In the opening verses from Chapter 20 of the Gospel of St. John, Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb of Jesus Christ and found the tomb empty, so she went to Peter and John and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” I find that what was true for Mary Magdalene is sometimes true for me: I know that Jesus Christ has died and is no longer buried, but where is He? Where is He now in the life of Mary Magdalene, and in my life and in your life?
That was precisely the question that was puzzling St. Thomas in the gospel today from the closing verses of that same Chapter 20. Consider the confusion of Thomas on this Thomas Sunday: Where is Jesus Christ now in my life? Remember that Thomas was a person who was deeply committed to Christ. In Chapter 11 of the Gospel of St. John, it was Thomas who urged the other apostles to join Christ in going to Jerusalem to die, with the words: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
In seeking to understand where Christ is now in all of our lives, I believe we can begin with those words of Thomas: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him [that is, with Christ].” Like St. Thomas and the other apostles, we need to learn to trust that when Christ permits some person or hope that is important in our lives to die, that death has been permitted by God for each of us to then experience subsequently our own personal resurrection. Children, do you find that you get everything you want? . . . I don’t get everything I want in my life. I wonder why none of us receive everything we want? The truth is that Christ wants to teach you—and all of us, whatever our ages—that our lives cannot always be concerned only with what we want. The truth is that Christ wants to teach us that what other people want is also important. The truth is that Christ has a personal plan for each of our lives that is slowly growing, as we understand better what it means to live with Christ—what it means to pray not for what we want, but for what Christ wants for us, even when we do not know what it is that we need.
Thomas wished deeply that he could see the risen Christ, because Thomas wanted to be sure that Christ had really risen from the dead. The word of someone else was not enough: Thomas wanted to see for himself. When others told Thomas that they had seen the Risen Lord, Thomas cried out: “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Yes, that is a statement of unbelief from a doubting person, but also a personal plea to Christ: “You, who I know has died, come back now into my life.” That is a plea that each of us can make today with Thomas.
And the plea of Thomas was answered. Christ returned to all of the apostles, including Thomas and greeted them with the words, “Peace be with you.” That is precisely the greeting that Christ brings to each of us, when we seek to understand how His dead body has become a living guide to how we can live. Christ told Thomas: “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here with your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Three fifth and sixth century saints have pointed to the impact that Thomas can have on each of our lives.
St. Gregory the Great, pope at the end of the fifth century, preached in his Forty Gospel Homilies: “It was not an accident that [this] particular disciple [Thomas] was not present. The divine mercy ordained that a doubting disciple should, by feeling in His Master the wounds of the flesh, heal in us the wounds of unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas,” preached St. Gregory the Great, “is more profitable to our faith than the belief of the other disciples. For the touch by which [Thomas] is brought to believe confirms our minds in belief, beyond all question.”
The fifth century bishop, St. Peter Chrysologus, preached that: “Thomas was curing not only the uncertainty of his own heart buy also that of all human beings. And since [Thomas] was going to preach this message to the Gentiles, this conscientious investigator was examining carefully how he might provide a foundation for the faith needed for such a mystery. . . .For the only reason the Lord had kept His wounds was to provide evidence of His resurrection.”
Another fifth century pastor, St. Cyril of Alexandria reflected on the experience of Thomas, with the words: “Christ still visits us and appears to us all, both invisibly as God and visibly in the body. [Christ] allows us to touch His holy flesh and gives it to us. For through the grace of God we are admitted to partake of the blessed Eucharist, receiving Christ . . .to the intent that we may firmly believe that He did in truth raise up the temple of His body. . . Participation in the divine mysteries, in addition to filling us with divine blessedness, is a true confession and memorial of Christ’s dying and rising again for us and for our sake. Let us, therefore,” preached St. Cyril of Alexandria, “after touching Christ’s body . . . be . . . well grounded in the full assurance of faith.”
Having heard the words of these three saints about Thomas, let us consider our own situation today. If we have prepared ourselves to receive the body and blood of Christ by having fasted from midnight until now, let us be guided by the believing Thomas to receive the Eucharist and affirm our own faith that Christ who died has indeed been resurrected—in His own body, in our lives and in the Church.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen
Deacon Emmanuel Kahn