In today’s Gospel lesson we heard, as we always hear on the Second Sunday of Easter Season, the story of “doubting Thomas.” What is striking about the Thomas’s demand … “unless I see” … is that our Lord accepts and encourages it … “Reach out your hand.”
This deceptively simple story is a great encouragement to those of us who follow the Anglican path in Christianity. We have the inheritance of a method of engaging the Faith (and Life) which is described in the work of the seminal Anglican theologian Richard Hooker. Fr. Mike Russell, who has recently published a re-issue of Hooker’s Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, describes this method this way:
Anglicans frequently talk about the three-legged stool of authority that distinguishes them from Roman Catholics and Protestants. The former give more authority to Church traditions, the latter to Holy Scripture, but Anglicans somehow add them together and then mix in human reason. Once again, that mixture is Mr. Hooker at work re-framing the discussion. What emerges hardly fits our popular notion of a code of laws and, in fact, we come to understand that in talking about laws, Mr. Hooker is actually speaking throughout about the nature and exercise of authority.
Fr. Russell particularly notes about reason:
Reason is imbedded in the fabric of creation. It is a part of a general predisposition the created order has to acknowledge God and strive to reach God. Human beings are endowed with reason as an active and positive part of the human make up. * * * Through reasonable argument people can come to a decision about the truthfulness of Scripture and follow Christ.
The story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ is a story which encourages and validates the application of human reason to questions of Faith. Questioning, like that exhibited by Thomas, is what happens when we engage Scripture and when we engage life through the lens of Scripture – the experience calls us from unbelief to belief.
Indeed, if we fail to question Scripture or fail to engage Jesus, we remain only outside observers looking into stained glass windows, wondering. When we do not question life with the same questions Scripture and Jesus ask, we remain outside observers looking into painful situations without seeing redemption. In questioning Scripture, in questioning Jesus, and in questioning life through the lens of Scripture, we are drawn to a newer, deeper place where the Resurrection becomes a present event in our lives.
I belong to several Internet discussion groups, one of which is an ecumenical engagement with the lessons appointed for each Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary; frequently, the RCL selections are the same as assigned in our denominational lectionary in the back of the Prayer Book. Recently, a man named “Brad” posted a personal story about an incident which helped the Thomas story make sense to him. I’d like to read Brad’s testimony to you:
Until about ten years ago, I never was sure what to make of Thomas. I have always believed. Then, in the course of a couple of months, I was betrayed by a friend, lost a job, lost a close family member, and lost our savings due to an embezzlement by a secretary. We couldn’t even sell our house in the face of the real estate bust to pay the bills. No one was hiring, and everyone was being laid off. We were worried and we were hurt. We would go to church, and there were sung all the familiar songs of joy, but the psalms in our hearts were the ones of lament. The joyous songs sounded defiant and out of touch with our reality. We did our best to remain faithful during these difficult times, but the worst part of it all was that it seemed that our prayers had fallen on deaf ears. Many months passed. God seemed silent for what seemed to be an eternity. I was beginning to wonder if God cared.
At long last, a head hunter left an urgent message on our recorder that she would be calling at 7:00 p.m. I was sure that the purpose of her call was to announce that I had received a job offer that would save our family. I waited anxiously for the call to come, and it did at precisely 7:00. She was frantic because she was sponsoring a family of religious refugees from Russia, and not only were they arriving 30 days ahead of schedule, they were arriving at 10:00 that evening. The purpose of her call was to ask if we could gather together pots and pans and a chair or two for the refugees’ new apartment – and have them there by 9:30. I rushed into the den to tell my wife the good news about the immigrants. It didn’t occur to either of us to be disappointed on the job front. What mattered was a family from far away had left everything behind to begin a new life, and they needed our help. We met the family who had nothing of their own but hope.
We got back home that night around midnight – more excited than we had been in months. And then it occurred to us that God had given us a job to do. He hadn’t forgotten us at all, nor did he ever cease to care. I now know that on that evening, Jesus said to me, as he did to Thomas in Verse 27, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” I met the Jesus who had suffered, and on that evening he asked me to be his body for that family. And I was blessed because of it. And I have carried from that day a hope and an assurance that has carried me through many a difficult time. It was a hope that got me out of that closed room of despair, and sent me into a dangerous world where I could experience joy, hope, and healing even with the scars.
In reflection, God used this time to shape us into the people he would have us become. As it turned out, he was never silent. He sustained us through well meaning friends, and through a church which defiantly carried the message of hope as the true reality.
I now believe that the invitation to touch his wounds is one of the ways that Jesus assures us of what he taught the disciples who could identify him as the Messiah, but didn’t understand its implications: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Brad’s story is one of engaging life through the lens of Scripture and then, in reflection, engaging Scripture (and the risen Christ) through the lens of life. It is what Fr. Russell, and Mr. Hooker, and Anglicanism in general mean when we say that questions of Faith must be handled in a three-fold way, with reference not solely to Scripture, nor solely to the teachings of the Church, but through a mixture of the two handles with human reason (including human life experience). When Faith and life and Scripture are approached in this way you begin to see that the risen Christ is with you in all sorts of ways, some very like the way he was with Thomas on that Sunday morning … wounded.
Who are those in your life exhibiting the wounds of Christ? There they stand and the words of Jesus echo all around them: “Reach out your hand.” Do so and you will, like Thomas, find validation for your faith.
This homily was offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2000, to the people of St. Francis of Assisi in the Pines Episcopal Church, Stilwell, Kansas, where Fr. Funston was rector from 1993 to 2003.
The lessons for the service were Isaiah 26:2-9,19; Psalm 111; 1 John 5:1-6; and St. John 20:19-31. These lessons can be found at The Lectionary Page.
Click on footnote numbers to link back to associated text.
 Russell, Michael, Introduction to Hooker, Richard, Hooker’s Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, Via Media Publications reprint, 1994, pp. 7-8
 Ibid., p. 9
 This story was copied from the April 2000 discussion of the Gospel lesson on The Desperate Preacher website. The site has been redesigned since and today (9 April 2021) past years’ comments no longer seem accessible.
Image: Christ and the Doubting Thomas, fresco by Luco Signorelli at Basilica della Santa Casa, Loreto, Italy, c. 1477-1482, from Wikimedia Commons.