Saint Thomas Sunday: A Rookie Anglican Guide

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The Sunday after Easter is also called “Saint Thomas Sunday.”

This Sunday, we read the story of the apostle Thomas, his doubts about the news of the resurrection, and his confession of faith when Jesus showed him his wounds. It is a day to acknowledge skepticism and celebrate belief.

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Most importantly, Saint Thomas Sunday is a day to focus on the wounds of the resurrected Lord, for these wounds reveal God’s love and move us from skepticism to belief.

Doubting Thomas?

Thomas has the dubious distinction of being the only disciple named after his weakest moment. We don’t use the names “denying Peter” (John 18) or “violent James” (Luke 9). Perhaps we call him “Doubting Thomas” because we sympathize with his doubt.

In John 20, we read that Jesus had previously appeared to the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

At first, it seems that Thomas was amongst the disciples on this first visit from Jesus. But a few verses later, John explains that Thomas was not there and that he will not believe until he sees Jesus’ wounds:

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe you.” (John 20:24–25)

In other words, Thomas was skeptical of the resurrection. Thomas wanted to see Jesus for himself, a desire that resonates in all of us.

The Second Sunday After Easter

But why is Thomas celebrated on the Sunday after Easter? Because John 20 gives a specific date for Jesus’ appearance to Thomas.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:26)

The reference to eight days includes Easter Sunday. So if Easter Sunday is Day 1, Day 8 is the Sunday after Easter or Saint Thomas Sunday. Thus, Saint Thomas Sunday is one of the four firmly dated events of the Easter season:

  • Day 1– Easter Sunday
  • Day 8 – Saint Thomas Sunday
  • Day 40 – Ascension (on a Thursday)
  • Day 50 – Pentecost Sunday

In the three-year lectionary of the BCP 2019, the story of Thomas is read on this Sunday every year.

Faith & Sight

We resonate with Thomas’ desire for a physical experience of Jesus. That experience is denied to us, which means we must come to him by faith rather than by sight:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Another great Thomas of the faith, Thomas Aquinas, grappled with this very question in his own theology and ultimately wrote one of the most moving hymns on the subject, “Humbly I adore thee, verity unseen.” The second verse of the hymn reflects this idea:

Taste and touch and vision to discern thee fail;
faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;
what the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

The Wounds of Jesus

Even if Thomas’ doubt was not commendable, Thomas did understand that Jesus’s wounds were the key to his identity. For Thomas, the criterion of belief was not Jesus’ face or voice but rather the wounds he had borne on the cross.

Evidently, Jesus knew what Thomas had said, for when he appeared again, he invited Thomas to touch those very wounds:

He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27).

Jesus’ wounds were significant, not only as a sign that he had died and risen again but also as a sign of his love. In other words, Jesus’ wounds were not deformities. Instead, they were the marks of his divine character, of his love for Thomas and us.

By showing his wounds to Thomas, Jesus provides a help to the skeptics of all time. For it is the wounds of Christ, God’s sacrificial love for the world, that finally bring us from skepticism to belief. Gregory of Nazianzus puts it this way:

If you do not believe, then believe those who tell you. And if you cannot believe them either, then have confidence in the print of the nails. (Oration 45.24)

Believing Thomas!

Thomas Popp helpfully describes Thomas’ story as one of “Question Marks and Exclamation Marks.” In other words, Thomas begins by asking questions and expressing doubt. But he concludes with an emphatic confession of belief:

“My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28)

To put Thomas’ confession into perspective, consider some of the other significant confessions of belief in the Gospel of John:

  • John the Baptist: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
  • Peter: You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
  • Martha: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.” (John 11:27)
  • The Crowd: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)

These are certainly powerful confessions of faith, but notice by contrast how personal Thomas’ confession is. For Thomas, Jesus is “My Lord.” For Thomas, Jesus is “my God.”

This language, common to God in the Psalms, is unique to Thomas in the gospels. He who was a “Doubting Thomas” has now become the “Believing Thomas.” In this belief, Thomas became a great missionary to India and ultimately a martyr.

Thomas in Music & Art

Multiple hymns refer to Thomas’ experience of Jesus’ wounds and Jesus’ response concerning belief and sight. Three of the most common are as follows:

  • O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing
  • Humbly, I Adore Thee
  • Crown Him With Many Crowns

Thomas also frequently appears in Christian art. Check out Wikimedia’s collection of “Doubting Thomas” images, including the famous painting by Caravaggio used at the top of this article.


Image: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1602). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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