... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

EASTER MESSAGE - May 1st, 2011

Thomas: Evidentiary Witness to Faith

Text: John 20:19-31

This past week in the Toronto Star in the puzzle section there was a word scramble which when solved became this quote, “a faith which cannot survive a collision with the truth is not worth many regrets.” One of the great discoveries in the world of psychology was the importance of an overarching mind-set of faith which allows people to survive the most atrocious of conditions. In the Second World War it was found especially in POW and concentration camps that those who survived possessed a mindset of faith that was able to make sense of and overcome all the evil acts humanity is able to inflict on one another.

It seems that the human mind searches for order and design to be able to make sense of things, to understand the world and to organize all the information and data that comes to our awareness. In fact it is this impulse that leads us to scientific mathematical and biologic discoveries. It is at the heart of our legal system and reasoned debate. It is the reason perhaps so many of us like mystery stories – we need to solve the riddles and the mysteries to know the why’s where’s and how’s of it. Theologically faith has to be the biggest mystery and Easter the biggest mystery of faith. It may be said that, “faith is a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve and the Easter story is one which the greatest minds of history have come to reason upon and search for its meaning. How could someone be raised from the dead? Death like time is inevitable and certain. To overcome death boggles the brain and the mind. Yet that is precisely what Easter is about and provides us with an impetus for “faith that has had many collisions with the truth and continues to survive.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has his character Sherlock Holmes state, “when all other explanations have been ruled out the only surviving explanation, no matter how improbable is the solution and the answer.” And this is what John’s Gospel sets out to prove. Like a courtroom drama, John wishes to set the facts in order to make a logical statement of proof and reveal the heretofore mysteries. John’s Gospel tells not only of Jesus’ life and deeds but give the reasons and motives behind the facts. Where the synoptic Gospels recount the parables and miracles, John tries to give the reasons and meanings behind them, showing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that all the miracles were of Divine origin.

The story of doubting Thomas is just such a Johannine argument. Thomas like everyone has the element of scepticism. He hears the extraordinary account but is unconvinced. Unless he sees for himself, unless he can reproduce the event he cannot accept it as truth. Sounds like a very modern thinker and scientific researcher! Given the situation, the grief the atmosphere of fear, defeat and high religious tension, Thomas just cannot bring himself to rely on the reports of others even if they are his closest friends. What makes greater sense to Thomas is that these friends in their emotional state are recounting things they wish could be true. The only way to clear up the mess is to have evidence.

One week after the Easter encounter, the disciples are again together in a guarded room and this time Thomas is there. And Thomas’ required evidence becomes real for into their midst Jesus does appear and presents the evidence to Thomas who, on seeing it makes the greatest declaration of faith witnessed in the Bible, “My Lord and my God!” The unambiguous witness of truth and faith, not from one to be seen as among the inner connected, but from one seen as the sceptic, the doubter, the one needing to be convinced. In courtroom jargon Thomas is the evidentiary witness. Yet when we re-read John’s account Thomas is perhaps no more a sceptic that the others for even on the first Easter evening when Jesus appeared to the others we are told they rejoiced only after Jesus calmed them with his peace and showed them his hands and his sides. They too had their doubts and needed to be convinced. It is the very human quality of doubting that John wishes us to understand – we are sceptics because we need evidence, we need to be able to make sense of life’s events and we need to be able to pass on our learning and understanding.

Without faith in the Easter event and what it means for humanity, Jesus’ life and teachings would be nothing. Without faith in God’s presence and work in Jesus, the church and divine covenant would not survive. Faith had to be encouraged and instilled in such a way that future generations would not need to have the same events repeated and repeated. The belief of the disciples was strong because they had personally witnessed and experienced the risen Christ but blessed would be those who not having had that opportunity would still come to believe.

Such was John’s intention to explain the mysteries of faith to believers, to instil in them the mindset of faith that could incorporate all the various scientific and natural truths that would be discovered and bring meaning for the greater understanding of creation. And despite all the discoveries of the past two thousand years such as the earth not being the center of the universe, the earth being round, the equality of all people, the existence of quantum physics or the atrocities of human behaviour, Christianity has been able to survive every collision often times notwithstanding the organization of church.

The story of Thomas on that second Easter Sunday still speaks to us today some two thousand years removed and perhaps now more than ever we need the trustworthy witness and evidence to God’s saving actions in and through Christ Jesus. Unlike the times gone by where discoveries of truth were the forces of collision today the forces of collision are untruths or deceptions and detractions. Faith not only has to survive collisions with the truth but also those of falsehoods. And the falsehoods abound – riches will empower you, materials will free you, toys will calm you, strength of arms will secure you or democracy will be your salvation. These are but some of the modern fallacies which strive to destroy faith in God. But to those who have faith who come to faith despite the opposing forces, there is a blessing – a blessing strength which will enable you to face all adversities. To help the mind see the evidence of God’s presence and to strengthen the heart’s assurance we need the evidentiary witnesses, not just Thomas or the other saints of days gone by but of those today who have felt the Holy Spirit, who have encountered God and who have met the risen Christ in those extraordinary events which collide with the mundane. Hear the witness of Thomas, hear the witness of the saints in every age, and come to faith.

Amen