I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.
Today we hear the familiar story of Thomas, or more famously known as doubting Thomas. We all know the story well…it is the story of one of the twelve disciples who is told that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that Jesus has made himself known to them, but Thomas refuses to believe them, even saying that “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and the put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”. A week after this interaction, Jesus was again among the disciples and he said to Thomas “Put your finger here and see my hands…do not doubt but believe.”
For centuries, this story has been used as an illustration on lack of faith, and how we should not doubt Jesus’ resurrection, but simply believe and be faithful. And, we are reminded that Jesus said “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”, insinuating that Jesus is rebuking Thomas for having to see Jesus in order to believe. And at times throughout my spiritual journey I have simply been told, “Don’t be a Thomas.”
But this morning, reading this story during a time of collective hardship, struggle, fear, and uncertainty that most of us have never experienced, I would like to offer a different perspective. This morning, I would like us all to embrace the Thomas within us, because if needing to see Jesus is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. In this gospel, Thomas is no more doubtful than anyone else in this story. From Mary Magdalene at the tomb, to the ten disciples gathered behind locked doors, before they saw Jesus, they were just as doubtful and full of fear—they needed to physically see Jesus in order to believe. Why is Thomas so different? He’s not…and he is no different from the rest of us. Seeing is believing, and dare I say that we too need to see Jesus, in order to believe.
Try and put yourself in Thomas’ shoes. Jesus has died. He’s lost his teacher, mentor, guide and his truth. He knew Jesus was brutally murdered and now Thomas fears he may suffer the same fate. Fear, doubt, and uncertainty are consuming Thomas…this is Thomas’ reality. In the face of this deep despair, he hears from his friends that the impossible has happened—that Jesus is alive, that Jesus found us and that we are not alone. But, for whatever reason, it felt safer to cling on to the reality of pain and anguish, rather than allowing himself to be vulnerable to the new reality that is being presented to him by his friends—a reality hope and life. If we embrace the Thomas within, especially in the midst of fear and hardship, it is easy to see why we can’t place our hopes on the idea of resurrection—we need to see and experience resurrection.
Thomas desperately wanted to see Jesus, but would only be able to believe if He made himself known. Once Thomas laid his eyes upon Jesus and placed his hands on Jesus’ wounds, his old reality of fear and uncertainty was gone and he began his new reality with the words “My Lord and my God”.
Thomas, the other disciples and Mary Magdalene all saw Jesus…not in the metaphorical sense, but actually saw him in his physical form. We hear Jesus ask, “Have you believed because you have seen me?”…the answer is yes, that’s right! Seeing is believing. But then Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” While some may think this statement was directed toward Thomas, I believe that Jesus is saying this as s a living statement—a statement to all those in the future who won’t be able to see him. Jesus is speaking directly to us, here and now, for we have not seen the physical form of the risen Christ, but just like with Thomas and the others, Jesus needs to be made known to us, just in different ways.
What brings you to this service today? Are you a believer? If so, how have you seen Jesus? How often do you question? Where do you look for the answers?
For many of us, currently, the driving forces in our lives look and feel very similar to Thomas’ after Jesus’ death—feelings of fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness. This is our reality… what used to be simple tasks now seem insurmountable; getting a haircut or having a fun night out—not now…everything is closed. Paying your mortgage or rent—seems impossible with the loss of a job or threat of impending loss. Giving someone you love a hug and warm embrace—not with threat of disease and fear of harming yourself or others. During this time, it is especially likely that you are questioning and doubting your faith—wondering how and when Jesus will, if ever, show up?
But, if you’re like me, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve felt this. At some point in the past, hopefully we’ve seen Jesus, and because Jesus was made known us, our personal low-points—our personal deaths—were able to be resurrected. In those times when all hope was lost—how did you see Jesus? Or a better question, who did you see Jesus in?
Every time a person extends love—with every meal that is given to someone in need, with every hand that is placed on someone’s shoulder who is grieving, with every dollar donated to help someone during hard times—Jesus is made known.
St. Thomas’ parish, the congregation that sponsored me for ordination, is in the heart of Washington D.C. It is a congregation that knows a thing or two about resurrection, as well as seeing is believing, because in 1970 their church burned down due to arson, and it wasn’t until last year that their new church building was finished. They used to have a slogan that was written on the front of every worship bulletin—it would say, “Meet Christ. Be Christ.” “Meet Christ. Be Christ.” That community lived out the belief of first needing to see Jesus in order to believe and serve Jesus. That is the work of the Church. Through our work, through our actions, through our prayer, we make Jesus known, and thank God, people meet Jesus here. But there are times, for whatever reason, we can’t seem to muster up the courage or will to “be Christ” and that is okay. We, as humans, will need to “meet Christ” over and over throughout our lifetime, but once we’ve received a renewed confidence of Christ’s hands and feet alive in this world, that is when we again will “be Christ” for others.
Hearing Thomas’ story the week after Easter every year reminds us that no matter what reality we are currently living in, we too can have new life, be resurrected and say “My Lord and My God” once our eyes are opened with the Truth and Love of our saving and redeeming Christ. And Thomas teaches us that it is okay, normal, and healthy to question and doubt, but it is Jesus who teaches us to seek or “meet” Christ when we can no longer help ourselves, but also to “be” Christ when we can.
Listen to the Good News that Christ is stronger than death, that God has redeemed the world and makes the whole creation new, and that Christ lives on in all of us. Let us always continue being an Easter people, meeting Christ by seeing the Love in this world and overcoming our fears by living our new realities- being Christ in the world.