"Christ: Our 'One-Way' Sign"
Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle
St. John 14:1-7
December 21, 2005
IN NOMINE JESU
Things did not come easily for the disciples' understanding, few more so than for the disciple known as "The Twin," the blessed apostle St. Thomas. For him, it seemed to be doubly hard for him to understand certain things. He wanted to understand the Lord; he wanted to be with the Lord. He tried to make the pieces fit his own little puzzle. Yet he needed a sign to set him on the way he needed to go. He needed the Lord to point the way for him. He needed the Lord to be the Way. Thomas needed the Lord to point to Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Way that Thomas was to follow, the Truth that Thomas was to believe, and the Life that Thomas was to live. Undoubtedly he heard the Lord call him, saying, "Follow Me." Follow Me, Thomas, for I am the Way to heaven. Follow Me, Thomas, for there is no other way for you to go. Follow Me, Thomas, for My way is the way of the cross. Follow Me, Thomas, for even as I am about to die for the life of the world, you too will die for the sake of the Gospel. The Gospels tell us that the Lord died by crucifixion. Tradition holds that Thomas was speared to death. Thomas was martyred for the faith. Thomas may not have been the brightest candle in the Advent wreath, but his courage could not be denied, however misguided it may have been. When Lazarus died, the Lord used an Old Testament expression for death in telling His disciples that His dear friend Lazarus had fallen asleep. The disciples— in their denseness, or sparseness—thought that Lazarus was simply resting from an illness. The Lord had to speak in plain language to them because they did not get it: Lazarus died. Now the Lord was going to Lazarus to raise him from the dead, a precursor of His own resurrection, so that the disciples would believe in Him, the Lord of life. Thomas misunderstood the Lord's speaking of going to the dead man Lazarus, thinking that the Lord was going to Bethany to also die. Thomas resigns himself to his erroneous conclusion and exhorts his fellow disciples to come along and die with the Lord.
Dying with the Lord was not the way for Thomas to go; dying for Him was. Yet Thomas did not understand the way he was to go. He needed the Lord to put him on the highway, to show him a sign. Thomas was one who needed to see to believe. We recall the incident in St. John's Gospel, the 20th chapter, in which Thomas refused to believe that the Lord had risen until he himself had the opportunity to not only see the Lord's wounds but to also touch them. The eyewitness accounts of the other ten disciples were not enough to convince him. For Thomas, seeing was believing. He did not simply doubt the Lord had risen; he was not a "doubting Thomas." Rather, he was an unbeliever of the Easter story until the Lord appeared to him.
We too can be hard-headed and even hard-hearted. Here we are, four days away from celebrating the birth of our Savior, and we are looking for signs of Christmas. We have seen the nativity scene in front of our building, but we have not heard here the story of the shepherds coming to adore the Babe in the manger. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but the snow has been melting, and we may only be able to dream of a white Christmas. We have become weary, having traveled here, there, and everywhere, it seems. We have stressed out over buying presents so much that our presence here, and our worship of God, can seem half-hearted. We want signs that it's Christmas, but we have come here over the last four weeks and sung Advent hymns, the tree is decorated but remains unlit until Saturday evening, Christmas Eve. And tonight we see not blue- or purple- or white-colored paraments and vestments, but we see red for the Feast of St. Thomas, and that may well have some of us seeing red. We want to hear about good ol' "St. Nick" and forget of the real St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (now part of present-day Turkey), whom the Church commemorated 15 days ago, and who lived in the fourth century. We have heard Christmas music over the speakers at the stores, but we have sung Advent hymns and hymns thanking God for the saints, namely SS. Andrew and Thomas. While everything has its place, we are so wrapped up in our own busy-ness that we cannot see our own need of a Savior from our sins. We like to look at that cute baby in the live nativity scene, but we lose sight of Whom he represents and why He was born in the first place. We lose sight of the need to repent of our sins, and for this reason the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent were devised by the early Church.
For this reason we also get to hear of St. Thomas, whose shortcomings we share. This is not to shame us, but it is reason for us to give thanks to the Lord. You see, Christ knew Thomas and called him to follow Him anyway. Likewise, our Lord bids us to follow Him, in spite of ourselves. Our Lord calls us because He became one of us; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to His own. He came 2,000 years ago as a Baby lying in a manger. He comes tonight in His written, read, and proclaimed Word. He took Thomas's and our shortcomings and sins upon Himself at His baptism. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He who was clean before His baptism became dirty after it for our sake. Yes, Christ became true Man, just as you and I have human flesh, but He, also being true God, remained sinless, and on account of His perfect obedience to God the Father, He paid the price for our sins. By His death He has shown us the true way—His way. The way of Christ is the way of the cross. The way to the forgiveness of sins is His death. Thomas wanted to see the risen Lord's wounds from the nails and the spear before he would believe. The Lord told him to put his hand into the Lord's side and feel the wound from the spear that pierced His sacred torso. In doing so Thomas, the future Apostle to India, unknowing saw a preview of the way he too would go, the way of the spear, for, according to tradition, he died from multiple spear wounds for his faith. Thomas paid the price for his faith. More importantly, Christ paid the price for our sins. The spear that pierced His side also pierces the darkness of our hearts, for we, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them light has shined" (Is. 9:2), Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. Christ lights our way. Better said, Christ lights His way for us, to the font, the pew, and the altar, and the Holy Spirit continues pointing the way of Christ—and the way to Christ—to us and for us, that by faith the way our Lord leads us would bring us to Him in heaven. Until that Day, our way takes us from Bean Blossom tonight to Bethlehem Saturday night, and to the Upper Room on Sunday morning, Christmas Day, when our way takes us to the Babe who comes in His body and blood. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.