An elderly pastor looks over his large congregation on Easter morning and startles them with this announcement: “My friends, realizing that I will not see many of you until next Easter, may I take this opportunity to wish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” The difference in the size of the congregation on Easter Sunday and on the other Sundays of the year is very noticeable. Many of our Christians, as far as church attendance is concerned, have indeed become Holy Week Christians: you see them in church only during the Holy Week. Like a certain man who was criticizing his pastor. “I have attended this church for three years,” he says, “and each time the homily is always on the same topic. Doesn’t he have something else to talk about?” Yes, this man has been attending the church for three years alright; but he only attends on Easter Sunday and he always hears a homily on the resurrection of Christ.
Why are many well-meaning Christians so uncommited to attending regular, Sunday church services? The answer can be given in one word: doubt or crisis of faith. People today, like people of all times, do have a hunger for God. They are in search for the meaning of life. But they doubt whether the answer to these existential questions can be found within the four walls of the church. For this reason they are more disposed to spend time in social action, in work, and in intellectual pursuit rather than in church worship. Today’s gospel gives us an example of a man who felt exactly like that. His name is Thomas.
“In the evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week, ... the disciples had met ... Jesus came and stood among them (John 20:19).” The disciples gathered together on Sunday, the first day of the week. Since the disciples were Jews they would attend synagogue services on the Sabbath (Saturday) and on Sunday they would assemble together as believers in Christ. Since they are gathered together in his name, Jesus would appear to them as he had earlier promised them: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). In this way Sunday became known as the day of the Lord, the day Christ comes to meet and strengthen his people, the special day of Christian worship. So, in fact, today’s gospel is describing the first Christian Sunday worship following the resurrection of the Lord. The services were usually held in the evening.
So all the disciples are gathered for Sunday service and what do we notice. Thomas is not there. Where is Thomas? You can see that Thomas is like one of these modern-day Christians who do not go to church regularly on Sundays. Such people are not there in church when Jesus comes to meet his people and to strengthen them in their faith. As a result, they remain with their doubts. Initially all the disciples had their doubts. But because of their encounter with the risen Lord in Sunday worship their doubt was turned into faith. Thomas missed that experience.
But, being a wise man, Thomas resolved never again to miss the Sunday gathering of believers. The gospel reading continues, “A week later [i.e. the following Sunday] his disciples were again in the house, and [this time around] Thomas was with them [and as usual] Jesus came and stood among them (John 20:26). This time Thomas had his own share of the resurrection experience. Immediately his doubt changed into faith and he fell down and worshiped, saying, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Now ask yourself, What if Thomas had stayed away from church saying, “Prove it! Prove it to me that Jesus is risen and then I will come,” would it be possible to prove it to him by arguments alone? Sometimes the best argument you can give to someone out there who is in doubt and does not believe is a sentence in three words: “Come and see.”
Come in and let the risen Lord who is here with us in Sunday worship, the Lord who is here in his word and in the Eucharist, let him, himself, speak to you and touch your heart and then you will doubt no longer but believe. The answer to our religious questions and doubts is not out there. The answer is right in here. When you are in doubt, think of doubting Thomas and learn from his own experiences. Come and you will see.