Sermon by Haydon Wilcox 11.04.2021

Sermon by Haydon Wilcox

11.04.2021

St John’s Gospel: Doubting Thomas

Jesus and Satan are having a competition.  Their task is to write a blog about finding happiness in life. Both and Satan have are typing hard on their laptops.  The devil is going at a great speed and Jesus in many ways couldn’t keep up with him.  Suddenly the power goes and both laptop screens go blank. Rebooting them, the devil finds all his efforts have been for nothing – he’s lost his article and he turns to Jesus and says, ‘Why is it your words are still on the screen?” Jesus turns to him and simply says, ‘Jesus Saves’.

My brother died just over a year ago.  His death was sudden and totally unexpected.  I remember visiting his body in the chapel of rest, prior to taking his funeral service on the eve of the 1st Lockdown.  As I stood next to his body laid in the coffin, I not only said the things I wanted to say, and pray the prayers I wanted to make, but I also touched his body.  I think I needed to physically connect, to assure myself that it was real.  And this isn’t the first time I have responded like this.  With so many friends and family members who have died I have needed to do the same.  Of course, nowadays much has changed and less and less people want to make physical contact with the dead.  A growing proportion of funerals now go straight to the Crematorium, without any service or ceremony.  Such a contrast to when I was a curate 40 years ago in Bristol. In those days the body of the deceased was returned in 24 hrs by the funeral directors to the family home, beautifully resting in their coffin, often laying on the dining room table.  Everyone would come and view and touch the body  and say goodbye.  People chatted about their loved one’s life, they made copious cups of tea and all wept openly. 

I would perform a service in the home on the day of the funeral. The women stayed at home and the men attended the funeral service to return for the Wake, all prepared as a banquet by the women.  How things have changed.

In the story we hear from John’s Gospel, Thomas wanting to touch the body of Jesus because his friends were saying he’d risen from the dead and he couldn’t believe this was possible.  He wanted personal evidence, not second-hand reassurance.  He needed to know for sure that miracle had truly happened. He wanted to touch the mark of the nails because he’d witnessed the crucifixion from a distance. He wanted to put his hand in the side of his body that had been exposed by the centurion.  Thomas gets a raw deal by many for his so-called doubt, but he was like so many throughout the ages he needed to be convinced and evidence was all that he wanted.

One of the challenges that faced the church was the time when the world of science started clashing with the world of faith.  Today we witness the growing authority of science in people’s lives and the way in which religion has less influence.   There is a struggle for people of knowledge to find relevance in the world of religion; yet there is a heightened interest in spirituality, as a resource to find meaning and connection in a world that’s impacted with suffering, injustice and materialism. 

In the national mourning following the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip we hear of his deep spirituality, knowing of course his special relationship with the Revd. Robin Wood, the Dean of St. George’s, Windsor.   For a number of years Robin Wood preached to the Royal Family when they attended St. George’s and it was often Prince Philip who would get into debates concerning those sermons.

Together they founded after 5 years of planning, St. George’s House, in 1966, in the confines of Windsor Castle. It was a space where religious and modern secular issues could be debated. Prince Philip gave talks at the House on the role of clergy in modern society and stressed the importance of bringing together scientists and theologians to try and find common ground.  Today St. George’s House continues to thrive as a meeting place of people of knowledge and faith to discern truth.

It is so easy to judge Thomas as less than his friends because he wanted evidence to believe.  The description of Doubting Thomas has unfairly been apportioned to him. When Thomas met the risen Jesus and was convicted, his response was ‘My Lord and my God’.  It is a profound statement of belief. 

Jesus does point out that there are two types of followers, those who just believe without seeing and those who believe through seeing.  So we, as a church, need to recognise that doubt or the need to be convinced is part of our human condition.  We must not condemn people for having doubt, but we must journey with them in their wrestling – for often those who once doubted become the great sources of inspiration.  The great Christian writer and theologian C S Lewis is one such example.  There is nothing wrong to doubt but there is much wrong when doubters are judged.  Perhaps the Church needs to follow the example of Prince Philip and Robin Wood to provide the forums and opportunities for people with different views, experience and disciplines to talk and share in order to find truth. We’ve been so used to telling people what they need to believe instead of listening to what has caused them to doubt and then find a common meeting place.

For us that meeting place is at the cross the symbol of utter obedience but also the place of great despair.  Only through the meeting of both can the resurrection truly be revealed.

So in the week ahead when you talk to people of doubt, scepticism or opposition to Christianity ask them to share what’s led them to that position.  Hear and try to understand them.  If you are given the same grace of opportunity, share with them your story of faith.  Build relationships and not barriers.  Find common concerns instead of differences, because as John writes, ‘that through believing you may have life in Jesus’ name’.  And in the end isn’t it that we want for everyone to have the fullness of life.