Low Sunday Sermon – Salisbury

Here is the sermon that I preached at Salisbury yesterday.

Here is the text:
The doors were locked for fear of the Jews and Jesus came and stood amongst them and said, “Peace be with you”.

I think I have only ever once been really frightened in church – frightened that someone would pull a knife or bring out a gun to harm me or the person standing next to me. I will talk about that in a minute, but first let us think about Thomas.

I have a great deal of feeling for Thomas. He must have stood amongst the other disciples thinking that they had all lost the plot entirely.

The disciples claim that they have seen Jesus and he is alive.

What giddy madness is this? Why on earth, Thomas must ask, are they putting around these ridiculous stories?

Thomas is, and always has been, one of us.

Thomas is the one who stands there for the rest of us – in the middle of the hysteria of the disciples and says. “No, give me the proof”.

And in a way, today, the Sunday after Easter in the year 2009, what Thomas says still rings very true.

Last week we rightly sang our alleluias – amazed as the first disciples must have been at the news that the Lord was alive, but full of faith. Churches were full, flowers were lovely, alleluias were sung with gusto the resurrection message was proclaimed with some certainty all over the Christian world.

But it is no bad thing to have Thomas say – Hang on a minute, show me the Proof.

I remember one Holy Week, I overheard someone talking about Holy Week in my own community and telling others about it. Trying to put into words what had happened. “You missed a treat, I heard someone say”. And the response was something like, “Well, I don’t understand what you are talking about, but I would like to have seen it for myself.”

Thomas lives.

And Thomas wanted to see for himself.

We call Thomas the doubter and that seems to put him down. Thomas seems to me to be one of the most accessible and most easily understood of the disciples. He wanted to see for himself and so do we.

We call him the doubter, yet just a few chapters back from our gospel this morning Jesus hints to the disciples that he must face something terrible in Jerusalem and sets his face towards the city.

And it is Thomas who set his own face in the same direction and promised the Lord to go with him to the end.

Thomas knew his friend Jesus was going to have to face something impossibly difficult and he wanted to go there. To see for himself. To share in whatever his friend was facing.

Doubting Thomas?

Courageous Thomas more like.

And courageous to stand up to the other 10 remaining disciples and to resist their apparent madness until he had worked it all out for himself. Not until he had encountered Jesus Christ did he really believe. Courageous enough to stand up for himself and his own views. Courageous enough to say no, let me see for myself.

Let me work it out for myself.

And there is a sense in which he gives us the model for what to do in this Easter season – it is great to sing along with the Alleluias on Easter day, but there does come a point when one has to say to oneself – what do I believe about all this. Is it true or isn’t it.

And if you are real person. A courageous person. A person like Thomas, you will probably begin to ask some questions.

And doubt, as we are ever reminded by modern theology is not the opposite of faith, but a catalyst that can get our faith reactions going.

Perhaps you are certain of your faith in the Christian Gospel. Or perhaps you are certain that you don’t believe a word of it. If you have no questions to ask then maybe your belief or certainty is merely dull doctrine of one type or another.

Questions, honest Questions have been a part of the Christian faith since Easter. Not Easter last week, but the Easter that kick started the whole business in the first place.

Last week’s stories were all about disciples running about a garden looking into the tomb for themselves. Wanting to see for themselves what the evidence was that Jesus was alive, risen and active in the world. They too wanted and needed to see for themselves. And Thomas was no different to any of them.

We would all like to see for ourselves. And we all have the right to say with Thomas – show me. If Jesus is alive, then show me. Some of us need to see proof. Some of us just accept with faith. I think it has probably always been that way.

I think there have always been people who were able to trust the words of others and there have always been folk who needed to say, unless I see with my own eyes and touch with my own hands then I will not believe.

When I read the Eastertide accounts of the resurrection, I’m struck by the way the news of the resurrection gradually dawns. That’s true of the way in which many people experience the news of the resurrection today.

Another thing which tends to strike me is the note of fear that is present. The disciples meet in fear in a locked room, yet Jesus is still able to reach them. They were clearly people who were frightened by what had happened. They were people who thought that harm would be done to them by witnessing together to the things that had happened. They were not the confident group that they would become at Pentecost. They were still something of a rabble. After all – they were the ones who had let Jesus down.

I think that I’ve only once felt real fear in church, and that was last year when I stood on a platform with Bishop Gene Robinson, knowing that his minder was just a few yards away and knowing that the front row in the church contained plain-clothes police because threats had been made on his life.

We are not used to being frightened in church. I knew fear when I encountered it and I knew it was unusual for me. For the first disciples a week after Easter, fear was very much what they were living through. They kept the doors firmly locked.

The gospel suggests that they were afraid for “fear of the Jews”

But, were they frightened only of the authorities? Perhaps they were not so keen on coming face to face with Jesus himself as they had run from trouble when he was arrested and tried. They had let him down. They had run away.

The first thing that Jesus says to them is “Peace be with You”.

His resurrection words were not to demand allegiance, nor to demand vengeance against those who had let him down, nor to demand that the disciples did anything. His resurrection gift was peace and it is still one of the attributes of Jesus today – where peacemaking is carried out, there he is, still present and active in the world today.

Peace be with you was his greeting to the disciples in the locked room in Jerusalem and it is still the greeting of the risen Lord to his fearful disciples living in a troubled world today.

Peace be with you.

Thomas seems satisfied at what he encountered that day – he exclaims “My Lord and my God!” – the prayer that we are supposed to pray when we see the bread lifted from the table in our communion services.

Even if you don’t normally pray that prayer during the Eucharist, try making it today. Trying praying it when the bread is lifted from the table at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. “My lord and my God.” Or, if that’s too difficult to see in a large building, murmur the same prayer when you receive the communion host in your hands or on your tongue. Thomas’s prayer remember, “My Lord and my God!”.

Thomas wanted to see Jesus. And I guess that if we were to try to work out why we gather in places like this up and down the land, week by week, that might be something that we think that we want too. We want to see Jesus in our midst.

And we are not the only ones. The world wants to see him, needs to see him too.

Needs to see that death is not a full stop. Needs to see that life is possible in the face of tragedy. Needs to see that healing and wholeness and love and passion in the midst of this broken world are all possible. Needs to understand why we can hear the alleluias ringing down the ages. Needs to comprehend the intimate truths of faith, that it is all about touching and being touched.

And needs to see that when we find these things in the everyday, we find that Jesus is walking yet and showing us both his love and his wounds. For if Christ were not risen, we would not be gathered here. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.



  1. Ooooooooooooh ! What an acoustic ! Ah, Salisbury, dear place to many hearts.

    Good to hear that The Tradition Of Fine Sermons is not only Alive And Well, but flying as high, graceful and free as could be.

    Have a fine time away, Kelvin.

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