This morning I had the opportunity to preach at morning prayer at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. The main text for the sermon was John 14:1-7 and you can listen to it over on SoundCloud.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for asking a question? For wondering if something unbelievable unfolding before your eyes was really happening? If you have, you are in good company. Today the Church remembers St. Thomas the Apostle, better known as doubting Thomas.
Thomas is most commonly associated with Jesus’ post resurrection encounter with the disciples that we read in John 20 and hear on Easter 2 or would hear today if we used the Eucharistic lessons for this feast. It is in this passage that Thomas says, “Unless I see . . . I will not believe.” Thomas then gets called out by Jesus, and is henceforth and forevermore known as doubting Thomas. By the way, Thomas gets called out for doing exactly what the other disciples do when Jesus appears to them for the first time, but that is another sermon for another time.
Today we hear an equally important gospel that Thomas is rarely remembered for. Today’s passage comes from the farewell discourse of John’s gospel and contains one of the six “I AM” statements of Jesus. Today we hear Jesus proclaim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus makes this profound proclamation of himself, that his followers should believe in God and in himself – in this proclamation there is no doubt that Jesus’ participates fully in divinity. But, what leads to this great proclamation?
Jesus is instructing his disciples on how they should live when he is gone and in the midst of this Thomas asks, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And Jesus said to him – Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
It is because of Thomas’ question that we receive this proclamation of the true nature of Jesus. It is because of Thomas that we learn something of who Jesus is.
It seems to me that instead of ganging up on Thomas for asking questions, we need to lift him up as an example for ministry. We need to be asking the hard questions. We need to be asking – in the midst of the mayhem and confusion, in the midst of death and darkness “How can we know the way?” We need to be asking, How can we know the way when children go hungry; when a generation of young black men are being erased before our very eyes; when power, violence, and oppression are used to make people rich; when the world tells us the Church is dying and Jesus is irrelevant? How can we know the way?
We know the way by crying out to Jesus, we know the way when we see the light coming into our world that no darkness, no pain, anxiety, or grief, no death is strong enough to over come.
This is what Advent is all about. Advent is about being like Thomas, asking the tough questions, and opening ourselves up to the answer – opening ourselves up in the most vulnerable way possible so that the light, the Christ, the way, the truth, and the life may dwell in us richly. It is preparing ourselves so that when Jesus comes again we might be taken to where he is, to dwell with him.
George Herbert, 16th/17th century priest, theologian, and poet captured the profound nature of Jesus’ response to Thomas in his poem “The Call”:
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
And such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.
In these final days of Advent and the coming Christmastide, may we following the example of Thomas ask the tough questions so that in this world, the way, the truth, and the life may prevail.