Updated 2nd July 2022
Thomas the Apostle, 3rd Sunday after Trinity
Buildings are useful to us. We live in them, work in them, worship in them. So we need buildings. But buildings also need us. It’s people that really give buildings life. I find redundant mills and other industrial buildings quite fascinating. But the life they had, with bustling workforces and people with their own lives, has gone and now such places are full of ‘ghosts’ so to speak. It’s the same when we see houses that are now deserted. They were once homes, with families and their lives. Stories to tell. Sounds of children. Sounds of joy. Perhaps muted sounds of sadness. They were places of love. Places of routine. Places of warmth and comfort and shelter.
People often love their buildings. They are very important. But in turn such buildings need people to give them life. A physical building that is no longer used, becomes like an empty shell. However beautiful or fascinating it might be.
Many a family will attach physical importance to the house where they live. We are after all creatures of senses. What we see, feel, smell or hear, are very relevant to us. But if as a family we leave that house, perhaps go on holiday or move somewhere else, we are still a family and the house doesn’t have us to give it our life anymore.
So buildings? Well yes they are very important and special places, as we know. They’re built for a function and a purpose. But without people they are just something to look at.
Often as a church we are referred to in building or physical terms. The word church, although it does of course mean a gathered community of Christians, nonetheless conjures up images of towers and spires, lych gates and the sound of bells. St Paul in his writings, uses the term, the ‘body of Christ’ in reference to the apostolic community. So in this imagery that Paul uses, we think of a physical body with eyes, ears, limbs, each with their own use and function, as Paul teaches. As the church today, we are indeed made up of physical beings, but to truly be the church, we are a spiritual body. It’s the spiritual level that really gives the church it’s life.
In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians today, Paul refers to the church as being part of God’s family, when he says, ‘you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.’ He then goes on to use building imagery when he says, ‘you are ‘’built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.’
A house indeed is being built here. It’s a house with Jesus as it’s foundation stone, and it’s cornerstone that holds the walls together. But this is a house that can never be a skeletal shell, because this is a living house whose walls are alive.
Paul says in referring to Jesus. ‘In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling –place for God.’
St Paul’s picture of the church as a body or building, merges together. Let’s face it, a building doesn’t really grow unless it has an extension, but humans do grow, both physically and spiritually, so we have a building as Paul is pointing out, that is constructed of living stones, that grow and develop into God’s place of dwelling.
A true and living household, that’s alive because of what dwells in it. God! And what it’s made up of, living stones held together by Jesus.
In God the physical becomes less important and the spiritual more so. For instance as Christians, our faith is built upon what we by and large in earthy human terms, can’t see. We pour our love, our gratitude, our hopes, into something we can’t physically see or touch. And that’s because we have faith and in order to have such faith, we need to believe in our hearts first. We need to feel Jesus inside in a way we could never see or feel a person on the outside.
Today we celebrate the festival of St Thomas the Apostle. The one who doubted the resurrection of Jesus. Yes the others have seen the risen Jesus, but Thomas hasn’t and he won’t believe it.
The story of the ‘doubting’ Thomas seems very straight forward. Thomas does after all say. ‘ Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
Thomas wants physical evidence.
And so a week later, he is this time with the disciples in the house. The doors are shut, but as we hear, ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘’peace be with you.’’ Thomas has got a physical and visible Jesus in front of him. And it gets better. Jesus says to Thomas. ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’
So there you go. It’s simple. Thomas now believes in the risen Lord, because he can see the risen Lord. And even touch him if he wants.
But, this is a story that is about more than just the physical evidence. We can’t be entirely sure, but certainly many biblical scholars believe that Thomas never actually touched Jesus hands or side, where the marks of crucifixion were evident. And certainly our gospel passage does not say that Thomas actually touches Jesus. And that’s because in order for Thomas’s encounter with Jesus to be truly real, there needs to be a spiritual encounter and spiritual recognition. Physical is just not enough.
Thomas doesn’t need to touch the sacred wounds of Jesus now, because he believes in Jesus in his heart. The heart of Thomas is alive because it’s filled with a joy that makes him say. ‘My Lord and my God!’ The spiritual now outweighs the physical, because Jesus is alive in Thomas’s heart and soul. Not visible in the normal sense, but in another way very visible in the way that Thomas responds.
We may not have the physical encounter with Jesus that Thomas had, but ultimately it was inner recognition of his Lord and messiah that really made a difference.
And that’s what we really need. Hearts that recognise Jesus and enable us to encounter him fully. This is what really makes us members of the household of God so that we truly become the living stones, living walls of a house that grows, accommodating all who want to be part of God’s family. It’s a house that can never be deserted and derelict. It’s a house that’s a good place to be. Because it’s the house where God dwells. A house where there are no ghosts, only living and resurrected life.
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