Let’s talk about faith: a sermon on John 20: 19-30

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

Let’s talk about faith.

Because that’s really what today’s gospel from John is about.

Specifically, how to live the life of faith.

As a child, I used to hear the story of Thomas as a kind of morality tale.

The story of why we need to believe in Jesus without the benefit of proof.

Why we need to believe, without necessarily seeing for ourselves, the risen Christ.

But now I have come to think that my childhood interpretation of today’s gospel story isn’t the full story.

What if, instead of rebuking Thomas for wanting to see in order to believe,

Jesus instead says that faith is about believing in a variety of ways.

Allowing ourselves and others to see and know the risen Christ is what living the faith is about.

After all, Jesus himself, in appearing to his disciples in today’s gospel, essentially asks his disciples to see and know him.

Jesus doesn’t ask the disciples to simply blindly believe.

If Jesus wanted blind belief, then why would Jesus bother to show up in the locked room at all?

Instead, Jesus physically appears among his disciples.

At a time when they are all together, Jesus comes among his disciples.

And Jesus shows his disciples the wounds in his hands and his side before they even ask to see them.

Jesus, it seems, anticipates the desire to see and to know the risen Christ in a tangible, real way.

Jesus offers his disciples the ability to see and to touch him, to know him, to engage with his presence among them, before they even ask.

Jesus’ own actions seem to suggest that engaging, in a real, tangible way, with the Risen Christ is what discipleship is about.

So that Thomas, in asking to see and touch the Risen Christ, asks no more than what Jesus has already offered to the other disciples.

Everyone else has also seen the risen Christ in a real and tangible way.

And so, Thomas’ request to see and know the risen Christ is not wrong.

In fact, Thomas expresses his intent, his purpose, his desire to really know the Risen Christ in a way….

…that demonstrates his engagement with faith.

Thomas doesn’t just passively accept the word of others.

Thomas also wants to engage with Christ, engage with the life of faith, himself.

Rather than simply blindly accepting, Thomas really wants to see, really wants to know, wants to personally experience the Risen Christ.

In this sense, Thomas is a true disciple.

He wants to know the Risen Lord.

Thomas’s desire to do so is actually a demonstration of faith, rather than a denial of it.

And yet, I can’t help but think that we, as disciples of Jesus generations later, are in a slightly different situation from Thomas.

When Thomas wants to know the risen Christ, he has the opportunity to do so in a physical way.

No one here, like Thomas, has actually put their hand in Jesus’ wounded side.

There are days when I long for an opportunity to literally stand in the physical presence of the risen Christ, to really touch him, as Thomas did.

I cannot do that, in the same way that Thomas does.

But we have all come to see and know Jesus in other real and tangible ways.

The Eucharist, my friends, the breaking of bread together that we do every Sunday…

It is one way of seeing, tasting, and knowing Christ Jesus in a real and tangible way.

So is singing a hymn, or praying a prayer, or lighting a candle on the altar.

Maybe we’ve seen and known Christ in other ways, no less physical, no less real.

In a beautiful view. In a newborn baby. In a hug from a friend.

These are, for lack of a better word, just as much “proofs” of God’s presence among us, as seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds.

Thomas’ engagement with faith is no different than our own.

And I wonder if Jesus’ words to Thomas today, “Have you believed because you have seen me?

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Are not a rebuke to Thomas, as I once believed.

What if they are, instead a form of encouragement?

Encouragement to go on believing, to go on engaging with the faith, continue seeing and knowing God in a variety of ways.

Seeing Christ, and maybe also touching, or tasting, or smelling or the many other ways that God is made manifest in this world.

Portions of John’s gospel are written in such a way that they are explicitly directed towards and for the benefit of the readers and hearers of the gospel.

It’s like when someone in a movie suddenly faces the camera directly and talks straight to the audience.

The last two lines of today’s gospel are examples of this.

“These words are written”, John says in his gospel, “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,

and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

These words are directed right at us.

Another example of this comes just a few chapters earlier, in the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, when Jesus prays for his disciples.

In the middle of his prayer to God on behalf of his disciples, Jesus does the narrative equivalent of directly facing the camera when he says,

“I ask this not only on behalf of these my disciples, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”

In other words, Jesus prays for us too, the future disciples of Jesus.

I wonder if the story of Thomas too, is also explicitly for our benefit.

What if Jesus’ words to Thomas in today’s gospel, are simply another example of a message to those who will read and hear the gospel….

… a message to us, and to future disciples.

A message of how to live the life of faith.

After all, we are the ones who have not literally seen the risen Lord and yet still believe.

So are the ones who will come after us.

In other words, Jesus says to us, as he says to Thomas and the other disciples:

Keep on believing, engaging and bearing witness to our faith in Jesus Christ in real and tangible ways.

We are here in worship today because other disciples of Jesus did the same for us.

Go on seeking, tasting, touching, knowing the Risen Lord.

And help others to do the same.

We, along with Thomas and the other disciples, we all seek to experience the Risen Christ.

And to make Christ seen and known in this world.