Wednesday, December 21, 2011

St. Thomas the Apostle–Wednesday in Rorate Coeli (The Fourth Week of Advent)



John 20:24-29; Ephesians 4:7, 11-16; Judges 6:36-40 St. Thomas, Apostle

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It may seem that the celebration of the Festival Day of St. Thomas the Apostle is a bit out of place so near the close of Adventide, just four days before The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas. Indeed, since the most famous account of St. Thomas, recorded in the St. John’s Gospel, exposes him doubting the testimony of the others that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead and that He had appeared to them in the flesh, we might expect to commemorate St. Thomas sometime during the Easter cycle. Well, in fact, the account of Doubting Thomas and his eventual bold confession of faith is the Gospel Lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter. And yet, there is still an Advent connection to be found in St. Thomas’ faith and life which serves as counsel for us latter day disciples of Jesus as we make our pilgrimage by faith, watching and waiting patiently and in hopeful expectation for His return. This connection is found in the words of our Lord Jesus to St. Thomas after He had seen his risen Lord with his own eyes and had confessed Him to be both God and Lord. Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Dear Advent pilgrims, we are they who have not seen and yet believe. We are they who walk by faith and not by sight, who are bringing up the rears in a long train of faithful pilgrims extending back to Abraham who believed God, and God counted his faith to him as righteousness. Yet, lest we puff ourselves up and think ourselves better than St. Thomas, let us recognize how childlike we are, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Too easily we doubt and stray to follow seemingly easier to believe stories and teachings. Too often we impetuously demand signs of God’s faithfulness and put Him to the test when, indeed, there are signs all around us that we refuse to acknowledge and believe.

Thomas’ sin was great and grievous. He was not with the fellowship that Easter evening when our resurrected Lord appeared to them because he was still hiding in fear, having fled and scattered with the others that night He was arrested in Gethsemane. While the others had remembered their Master’s words to them and had gathered together to counsel and console each other, Thomas remained estranged from his family of faith. Jesus came into their presence as the disciples gathered that evening behind closed doors, and He showed them His hands, feet, and side and He ate some food before them, glorious signs that He was alive out of death, in the flesh and not a ghost or spirit. If Thomas would have been there, he too would have seen and believed. But fear and unbelief kept him isolated, alone, and in darkness. Eight days Thomas continued in darkness and unbelief, separated from the fellowship of his brethren, overcome with fear, in denial and unbelief.

The next Sunday, the disciples were again gathered together, and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus appeared to them just as He had done before, but this time He went directly to Thomas and commanded him to reach out and touch His wounds, to take hold of the sign that Thomas previously had demanded. But, of course, this was unnecessary, for Thomas could see his Lord with his own eyes; there was no need to touch any longer, he believed.

As we stand here, almost two thousand years from the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are thankful for the testimony of St. Thomas and the other Apostles. Because they have seen and have believed, it is so much easier for us who have not seen to believe. And yet, there are countless other witnesses besides these. Jesus appeared to over five hundred people after his resurrection. He dwelt with men for forty days before He ascended; how many more likely saw Him with their own eyes? And then there are the prophets and the patriarchs, judges and kings of Israel for four thousand years before Jesus’ birth; these, too, have given eyewitness testimony to the mighty works of God along with faith and trust in the God whom they have not seen.

Satan’s craftiest weapon against us is to separate us from fellowship of the Christian Church, the way a lion separates a weak and struggling antelope from the herd. Then he can use the wedge of doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief to sever us from Christ and leave us alone in darkness and death. For, in the Church, the Lord is present with His Word and with His Wounds to show us that Satan and death are defeated, to comfort, counsel, and console us in His gifts and the consolation of the brethren. Remaining in His Word and Blessed Sacraments, we are well prepared for Jesus’ coming at any hour, any day, any time. Though we have not seen, we have believed. Lord, help us in our unbelief. And He does. He gives us His Word and Spirit that we might hear and believe. He gives us His body and His blood for the strengthening of our faith and the forgiveness of our sins. And He leaves us, not as orphans, but He gathers us in a new family of faith in His Church where He has promised to be present always.

In the fellowship of His body, the Church, may we confess with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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