In the Book of Acts, chapter 5, we read: “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women….(The apostles are arrested and imprisoned.) But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
People were added to the Lord – not to the church, but to the Lord. And what did the angel call it? “The words of this Life.”
Later in the Book of Acts, in Chapter 9, we read: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him….. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We often talk about adding members to the church. The real question should be, when we add people to the church are we adding them to the Lord?
What we call Christianity or the Christian faith, the angel calls “this Life” and later in the Book of Acts it is called “the Way”. In chapter 19 we read that in Ephesus, “there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”
Oh, if only we could cause a disturbance sometime. But then we would have to be speaking the words of this Life. And by the way, speaking is not the same as preaching. Christian churches today preach, but do not always speak!
Pilate asked cynically “What is truth?” when Jesus stood before him. But Jesus ignored him, because Jesus himself was the truth, standing in front of Pilate. Thomas refused to believe unless he saw and touched the wounds of Christ. He believed in the truth when he saw the truth standing in front of him. The truth is Christ. The truth is the words of this Life. This Life – the life that is on the Way, the life that starts from Christ’s wounds and leads people to Christ.
Unfortunately, the Church has become a peddler of consumer products, or maybe more accurately, we have created a consumer mentality. How many programs we offer, how much we smile, how good our coffee hours are, how good the sermons are or how well the choir sounds.
We understand the church as something I join rather than something I AM. The only way we can leads people to Christ is to be people who have touched the wounds of Christ, because those wounds are the source of life, of “this Life” that the angel spoke of. We Orthodox call ourselves the church of the apostolic succession. But have we forgotten what was told to the apostles? “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” Η ζωή εν τάφω, The Life in the tomb – the young people sang at the Epitaphios. The Life in the tomb now stood before Thomas and now stands with us as this Life that we speak with our words.
We have our doubts, so Thomas is our hero. But Thomas was committed to truth, and he refused to believe the words of men, even those men who were his fellow apostles. He found truth in the wounds of Christ. Unless we touch the wounds of Christ, we cannot overcome our doubts and insecurities. One of our youngest altar boys, Alexander, a few nights ago told his mother these extraordinary words: “Mom, now that I am helping Father in the altar and do my cross every night, all my worries are gone. Jesus Christ and God take all my worries away.” Serving in the altar helped him overcome fear in his life. In a mystical way, he touched the wounds of Christ by serving in the altar. That’s a profound experience for a young boy. Every one of us is called to touch the wounds of Christ, and every one of us will experience it differently. That’s where the Way begins, that’s how we learn to speak the words of this Life, that’s when we add people to Christ. Truly the Lord is Risen!
The above was preached as the sermon at the Liturgy on Sunday, May 1st, 2022, Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church.