Sermon: Sunday 27 April 2014
The Revd Pete Hobson, Acting Canon Missioner
John 20 v19-end
Glass half-full or glass half-empty? Which sort of person are you? It’s very clear that Thomas was a glass half-empty.
When Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, it was Thomas who said, ‘Let us go as well, so that we may die with him!’ When Jesus uttered those famous words, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life…’ it was Thomas who said, ‘We haven’t a clue what you mean.’ And when back in Galilee, just after today’s Gospel ends, Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing, who’s coming with me?’ Thomas was first on the list. What did they catch? Nothing! As disciples go, Thomas was a bit of a damp squib. And in today’s reading, there he is failing to go off again!
First of all, he’s not there with the others. Possibly fearing his words about dying with Jesus were all too likely to come true, he absented himself, even from behind the locked door.
Then, when he did meet with the others, came his famous words: ‘Unless I see the marks of the nails I will not believe.’ Which, as an aside, speaks to the nature of belief or faith. Sometimes people say to me ‘I wish I had your faith’, as if it were an accident of nature, or upbringing. But perhaps belief is not so much an accident as a conscious choice: granted, one we need evidence for, but in the end a decision we choose to make. Or choose not to.
I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas. Not so much that I’m a ‘half-empty’ guy, perhaps, but I am a bit cautious. If it were me that had missed the big day when the others said they’d seen Jesus, I’d be careful what I admitted to as well. There’s a lot at stake. It doesn’t do to jump in too quickly.
But when Thomas was confronted with the risen Jesus, with the marks of the nails and the wound in the side, jump he did. Not only did he stop his doubting and believe, but he jumped a whole lot further than any of the others had done. He called him ‘My Lord and my God.’ This is Thomas, a true Jew, who knew his commandments – ‘The Lord your God is one’, and ‘You shall have no other gods but me’ – who is suddenly calling Jesus ‘God’. And this is Jesus – a man he’s known as intimately as you do when you’ve followed someone on the road for maybe three years.
And so begins the Christian era: with a glass half-empty that suddenly is gloriously full and overflowing. Because it’s not enough to know the doctrines or be able to say the creeds; it’s not enough to love the liturgy or the music or the ceremonial; and it’s not enough to enjoy the belonging, and like the company. All of these things are well and good – but work as well for Leicester Tigers, or Slimming World, or for all I know, Freethinkers Hall.
What did it for Thomas, and what should do it for us, is the life-shattering experience of total commitment to the one who is Lord and God.
It’s not head, it’s heart.
It’s not human, it’s divine.
It’s not fear, it’s love.
And yes, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. But the important thing is that they have believed. It’s the important thing for you, and me, too.
Then our glass is not half-empty, or even half-full. It’s full to overflowing.
© The Revd Pete Hobson