don’t argue with Thomas or make fun of him for his statement…in a way, he is being logical,
and maybe they’re starting to doubt their own experience…
maybe it was just a collective hallucination after all,
Maybe they were just spreading fake news.
A week later, again on a Sunday evening,
the disciples and Thomas are there behind locked doors.
Jesus came and stood there and said: “Peace be with you!”
And to Thomas: “put your finger here, see my hands,
reach out your hand and put it in my side!
Do not doubt but believe”
Well actually, Jesus doesn’t really say that, it’s more like:
“Do not be unbelieving, but believe.
Do not be faithless, but be faithful.
Be in relationship with me, Thomas.”
Now, let’s set this straight:
It is difficult to believe in the resurrection.
It just is. It defies everything we know about normal life.
The concept that the Risen Christ is the same as the crucified Jesus is a huge leap of faith, and as we hear from the Gospels,
even for those who were the closest to Jesus,
This was something that was very difficult to grasp.
Now how can one move from unbelief to belief?
How is it possible to prove such an extraordinary thing?
That it was not just a ghost, or a spiritual apparition that the disciples had beheld, but an actual physical body,
or at least some kind of physical body.
(normal physical bodies don’t pass through locked doors)
Well, Thomas is given the choice: of unbelief or belief.
Jesus doesn’t force faith on Thomas,
There is no ultimatum, no threats, no shunning or guilt-trips.
There just is love shown and demonstrated…
the wounds of love are shown,
The marks of God’s compassion are revealed
and Thomas is spoken to in the way that he can best understand it,
by an act of love.
Now, to believe in the resurrected Christ,
You need a relationship with Jesus (who is God in the Flesh)
You need a one-on one encounter!
And Jesus provides precisely that.
In other words, he says:
“I want you to know that whatever you have done and whatever you have been, I still trust you, and still believe in you;
I want you to take it in that God’s love is big enough to cover your case, your need, your sin;
and God’s power strong enough to lift you up above all that;
I want you to accept and to walk in the sunshine of God’s forgiving grace.”
“You have not chosen me, But I have chosen you.”
Christ shows Thomas through love,
through his willingness to engage Thomas at his level,
That he still trusts and cares for him,
As he re-establishes that loving relationship, one-on-one with him.
For anyone to truly turn from unbelief to belief,
we need to know God first-hand,
through an experience with the loving, forgiving, and caring divine.
Belief cannot be won through proof or logic,
it cannot be read in a book,
it cannot be second hand.
Belief is gained, when we are personally transformed.
By ourselves, alone, as for the disciples as for us: it is impossible.
But with Christ it is possible.
We too can be transformed.
But we have to be willing.
The disciples were humbled, their egos had been smashed,
and they were ready to accept.
They were a clay out of which God could form new followers.
Jesus transformed them by blowing the Spirit of God on them, into them,
Just like how in Genesis Chapter 2 (7) we read:
then the Lord GOD formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and the man became a living being.
The disciples, like us, had a new birth with the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit,
It was a moment of re-creation,
where suddenly abundant life was at their fingertips,
Through the blowing of the Spirit of God into their nostrils,
they truly became Children of God.
The Holy Spirit, the comforter,
the Helper, the Spirit of Truth,
Guided them and guides us still into all truth,
And brings us from unbelief to belief,
If we let Jesus breathe into our lives, and into our hearts.
With the Holy Spirit comes a sense of peace,
That all will be well,
A sense of deep peace in hearts and minds,
Something of course which is hard to grasp in these difficult times,
But was it not a very difficult time after the death of Jesus for those downtrodden and hopeless disciples too?
And even the most skeptical of them all, was able to exclaim:
My Lord and my God.
My personal Saviour, fully human and fully divine, revealed in community.
Thomas the Believer is the one to grasp it and exclaim it:
My Master and my God!
May we too, ever come to that intimate relationship with God,
May we come again and again to belief,
despite our fears, our anxieties, our unbelief,
And be touched by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit,
Who helps us understand
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and
through believing we may have life in his name.
May we be breathed into life by the Spirit who helps us grasp that Christ gives new grace, new strength, and new purpose to us,
So we as Christ’s body can walk and serve and stand like Christ did,
and be a blessing for all. Amen.
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