Deacon Cornell’s Homily

Readings:    Ezekial 37:12-14
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45
Date: March 25-26, 2023, Fifth Sunday in Lent, Cycle A

Is there anyone here named Thomas? Did anyone ever demeaningly call you "doubting Thomas"?

Thomas, called Didymous or twin, along with Mary Magdalene. are two of the most frequently and most mistakenly negatively characterized people in Scripture. Today's story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead contains one of the three places we hear Thomas speak in the Gospels. When Jesus tells the disciples he is going back to Bethany, they all try to change his mind since he would be going back to where the people tried to stone him a little while ago. Only Thomas steps up and says, "then let us go with him, to die with him."

The second is during John's version of the Last Supper when Jesus tells the disciples he is going back to the Father to prepare a place for them. And then he will come back and take them with him. Jesus says to the disciples, you know where I am going so you know the way. But of course they don't know either of those things. Again it is Thomas who has the courage to say what they all are thinking: Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

The third, course is that well known scene when the rest of the disciples are shut up in a room, afraid to show their faces for fear of the authorities arresting them. Only Thomas has the guts to go out and about. Then he goes back to the room and the disciples, still hiding behind locked doors and windows, tell him they have seen the risen Christ. But Thomas is not convinced because they are not acting any differently. He states what he needs in order for him to believe. When Jesus re-appears and gives him what he has asked for, he believes wholeheartedly, kneeling and calling Jesus God - the only person in the Gospels to do so explicitly.

I would argue that the scriptural evidence shows Thomas to be a person who knows himself very well, who is not afraid of being associated with Jesus, and has the courage to speak his mind, and that we all should strive to be like Thomas.

The main focus of today's Gospel of course if Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead - a miracle that many scripture scholars point to as the immediate provocation for the rulers of Jerusalem to want to put Jesus to death. I would suggest that for many of us, this story is one that we don't really see as something that calls us to action. After all, none of us is called by baptism to perform such miracles! But as he does so often, Jesus says one sentence that both calls us to action and at the same time reveals a profound truth about God's plan for salvation. After Jesus and the disciples travel back to Bethany, and Jesus has brief encounters with his dear friends, Martha and Mary, he comes to Lazarus' tomb, and John's Gospel gives us what is often referred to as "the shortest verse in the Bible": "and Jesus wept." (It is the shortest in the King James transalation and many others but not in the original languages). I used to have a friend who would quote that verse anytime she heard any story of people in authority in the Church acting badly. I heard her use it many times back in the early 2000's! But after weeping, Jesus calls Lazarus out from the tomb and gives us a slightly longer but about as pithy a verse. Jesus says to the crowds, ""Untie him and let him go."

I would suggest that we see in that command Jesus gives, our invitation to action. Jesus just raised Lazarus from the dead, after 4 days in the tomb. Certainly Jesus could have made the bindings drop from him. But in God's mysterious plan for the salvation of the world, God has given us humans a part. It is often said that without God, humans can do nothing; but without humans God chooses to do nothing. If we see in this miracle a metaphor for God's power to forgive so that we might be raised from the death of sin, we see that God calls us to then support each other after we have been raised so that we can continue to go in the path of good. God commands us to be responsible to supporting each other in living in the light of right relationship to God, to helping each other keep from stumbling in our blindness back into the death of sin.

Of course to do that, we need to keep on that path of goodness ourselves, and to support others mainly by our example, just as Thomas did. So my prayer today is that we all aspire to be like Thomas, to know what we need to not only believe but to live out of that belief; that we tell God explicitly what it is that we need, and then when God gifts us with what we need, that we have to courage to walk to God, to walk with God, because no matter where that takes us, we are going to and going along the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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