Doubting Thomas: 2nd Sunday of Easter
Each year on Easter Day we revisit the Gospel story of the empty tomb. The narrative of the empty tomb is central to grasping the mystery of faith:
Christ has Died! Christ is Risen! Christ will come again!
Through the narrative of John’s Gospel, today we continue this story alongside those first witnesses to the risen Christ.
It is a continuing story of overturned expectations. A change in our world that literally shakes up the world, and us.
To be shaken up is to simultaneously experience of both fear and joy
- Fear: in the reality of a risen Jesus – an empty tomb, a dead person living and breathing again
- Joy: in the personal experience of those who witness the risen Jesus in their midst.
Is that perhaps a little how we feel during this pandemic? The fear is there, the possibility of being one of those statistics – will that simply be a 'contact', or a ‘case’, or a person in hospital, or a person on a ventilator, or sadly a death? Yet in the currently low statistics and limited community transmission, there is this glimmer of hope that we will be OK. And some hope of the day that some aspects of life we are missing, particularly our freedoms, will return to normal soon. A little hope that we can look forward to plans made for later in the year that might still go ahead. Oh, how I need the holiday at the beach I thought I would have in January.
In the reality of the risen Jesus we might understandably find cause for fear. The significance of Jesus’ death on the cross is only affirmed through his resurrection. Like the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross as Jesus drew his final breath, when we contemplate the mystery of the resurrection we might fearfully say “Truly this man was God’s Son.” (Mat 27:54)
In the reality of the risen Jesus we also find cause for hope, in the invitation to us to participate in God’s ongoing plan for our world, and in the hope of eternal life outlasting our weak bodies. Of course, we today are followers of the risen Christ.
Fear comes from the unseen. Hope comes from the seen. The two seem intertwined in an encounter with the Holy.
We start the story today with the disciples (except for Thomas) gathered behind locked doors in fear for their lives. The story of Jesus’ resurrection relayed to them by Mary has not brought understanding or relief. The poor disciples, as they were on the day of the crucifixion, are still disappointed about their dashed hopes and confused about what is going on.
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19) A vision of the Holy eliminates fear.
For the benefit of those who will follow in future, the narrator leaves us in no doubt that it is Jesus. The scars, the stripes on his back, and the hole in his side tell us this really is Jesus. John tells us the disciples were overjoyed. Like the Mary’s at the tomb, confusion, fear, joy - are all settled by the absolute witness of Christ’s presence. “Those who see the Lord before them will never be shaken.” (Acts 2:25)
The vision of Jesus brings with it new capacity to see. Insight and new perspective come with the intrusion of Jesus into our lives — the Spirit of God proceeds from him to open the eyes of disciples.
What the first witnesses saw is all Thomas desires. Much is made of Thomas’ doubt. As if the fearful followers behind that locked door had no doubt, and did not themselves need to have seen Jesus in the flesh and seen the scars to have their doubts and fears taken away. Thomas simply articulates what all people expect. His request is for what the others experienced. They had seen Jesus and he wanted to see him too.
My favourite Collect, from week 12 of Ordinary Time (a Cranmer BCP original) begins: Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve …
Thomas' story is not a story of doubt. It is a story of wonder, as we witness Jesus’ willingness to meet Thomas, the disciples, and ultimately us, exactly where he/they/we need. Even before we ask.
Where the door is shut in fear.
Jesus appears, nail scars and all. His offering of peace is followed by a demonstration of forgiveness—no condemnation for Thomas’ request—a simple invitation.
What doors do we shut in fear? Sometimes we literally shut the door and hide away, but I am also talking about the doors to our heart.
Do we have the faith, like Thomas, to invite Jesus to reveal his presence and fear-crushing peace to us?
Thomas and the disciples were living in an overturned, shaken up world. A world of foreign occupation, injustice, and inequity. A world even more shaken up by their Easter experience. Today we live in our own overturned world and it is not all about a virus.
What I find very challenging in ministry to people during emergencies, is that the emergent issue (bushfire, flood, forced isolation) might have brought someone into a place where they encounter me as a chaplain, but the issues causing their distress are most often something present in their life before (during and after) the moment of crisis. The issues they are wrestling with in that moment, poverty, mental illness, family dislocation or dysfunction, bereavement, and grief – once hidden behind their closed doors - are now tangled up and exposed to others through a disaster which has taken away their safe shelter.
Most who have at least heard of the resurrection desire the intrusion of Jesus in a real way into their everyday lives in order to believe.
Those who have not heard and might find new hope in the news of the resurrection will need to see Jesus in a real way in their lives in order to believe.
Last week I said "Behold the empty Church!, where is Jesus? He is not here." He was with the faithful and they were not there. Jesus lays this task of bringing his visible presence into the world on the shoulders of those who have seen and believed. You and me!
In a foreshadowing of the commission at Pentecost: Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:21-22)
The short season of Easter will be over soon and our period of social isolation will be over soon enough as well. Then our season of pause and reflection on what it is to be faithful will give way to our season of Pentecost or Ordinary Time, the season of ‘Sending out’. Best enjoy that reflective time while it lasts.
Soon enough we will be back in the world. To show the world:
- the divine shows up in disaster
- forgiveness is forever possible
- hope is to know the God whose mission is to forgive sins and reconcile us with each other
So we pray with the first disciples, the rest of the collect:
Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us of those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Saviour; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May the Word live in us, and bear much fruit to His Glory. Amen