Sermon - May 7, 2000 - Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock – all rights reserved
Holy Mar Thoma, the "doubting" apostle, is mentioned in all Gospels and also mentioned in Acts. However, in Matthew, Mark and Luke (and Acts), he is mentioned only once in a list of apostles, usually next to Matthew. In the Gospel of John, Mar Thoma has a larger role, especially in chapter 20. In chapter 11 of John's Gospel, Mar Thoma accompanied the Lord to Bethany to be a witness to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In chapter 14, it is Mar Thoma’s question, “How can we know the way?” that prompts the Lord to respond, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” How is it then that such an apostle doubts the resurrection?
He was not alone with doubts. All the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ were in doubt and turmoil after the crucifixion. It was to the women that Jesus first appeared after rising. It was Mary Magdalene tries to convince them of the resurrection. When Jesus Christ appeared in their midst after the door had been closed, he showed them his wounds. Mar Thoma was not yet there.
So he asked for the proof of Christ’s wounds, the same proof provided to the others. Verse 28: “And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.” This declaration of Christ’s Godhood and of Mar Thoma’s servant-hood, is in anticipation of our own Christian life.
It is important to note that in this chapter of John, Jesus says three times “Peace be unto you” in the rest of the Gospel peace is mentioned only two other times: at the Last Supper –
(14:27)“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
(16:33)”These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
So when we can exclaim from our innermost soul, “My Lord and my God,” then we have liberation from all lesser things. It seems that last things to overcome in the Christian life are periods of doubt that arise – but having seen the and witnessed the Holy One within, sensing His sorrow, allowing ourselves the privilege of seeing His wounds and His cares for us, we are brought to our knees in all humanity; and then, with all doubts relieved from our being, we relax ourselves into the fullness of Christ. From then on we do not need to act with the old self, using the old personality with its human traits, but become a new being. When our Lord is able to manifest Himself to us, the first thing established is the “peace of God, which passes all understanding.” Great peace can be ours, then we are sent forward with the Holy Ghost to forgive sins, no longer on our own. See, the peace in our hearts and the forgiveness of others are connected, but neither do we do alone. We just need to overcome the doubts.
Many years ago, I was caught up in some difficult times. I lamented to Christ God to relieve me of my burdens, but doubted there was anything that could be done. I went to a place of beauty and serenity, hoping it would give me what I could not accept elsewhere. Then it hit me – serenity - despite the turmoil, like a whirlwind surrounding me, I felt an inner peace. In the magnitude of God’s creation, I finally let God be in charge and resolved to do only the small portion in front of me – the next right thing. Later, as I was driving away, I tried to figure out exactly what I did to capture that serenity and, at that very moment, it was gone. See, this peace is bestowed by Christ on the pious, those that accept and understand the limitations of being human, being separated from God and not being God. It is only by keeping my self as a servant to “My Lord and my God” that I am granted this peace. Trying to be God’s master with my demands and timetables that most people seem to call prayer, gives me the impossible task in addition to my own troubles – supervising the all-knowing, all-powerful God. Talk about chutzpah!
The other amazing point in the Gospel is that Christ rose from the dead with His wounds fully intact. Now, I always knew this – in my head. I have seen the Roman Catholic realistic depictions on the cross. It is easier, perhaps, to leave the injuries and wounds there. It didn’t really strike me until I had encountered the intensity of my own inner wounded-ness and felt great despair over the limitations of my pain and my fear. Someone pointed this out to me and, like a thunderbolt; I was awakened from my bed of despair. Christ, being God, could have easily repaired all the injuries that He received and risen as a completely whole and perfect man. But, instead, rose with His wounds fully intact – not only overcoming death, but also the frailness of our human existence as well. In this understanding does Mar Thoma’s exclamation make sense – Jesus Christ asks Mar Thoma to prove His wounded-ness and to “be not faithless, but believing.” We want an appearance of the burning bush, the descent of the Epiphany dove, the blinding light of the Transfiguration, but Christ offers His wounded-ness.
“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
“Can we, today, touch the wounded flesh of the Savior? ” asks Orthodox priest and monk Fr. Lev Gillet (of blessed memory) who wrote under the pseudonym A Monk of the Eastern Church, “Can we, who are not granted ecstasies or visions, be sure that it is a living being and not a phantom that we worship?” Fr Lev writes, “We can, this possibility is given to everyone. Jesus is invisibly, but really, alive in the flesh and blood creatures who exist all around us. We can estimate the wounds of the crucifixion today, and worship them in the sick, the poor, in all men and women who suffer…Jesus says to us: ‘If thou dost doubt that I was crucified for thee and that I was raised from the dead, pay attention to the suffering members of my body. Touch me in stretching out a rescuing hand to them. In giving to them, thou shalt find me. Do something for them, which is costly for thee. Sacrifice thyself for them as much as thou canst. And, behold, in them thou shalt feel me living and present. Thou shalt experience the reality, the power of my Resurrection.’
“It is not given to us to see the Blessed Face constantly, but, like an evanescent vision, the face of Christ will appear to me behind the face of my brother or sister, and, through compassion, I shall meet the Passion [Crucifixion and Resurrection]. I shall touch my brother who suffers, and say: “My Lord and my God.”
May Christ bring to us Peace to comfort our turmoil and Peace to transmit to others during this auspicious time! Amen.