Reading: John 20: 19- 31 Thomas 1st May 2011
Almost imperceptibly, the risen Christ enters within the closed doors of my fears,
Penetrating the defensive armour that protects from further pain,
But of necessity, keeps one imprisoned and alone.
Gentle as a breath, Jesus speaks His word of “Peace…”
And I am comforted by His presence.
Unable to grant Him entry, He has taken the initiative
And comes into my world, as He once came two thousand years ago.
The historical Jesus, Word made flesh and Incarnate Son,
Still comes to frightened disciples, grief-stricken women,
Bewildered friends and guilt-ridden followers.
Jesus, manifest your risen self,
To all who long for that personal life changing encounter with you.
Introduction: The Prefix of a word is the first few letters.. and many of our words originate from Latin and Greek;
Bi is the LATIN prefix meaning two
something you pedal that has two wheels: BI CYCLE
the ability to speak two languages: BI LINGUAL
two-winged aircraft: BI PLANE
glasses with two different lenses: BI FOCAL
muscle with a two-headed or double attachment: BI CEPS
Two hundredth anniversary: BI CENTENARY
In GREEK the prefix for two is not Bi, but Di
To split something into two parts: DI SECT
A choice between two alternatives DI LEMMA
Two vowels said as a single sound: DI PTHONG
Two atoms of Oxygen with one of metal or non-metal: DI OXIDE
A double-headed top that you play with using a string and two sticks: DI ABOLA
(For a family service, all the words were printed in card and put together by young people)
The surname of Thomas, the central character in today's Gospel reading, has this Greek prefix of Di, meaning two, DI DYMUS- a twin. Thomas is the Aramaic for twin and Didymus the Greek.
There are some other interesting uses of the prefix in the New Testament:
That Leaders of the Church are worth a double portion according to Paul's letter to Timothy 5:17
whether this is double-honour as some translations have it; probably not a double stipend from the Church of England!
But with leadership there is also responsibility, and they are not to be “double-tongued”- in other words, they are to be sincere- there is to be an integrity of word and faith
Twins in my family
I have a particular interest in twins, because we have several pairs on both sides of my family;
I was a twin, my twin being miscarried
My Father had an identical twin brother and because of this we are closer genetically to our cousins than normal cousins.
My Grandfather had a twin sister
To complete the theme, my niece and nephew are twins that my sister adopted.
So I am always fascinated by articles on twins:
Siamese or conjoined twins,
twin research into medical conditions
and the reunion of twins who have been separated from birth-
like the Story recently of twin sisters in their sixties recently reunited by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell in their series “Long Lost Family”.
Thomas, the Disciple was a twin
My Grandfather who was a twin and also named Thomas, told the story of being a Butler to Lord Clinton. Within the estate was their private Church and one day there was just Lord Clinton, the Rector, his wife the organist, and my Grandfather there for the service. Four of them.
So my Grandfather apparently
put up the hymn numbers,
read the lesson
and took up the collection.
And he would say ..”After all that, the Rector had the nerve to preach on “Doubting Thomas!”
Yesterday I was looking up some Prayers of St Catherine of Siena-
it was appropriately her feast day on Friday,
the day of the Royal Wedding for Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
Interestingly I found that she like Thomas had been a twin-
her mother had 22 babies in 14th Century Italy, and many would not survive.
She had a twin sister Giovanna who was cared for by a "wet-nurse" and Catherine remained with her mother.
Sadly Giovanna died, and Catherine was drawn to a deep Christian faith becoming a Saint and leaving prayers we can still read today 600 years later. Perhaps her early loss set the scene for that- or perhaps these little ones who have gone to Heaven pray for us more than we can begin to understand.
We don't know anything about Thomas' twin- his brother or sister- perhaps they had died- the Bible doesn't say; It seems, he didn't have a brother with him unlike Peter and Andrew or James and John.
But one thing I have learned about twins, is something called “separation anxiety” which other people can experience, but it is common in twins. Great care has to be taken to prepare twins to live separate lives, perhaps educating them in separate classes at school. Some even invent their own language to communicate to each other.
Certainly I can see this "separation anxiety" in myself- when I started school- I just didn't want to stay, and I was forever walking home and having to be taken back by my Grandfather.
Even today, if I lose soemthing or someone unexpectedly or I am caught off-guard, I can still suffer this separation anxiety.
For a while I belonged to a group called the “Lone Twin Network” started by Joan Woodward who researched the effects of losing a twin, from around birth right into adulthood, in “natural or in traumatic situations.
One member is Timothy Knatchbull who lost his twin Nicholas in the bombing that killed his Grandfather Lord Louis Mountbatten and his Grandmother. In 2009 he wrote his biography of how he came to terms with the loss, and the help that Prince Charles who was Godfather to the twins, had been, writing him letters from around the world.
It is my belief that Thomas suffered with separation anxiety- as each time Jesus' death was mentioned- Thomas found it difficult to cope:
In John 14 when Jesus explained that he was going back to His Father God in Heaven and would prepare a place for them, it was Thomas who immediately said “We don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”- almost a sound of panic in his question.
In answer Jesus said those lovely words “I am the way, the truth and the life; no-one comes to the Father except by me”
Again at the death of Lazarus Jn 11:16 (incidentally all these accounts are in John's Gospel with “Life” and “believing” being two of his central themes)
When Jesus speaks of Lazarus having “fallen asleep”, and Jesus going to wake him up, they literally thought he was asleep.
Jesus had to say it more clearly: “Lazarus has died”- and Thomas says to the Disciples, let's go and die with him...most commentators think that he meant a willingness to die with Jesus- that in his mind was preferable to living without Jesus. And it is a stage that grieving people often go through- wishing they had died too.
Thomas is always afraid that he may lose Jesus, or that something bad will happen. He cannot believe it even when the good happens.
Jn 20:24; 21:2
Thomas isn't just someone who doubts what the others are saying when they tell him that they have seen Jesus risen from the dead.
What he feared had happened- all his anxieties and worries- probably because of being a twin, maybe because he had lost his twin, come to the fore. He had attached himself to Christ, allowed himself to follow, to love and be loved, and cannot bear the thought of losing him.
Why wasn't Thomas there on that first occasion?- probably because he of all of them was so grief-stricken that he didn't want to be with anyone- he needed time and space to deal with the depth of his loss.
Jesus was dead- and he wasn't quickly going to allow himself to believe that Jesus was alive again- unless he could have concrete proof.. like seeing the wounds in his hands and feet, or touching Jesus side.
The amazing thing about the risen Christ, is that even though Jesus was not present at that conversation, he was later able to tell Thomas that he knew exactly what he had said.
In the event, Thomas didn't need to touch, seeing was enough to make him believe.
Thomas' response was “My Lord and my God”. Jesus had challenged him to stop doubting and believe.
Sometimes we and others can want “proof” in order to believe; But Jesus says that those who believe even though they haven't seen Him are blessed- that's like you and I- and the whole purpose of John's Gospel is to record these events, so that we will believe and have life in Jesus' name.
Will we join Thomas in saying “My Lord and my God”?
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