Easter 2: April 19, 2020: Thomas: Doubter or Believer—Maybe Both! Based on John 20: 19-31
Our gospel story for this second Sunday of Easter from John’s gospel tells us what happened on that first Easter Sunday evening. The disciples, as the followers of a Rabbi crucified as an enemy of the state, are understandably afraid of what might happen to them if they show themselves in public. So they have locked themselves behind closed doors. Wow, can we ever identify with that right now—the need and desire to feel safe as we stay behind the doors that block us from the dangerous world outside. What a poignant story for these times. Now, John tells us the disciples had heard from Mary that she had seen the Lord. And as they are locked inside, fearful of what could be, what may happen to them, suddenly, there he was! Jesus comes to them, he just showed up in the room! Incredibly, the women were right! Jesus is alive! And he simply says “Peace be with you.” In the depths of their fear and their anxiety, Jesus offers peace to his disciples, calming their fears. Then he breathes upon them, giving them the strength of the Holy Spirit too. Wow. How incredible, awesome and amazing. Just close your eyes for a second and imagine how that might feel! …..It gives me goosebumps!
Later that same evening Thomas comes over to join his friends, which means he had missed Jesus ‘dropping in’, as it were. Did you ever wonder where Thomas was, why he wasn’t there—you know, maybe he was getting take-out supper for everyone? Or maybe Thomas wasn’t as frightened as the rest of them, and didn’t feel the need to hide himself away? Perhaps he was checking on some of the other believers? We really don’t know, any number of scenarios present themselves! So anyway, when Thomas does come over to join them, the disciples, spiritually and emotionally renewed from their encounter with Jesus tell him: “We have seen the Lord!” And Thomas is skeptical, maybe wondering if they’d gotten into the wine while he was away. Remember, he wasn’t there when the women came with their news that morning either. And you know, I think Thomas’ skepticism is understandable, given the situation. They saw Jesus crucified, and generally speaking, dead men don’t come back to life–Lazarus excepted of course. And Jesus had done that miracle! Jesus even said on the cross “It is finished.” For the sensible Thomas, unless he sees Jesus for himself, touches the wounds he knows Jesus’ body would bear, he will hold on to his skepticism. He’s not believing their story. A week later the disciples are gathered together once more behind the safety of closed doors, and Thomas is with them this time. Suddenly, Jesus is there. And again, he reassures them, offering them his peace. He speaks to Thomas: “Yes, it is me. Look, here are my wounds; do you need to touch to be sure?” It seems Thomas doesn’t need to touch. But what does Thomas do, what is his reaction? He says without hesitation, “My Lord and my God.” Pure, unadulterated love and worship. In my mind’s eye, I see him falling to his knees in front of Jesus as he says that. And the sensibly skeptical Thomas not only believes, but he knows within the depths of his being, that the Lord is risen indeed.
I think Thomas has gotten a bit of a bum rap all these years, calling him doubting Thomas. I like Thomas, he’s the one who is not afraid to step up, to put words to concerns that the others can’t or maybe won’t. I think Thomas is really the brave one! Remember, when Jesus said he was going to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead? The disciples warned him not to go, because the last time Jesus was in Bethany the people tried to stone him to death. And what does Thomas say? “Well guys, if he’s going, let’s us go and die with him.” He understands Jesus’ needs to go, and supports him, encourages the others to support him, even if he’s not 100% certain just why Jesus needs to go. Now, that’s faith. And when Jesus was trying to explain before his crucifixion that he knew his time was coming to leave them and go to his Father house, where there were many rooms; so when their time came to go to the Father they would know the way to where he was going; it was Thomas who put voice to the question—‘How Lord, we don’t know the way?’ Thomas wanted to know more, wanted to make sure they knew way to be with Jesus, with God. That’s faith! And Jesus responds to Thomas, “The way is through me.” Jesus doesn’t berate him for his question, Jesus simply answers him; he tells them he is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14.6)
True to his personality, even after Jesus’ death, Thomas again has questions. He wants to know more, to understand more deeply! Which one of us here has not had these same questions, especially now! Which one of us has not wondered where Jesus was when we felt alone, anxious, worried or wondered just was Jesus was anywhere at all? Is Jesus really alive and with us? Can this really be? Should we be even asking those kinds of questions, and if we do, does that make us unbelievers, doubters?
What does Thomas’ experience teach us? The opposite of belief is not unbelief, it is doubt. And its ok to question, to ask, because what can doubt do, if it is acted upon? It causes you to seek, to look for more, to search for answers so your faith goes even deeper, your relationship with Jesus becomes more intense, clearer and stronger. With the knowledge that the risen Christ is real and with us, and that Jesus wants nothing more than to be in relationship with us. We too, like Thomas can see him and worship him, fall at his feet and say: My Lord and My God. Thomas was not afraid to ask Jesus directly, Thomas was not afraid to speak out his feelings. Not because he was an unbeliever, but because he was a believer and wanted more understanding, wanted answers to his doubts. Jesus responded to Thomas’ questioning. He offered himself to Thomas to provide him with the reassurance he needed, and he yet again gave his peace upon them all the disciples. Jesus offered his injured hands and his wounded side so Thomas would know that yes, it really was Jesus risen from the grave. There is no judgement, only love and care comes back from the Lord. By taking our questions, our concerns, our fears, even our doubts to the Lord, we are offering ourselves to the Lord, even the not so wonderful parts of us; that we don’t always like to admit to having. And that’s really hard to do. So what happens if we do work up the courage to do that? Jesus responds, offering himself to us, giving his peace, his love, his reassurance. Giving us the strength of the Holy Spirit so we can deal with whatever it is we’re going through. We are not alone; God in Christ and the Holy Spirit is with us.
The message, the culmination of all the gospels is that whatever the evil, God’s love triumphs. Jesus is alive and in the strength of his Holy Spirit supersedes anything. God’s grace and love go beyond anything we can ever think humanly possible, because God’s immensity is beyond anything we with our limited human perceptions can ever imagine! Jesus, out of his love for humanity, knowingly and willingly went through the whole Good Friday horrible experience, knowing that he would rise again, come back to his disciples again! God is almighty in the universe, and cannot be eradicated, no matter what humanity tries to do. God and God’s love in Christ reigns supreme! My Lord and My God!
When we are unsure of what we need to do, what direction to go, what decisions to make, what to believe, we need to put voice to that, we need to look to Jesus’ life for answers, for direction for our lives, to see our purpose in Christ; individually and as a church community. And Thomas’ experience tells us Jesus will respond! When we truly pray for guidance, and then listen for that still small voice that brings us the answers. And remember to look around and see the grace of God—God’s grace is everywhere, when we have eyes to look for it and see it, and then, yes believe! What more can we ask of Jesus, but to bring us his peace and the reassurance of his living presence in our lives, and the lives of those who need his reassurance and love in these trying times. Even in the midst of any doubts, we still believe. Explore your doubts, as Jesus calls on us to go deeper in faith in him.
And now may “The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.” Amen.
Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector
The Regional Ministry of Hope