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“These things are written so that you may come to believe” – Canon Peter Collier KC, Cathedral Reader 

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Title: “These things are written so that you may come to believe”

Date:  7 April 2024, The Second Sunday of Easter

Preacher: Canon Peter Collier KC, Cathedral Reader 

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; I John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31


These things are written so that you may come to believe”

Almost certainly the gospel passage that has just been read was the original ending to the Gospel John wrote.

And with it, John completed the circle he began in chapter 1 – that great gospel prologue we so often associate with Christmas – central to so many of our Christmas services. And it is indeed the climax of our own annual service of nine lessons and carols.

In that prologue John tells us that the God who had made all things, became flesh and lived among us. But when he came to live among his own people, generally they did not accept him. But those who did receive him and who believed in his name, they become children of God – God’s sons and daughters – able to communicate with God as Jesus did – crying Abba, father, daddy. They have God’s own life within them.

And, says John, that life brings light to everyone. And we live in a time of great darkness where there is much need of light.

In his gospel John goes on to tell us that he has recorded some of the signs that Jesus did to show who he was and what he was about. We know those signs well – turning water into wine, feeding 5000, various healings, walking on water, and finally the raising of Lazarus.

And as John says at the end of this chapter – those signs were all recorded so that we might come to believe and go on believing that Jesus is that one who was sent as the Messiah, the Son of God; who had taken our human flesh and pitched his tent among us. And in so believing, we will have God’s life within us.

And this account about Thomas is recorded here because it is the fitting completion for John’s purpose in writing the gospel. And it is a story not about doubt but about belief.

We often speak about “doubting Thomas” – a phrase made popular from the late 19th century onwards. I believe it was a certain W C Wycoff, an American scientist, who wrote an article in Harpers magazine in 1883 in which he referred to “doubting Thomases, who will only believe what they see.” So far as I can establish that is the first use of the phrase “doubting Thomas”

The version of the bible we use – the NRSV – has sadly adopted the word “doubt”; but it is a mistranslation – the original text actually says: “don’t be unbelieving but believe”. This account is not about having doubts, but about having belief.

John says his gospel is written so that we might come to believe. That we might come to believe that Jesus is the creator God come to this world, taking our humanity and bringing us light and life.

As always we need to understand the context to understand the meaning.

I guess most of us know well how the Easter story unfolded – some of the women had gone to the tomb early in the morning and found it empty; they reported that to the disciples; Peter and John ran to the tomb and found it as the women reported; Mary had an encounter with Jesus in the garden; Mary told the disciples that she had seen the Lord. All that happened on that first Easter Sunday. We can perhaps begin to imagine the many conflicting thoughts going on in the minds of those disciples at the end of that day. What was going on? What had happened? Had they really seen Jesus?

That evening the disciples locked themselves into a room because of their fear.

And, suddenly appearing miraculously among them there is Jesus – “peace be with you” he said and he showed them his pierced hands and his side. Then he commissioned them – breathing over them the promise of the Holy Spirit, which they would inherit fully at Pentecost and telling them that their commission was to speak about the forgiveness of sins – just as he had done throughout his three-year ministry – and as we read about in our second lesson. And then it would seem he was gone.

When they next saw Thomas, who had not been with them that night, they told him that they had seen Jesus. And as we know his response was to say that unless he saw and touched those marks of crucifixion, he wouldn’t believe it was real. In his mind no doubt there were endless possibilities about what was going on – phantasies, dreams, visions, probably all crossed his mind as possible explanations for what he was being told.

So, what do we know about Thomas? There are two mentions of him earlier in the gospel and we see two things about his character, and we learn that what mattered to him was clarity and reality.

In chapter 14 Jesus is talking about going to prepare a place for his disciples in his father’s house, and he said they knew the way to the place where he was going. Thomas replied “Lord we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?” evoking from Jesus those wonderful words “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” It was Thomas who was prepared to ask questions, to probe more deeply than the others, in order to get clarity. In order to understand clearly what things meant.

The other mention is in chapter 11. Lazarus was ill and Jesus delayed going to see him; but after two days he said to the disciples “let’s go to Judea again”. Only shortly before that, in Judea, the Jews had attempted to stone Jesus and to arrest him, as they were constantly doing, but he had escaped from them. And Thomas had often heard Jesus speak about his own dying – “going where they could not follow”, “being lifted up”, “giving his life for his sheep”. So, when it is clear that Jesus is set on going to Judea to see Lazarus, where he would be walking into the arms of those who wanted him dead, Thomas’s response is to say “let’s also go that we may die with him”.

When Jesus did die, despite all that Jesus had been saying about his impending death, the disciples really didn’t have a clue about what was happening. All their hopes and dreams seemed to have come to an end. And when he appeared alive again what were they to make of that?  None of it made any sense.

There is a reason why John includes this account about Thomas as the very last event in his gospel. The reason is that Thomas had understood what was happening. He did have clarity about it – he understood not only what had been going through those three years, but what had just happened in those last three days.

In those three years he and the others had recognised that God had come among them, that they were following the Son of God, that this was the promised Messiah.

But John knows that Thomas has grasped something else. It had begun to fall into place for Thomas that Jesus was indeed the creator God, the Lord of all things, with whom they had shared their lives for three years. He had now completed the mission for which he had come. That mission was to suffer and to die so that he could share his life with those who believed in him, so that they would become children of God – his brothers and sisters. But he could only bring that new life into being, by dying and rising. By entering into all our pain and suffering, by taking all that into God’s own self, knowing all that rejection and then facing and going through death itself. Only through all that would God’s life become available to us.

And to get to that point Thomas needed clarity that the person who is now alive is the one who had died on the cross. So he wants to put his hands into the wounds – into the body of Jesus – to know that he was the one who had been crucified and is now alive. That all the signs they had seen that Jesus was God who had taken our flesh and through his dying would bring us life, all that evidence was now firmly and finally established by this ultimate sign of the resurrection.

If he had died and was now alive then truly the darkness had not overcome him; he was alive – the light was shining brightly and new life was available.

As John said in his prologue and repeats now – that life Jesus offers to all who believe in him. And believing in him we become children of God – sisters and brothers of Jesus.

Do you remember what Jesus said to Mary in the garden – “go to my brothers and say to them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father to my God and your God’”.

As you know Jesus spoke to Thomas about those who would believe without seeing what he had seen. And of course that includes us. But we are not left without help in our believing. We need connections like Thomas did. Thomas wanted to touch into the body of Christ; each of us has been baptised into the body of Christ, baptised into Jesus. And when we come in a few minutes to take bread and wine which he told us were his body and blood, we shall eat and drink by faith with thanksgiving.

These sacraments speak to us today of what John said the gospel was all about – that God took flesh, was rejected and crucified, but through that death and resurrection he shares with us his own life and will transform our lives beyond our imagining.










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