When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, 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 the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This morning’s gospel tells the story of the second and third post-resurrection appearances recorded in John’s Gospel. We begin our story with the disciples gathered together in a shuttered room. Well, it appears MOST of the disciples were there. Thomas is missing. The doors were bolted shut. The disciples were terrified. These followers of Jesus had been with him for three years and the authorities knew they were his friends. Rumors that the tomb was empty had spread, and the authorities undoubtedly were suspicious of any gathering of the disciples of the missing body of Jesus. The disciples were afraid for their lives – just as they had been afraid when they deserted their master at his arrest.
Had they lost hope? Were they quarreling among themselves – trying to rationalize their desertion of the one they called Lord? Were they making plans to escape Jerusalem before they could be arrested? Were they devising a “plan B?” They had abandoned their lives to follow Jesus. What were they to do now? Whatever this ragtag group of disciples was doing, the text makes it clear that, except for Thomas, they were doing it together.
And then, without lightning bolts or trumpets of angels Jesus appeared in the room proclaiming God’s peace. There was no chastisement. No recriminations. Only the assurance that even in their panic and confusion there would be peace. Jesus showed the disciples the wounds in his hands and side, and the disciples were overcome with joy! I imagine they could hardly breathe.
They barely had time to recover when Jesus commissioned them to go out and tell the story of God’s salvation. With a breath – the same Holy Spirit breath God breathed into the first human – Jesus empowered these disciples to proclaim God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. In a moment in time this group of fearful, cowering disciples was transformed into a courageous band of witnesses. In spite of their many failures, in spite of their desertion, Jesus entrusted them with his word and his work. Although they had forsaken Jesus and fled in his darkest hour, Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim the good news that God does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim the messages of God’s waiting forgiveness to a broken and hostile world, and the disciples could not wait to tell Thomas.
Ah, Thomas. Thomas has been my lifelong friend. Thomas is kid in class who asked the questions I was afraid to ask. Thomas is the one who blatantly challenged the assumptions I was too afraid to question. I don’t want to look stupid. Thomas does not want to put a false face on his confusion. Every organization – especially the church – needs more Thomases.
Thomas left the company of disciples. When sorrow comes and sadness enfolds us; when we are afraid or when we are confused we often shut ourselves away from the fellowship of the faith community. We tell ourselves we don’t want to burden others. We insulate ourselves from the community of believers – the very ones who are to be for us the embodiment of Christ’s compassion. What are we thinking? What was Thomas thinking when he removed himself from the company of disciples?
I’m pretty sure Thomas was convinced the cross was the end of all hope. The disciples couldn’t wait to tell him they had seen the Lord. But, Thomas would have none of it. As far as he was concerned the crucifixion was the end of Jesus, and his response to the news Jesus was alive was downright belligerent. “Unless I see and touch the wounds of crucifixion, I will not believe.”
Thomas wasn’t with the community of faith when Jesus appeared and he missed it. Charles Spurgeon says “[w]e miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from Christian fellowship and try to [go it] alone. Things can happen to us within the fellowship of Christ’s Church which will not happen when we are alone.” It is in the faith community that we are most likely to meet Christ face-to-face in the person of a brother or sister in Christ.
In spite of the disciples’ testimony, Thomas refused to believe. The disciples (thank God!) refused to take “no” for an answer, and Thomas was with them a week later when Jesus appeared in the room. Jesus not only showed his wounds to Thomas, he invited Thomas to touch the open sores on his body. Jesus addressed Thomas directly and personally because he knew Thomas’ life was on a trajectory that needed immediate correction. Our translation of this text has Jesus saying, “do not doubt, but believe.” What Jesus actually said is, “do not become faithless; [become] faithful.”
We all live on a trajectory of faith. Make no mistake about it. EVERYONE lives by faith. The difference is in the object of that faith. As Christians we put our faith in Jesus, the Son of God, who loved us and who gave himself for us. What we learn from Thomas is that unless we are rooted in a community of Christian faith, the trajectory of our faith will badly wobble. We may find ourselves searching for an object of faith that is something or someone other than Jesus.
The first candidate for that new object of faith is most likely ourselves. We will trust our knowledge, our intellect, our reasoning powers. We will trust our strength and our fortitude. What we can’t reason or accomplish by our own efforts we will buy. And when all that is not sufficient we will drown ourselves in frenetic activity, simple minded diversions and addictions to whatever we think will soothe the savage breast.
The truth is, though, it is inevitable that we will doubt. It is inevitable that we frequently will bump up against unresolved questions of faith. Any book that begins with the story of a talking snake is bound to stretch one’s capacity to believe.
So, what do we do to relieve our doubt? Well, we’re doing it this morning. We are together worshiping the risen Christ. As we worship and encounter the living Christ, the eyes of our hearts become more receptive to the sightings of God working in the world, and our faith is sustained. This morning we receive the sacrament – the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation and for a moment we are lifted into sacred space and time – the communion of saints.
What do we do to alleviate our doubt? We tell each other the old, old story of Jesus and his love. I encourage you to study and talk about the scripture with your brothers and sisters in this room. Make the story of God’s resurrection power your own – knowing that Jesus does not meet our doubts with chastisement and recrimination, but with magnificent grace.
When Jesus died, Thomas lost sight of God at work. He left the community, isolating himself from the comfort, support and encouragement the community could provide. But, when Thomas rejoined the community of disciples, he was present when Jesus appeared that second time. It appears Thomas never took Jesus up on his offer to touch the wounds of the crucifixion. He didn’t need to. Thomas moved beyond his senses to faith. Doubting Thomas became “Confessing Thomas.” He was the only disciple in this context to give a confession of faith. “My Lord, and my God.” Thomas’ doubt was relieved by the sight of the risen Lord. Our doubts will most likely be relieved in the Christian community because it is here that we will receive glimpses of God at work among and through us.
There are many things we can do to bolster our faith – whether or not it wavers. First we need to know the story. Then we need to TELL the story – to one another and to the world. In order to do this in power and strength, we NEED this community to strengthen and support us.
The story, however, does not end with “seeing” the Lord. The story continues as we, the disciples of Jesus Christ, believe and share with our world the message of God’s continuing love and reconciliation – God’s amazing grace.