My children are among the very few people who have heard this story. I don’t like to tell it because it sounds so strange, so unusual, so unbelievable.
I once saw the Holy Spirit in the church in which I grew up. It was a strange experience: like seeing something invisible. Think about that for a moment: seeing something invisible. It was as though I was seeing with my soul, or my heart, looking through my eyes. I was terrified, and transfixed; filled with fear and fascination. I didn’t know what to do, or to say. I was awestruck. And I loved it. But for decades, until after my children were born at least, because they were the first people that I told, I never told that story to a soul.
The Bible tells the story of God’s relationship with God’s creation, the Divine action in the world.
From the beginning, when God spoke creation into being, to the end, when God will recreate the new heavens and the new earth, and all will be brought to perfection, the protagonist of the story is God.
We tend to tell the stories as though they are all about us. Especially in those illustrated children’s Bibles – because how would you draw God? – we tell the stories of David and Goliath, of Gideon, of Samson and Samuel, Susannah and Esther, and they are great stories.
But Abraham’s journey out of Ur began because God called him. The story of Moses was the story of God’s providential care, rescuing the people from slavery, feeding them in the desert, leading them through the wilderness to a place of plenty. The stories of the prophets were the stories that God told them.
The story of Jesus was the story of God’s love for all that God had made, of God’s birth into creation, to redeem it, to bind it even more closely to God’s own self, to reconcile us with God.
So the story we tell about Thomas the Twin is not so much a story of Thomas’ doubt, or rationalization, reluctance, or fear; rather, it is the story of the Risen Christ coming back for the last lost lamb, making sure that those whom he loved had what they needed to carry on; had what they needed to believe, trust, to love one another and spread the gospel as he had commanded.
And the story of the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the apostles acting out what they had learned from and been commanded by Jesus. They loved one another, sharing everything, so that everyone had what they needed. They distributed food, so that everyone had enough to eat, because they had seen how Jesus did the same for the multitudes. They healed the sick, without fear or favour, because they had seen how Jesus had compassion for them. They were filled with grace and power by God to preach the gospel, spreading the good news that they knew for themselves to all and sundry, indiscriminately, wantonly, abundantly, excessively.
We hear the same overflowing of the apostles’ love for Jesus and the gospel of God’s love in the letter of John. We have seen, we have touched, we have heard, and we just have to tell you!
And Thomas, when Jesus came back to him, came back for him, because the last lost lamb in the gospel stories is never left out in the cold, he, the doubter, the rationalist, the reluctant one, he was the one who fell to his knees and worshipped, “My Lord and my God!”
I came to the church because of the stories that other people told of God’s love. Whether through the stories of the Bible, or the people who read me those stories, or the stories of the people who had been touched by God in their own lives, their faith was what drew me into fellowship with them, and with Jesus Christ.
And even so, there are parts of my own story about being found by God, being loved by God, being called by God, which I am wary of sharing, which I have held back, either out of embarrassment and fear, or pride, or selfishness (I want this part of God all to myself), or because there are no words to describe the indescribable. (How do you describe seeing something that’s invisible?) I am not as generous, or profligate, with the gospel as those first disciples were, and it is to my detriment. “We are telling you these things,” they say, “so that our joy may be complete.”
Of course, we tell ourselves, it was different for them. They saw Jesus. They touched him, they embraced him. They heard his own voice, telling stories, praying, crying out, laughing.
It’s different for us. As different as it was for Thomas compared to the other disciples who first saw the Risen Christ.
But Christ came back for Thomas, and Christ continues to come back to us.
As soon as Jesus had reassured Thomas, he turned to us and blessed us. He blessed all those of us who were not in that locked room, but would come to believe because of the stories that we were told, because of the ways in which God would continue to seek us out, to speak to us, to reassure us in our moments of fear, of grief, and doubt, because in the gospel stories the last lost lamb is never left out in the cold.
And here is a sign of that blessing.
Every Sunday since that first Easter, Jesus has invited us, the spiritual descendants of Thomas the Twin, to see his broken body, even to take it in our own two hands.
Jesus made sure that each of his disciples had what they needed to carry on, to know that even death had not, could not, divide them from him.
Last weekend, we decked out the church and we invited in the press, and we celebrated, because we knew that we have a fantastic story to tell. So let’s let the story burst out of this place and out of us.
After all, it is not our boast that we have stood here for 175 years; it is our wonder that God has stood with us for 175 years, and still has work for us to do. It is not our boast that we distribute food through the pantry or the hot meals program; it is our privilege to share the abundance that God has given us. It is not our boast that we love one another; it is by the grace of God that we are able to share in this fellowship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ.
So let’s get a bit more indiscriminate about how we share the gospel. Let’s learn from one another – because some of you are great at this already – how to tell the stories of God with us to those we love as well as to the stranger, so that our joy may be completed by God. Let’s get a little bit wanton with it, shirking embarrassment and tongue-tied anxiousness, knowing that God has given us all that we need to carry on, to share our stories, to overcome our reluctance and break out into worship, “My Lord and my God!”
Knowing, too, that where we meet doubt, or fear, or reluctance, even anger, we can rest in the faith that God will continue to seek out, in God’s own ways, the baffled and the belligerent, the doubtful and the depressed – we don’t have to win any arguments – because in the gospel stories, the last lost lamb is never left out in the cold.
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” – our Lord and our God. “We are telling you these things so that our joy” – and yours – “may be complete.”