It is evening and those who had followed Jesus were gathered together behind closed doors, fearful of those within the community who might be out to get them. They are grieving. Grieving the loss of their friend, their leader who in the short span of a week went from the glorious entry into Jerusalem, the triumphant shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest”, to the cross at Golgotha, the sneering jabs, “Let him save himself.”
The disciples are grieving. Grieving the loss of hope. The loss of hope that Jesus was the one to deliver Israel, to re-establish God’s kingdom on earth, bring peace and justice to the oppressed. This hope had been nailed to the cross. It is now evening and they are huddled together behind closed doors, perhaps drawing some comfort in being together, though frightened, sad, and confused.
Into this scene bursts Jesus. Jesus. John puts it plainly, there is no rattling of tables, no howling wind. This is no ghostly vision, but a real encounter with the Risen Christ. It’s enough to scare the holy terror out of the best disciple. Enough to shake up this rag-tag group of friends and followers, to jar them out of their hopelessness. “Peace” says Jesus. “Just as God has sent me, I send you.” In the midst of their fear, they are gathered together to receive God’s spirit, the courage and strength to go back into the world and pick up where Jesus left off.
But wait. Someone is missing. Where’s Thomas? Thomas, the faithful disciple. When Jesus had decided to risk death by entering Jerusalem, Thomas had said “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Where was Thomas as the disciples huddled together in their fear and sadness? We don’t know. We can only imagine that he was off to himself, the burden of his loss too great to share.
When Thomas shows up, the disciples are buzzing with enthusiasm.
“Guess who came for a visit? Jesus!”
“Right,” says Thomas. “Who are you trying to kid?”
Thomas is a man with his feet firmly planted on the ground, a loyal follower who isn’t going to be easily sold on some fancy idea.
“The door was locked and he came and stood among you? Is that your story? I’ll believe that when I see it. More than that, when I touch the nail prints. Then I’ll believe.”
Thomas is a courageous skeptic. Willing to go to his death following Jesus, no doubt feeling the depth of sorrow over the death of Jesus, we can not expect him to be an easy believer based on second-hand information.
All of us experience doubt. We live in an age of doubt, a society filled with “Doubting Thomas’s.” We desire proof, hard and fast evidence that a particular claim is rock-solid before we commit to believing it. Doubt is not in itself unhealthy or even an impediment to faith. Doubt can motivate us, like Thomas, to search for signs of new life. We don’t know where Thomas was when Christ first appeared to the disciples. Maybe while they were huddled together in fear, he was off searching for the Risen Christ in the world, risking death himself. The doubt which motives us to explore new possibilities can be life-affirming; can lead to even greater faith.
But doubts can also turn to despair. Particularly if we isolate ourselves from friends and family, from those who would care for us, ashamed of our doubts and uncertainties. Particularly if we fail to share our doubts. Had Thomas not returned to that band of frightened but faithful friends, this would be a different story altogether.
The beauty of this story is that God does not abandon Thomas in his disbelief. Jesus comes again and stands among them, addressing Thomas by name. See and touch. Believe. Thomas’s response is echoed in the faith that has lasted through the centuries, “My Lord and my God.”
Seeing is not necessarily believing. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Unlike Thomas, few are given hard evidence of new life that transcends death. Most do not see and touch as Thomas did. The reality of the resurrection goes beyond what we can see and touch.
What will it take for us to believe in the resurrection? Not just pay lip-service to it, but to stake our lives on the Gospel truth that Jesus died and rose and again, and that through him we are raised to new life beyond the shadow of death.
Whatever it takes, it’s not going to be of our own making. God will reveal himself in his own time, his own place, to his own people. The best we can do is seek God while he may be found and call on Christ as “My Lord, and my God.”