John 11: 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
I am not sure how many of you are aware of our little secret. I remember one conversation which happened not so long after my licensing in which I had to reveal it. Our common name isn’t in fact the churches actual name. Although colloquially known as Norbury Parish Church, our church is actually dedicated to St. Thomas. We are, in truth, St. Thomas, Hazel Grove.
“So are we St. Thomas, Hazel Grove, now you’ve come?”
“Well no. We’ve always been St. Thomas’s theres just a lot of them in the area so Norbury Parish Church works better.”
“So we don’t need to buy more paper.”
“No, not at the moment at least.”
There are many churches named after Thomas, and for good reason. Thomas, the doubting disciple, challenges us to to face the reality of our doubt and faith. We run with Thomas into situations, confident our faith will win out and yet the next minute we are demanding proof, unsure if God is real at all. In Thomas we find an exemplar of the christian challenge of faithful doubting. Something which many of us have now mastered as an art form. Yet, in and through Thomas so much more of our faith is revealed.
In the passage quoted from John, Jesus is demonstrating the complexity of faith. The disciples, confused by Jesus’ response to hearing that Lazarus is unwell, demand an answer. Not another parable, or riddle, or story, but an answer. How often do we want an answer? How often do we want God to show up and tell us what to do. How often do we sit in silence hoping for a voice. Or sit in the pulpit expecting a neatly packaged plan for life.
The answer they get must have shock them. Just as it would shock us if Val, or Hugh, or Peter, or Alan, gave us such a direct response to our questions about faith:
John 11: 14 – 15 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead,and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
The absurdity of this must smack the disciples right in the face. Why go somewhere that is dangerous. For Judea, where Lazarus was, was somewhere that was not safe to Jesus. In fact the gospel writer plainly tells us that the Jews had tried to stone Jesus when he was last in Judea. Why go somewhere that is dangerous, when Lazarus is already dead. Well, because that is what faith is about.
Faith is about those moments when, even though we don’t truly understand, we encounter God more fully. When something of the christian faith is revealed to us. Especially when we didn’t expect it. When we understand, like Thomas, that we need to let go to the very thing we cling to so as to encounter, and be embraced by, God.
“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas says to the other disciples. Not really aware what is being demanded of him, or what the way looks like at all. Yet, in this moment, Thomas reveals something to us which is crucial to our faith journey.
Our faith is wrapped up in life and death. We are called to die to self and live in Christ. We are called to let go of all the truths the world around us believes and believe in God. Even when that doesn’t make sense. Let us then be a little bit more like our patron saint and be willing to jump both feet into this thing we call faith. Fully aware it isn’t easy and never will be. But fully expectant that as we travel as fellow pilgrims we will be able to utter those words that Thomas utters to the resurrected Christ at the end of John’s Gospel. After doubting his resurrection at all:
My Lord and my God.
Let us die to self and be raised in Christ. Let us be a little bit more like Thomas fully doubting but fully present. Fully human and fully accepting of the work God is doing in us. Even when we cannot see the light for the darkness. Let us find Christ in the most shocking places and let us follow wherever Christ calls us, even if we forgot the map.