Let us pray: Enter into us through these words, O God. Speak to us this morning, to all of us gathered in this place. Bless our hearts to hear your words, and our lives to live them out. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Doubt and Faith
It’s been a week for us, since we gathered here to celebrate Easter, but for the disciples it’s been mere hours since Mary Magdalene came to them with this crazy story that Jesus was risen from the dead, that He had spoken to her. It’s later in the day; the text doesn’t tell us if they believed Mary Magdalene, doesn’t tell us about the discussions and arguments and questions they probably had amongst themselves. No, it tells us only of this second appearance of Jesus, who comes to the disciples in a locked room and shows them that, yes, He is still alive, and yes, it is Him: here are the wounds on my hands, here is the wound in my side. It’s really me, and I really am alive again.
Jesus comes to them in the midst of life: the disciples were gathered together, doors locked from the inside, because they feared the Jewish leaders. They feared execution; they feared meeting the same terrible fate as Jesus. They did not yet understand who Jesus was, or what His resurrection meant, or even the power behind it. They were still holed up somewhere, afraid.
Jesus comes to them in the midst of their fear, and changed it to joy: their teacher, their Lord, was alive again!
And Jesus not only gives them joy, offers them a peace that they couldn’t have imagined moments before, but also gives them a mission: go where I send you. Do not hold on to your fear, but let it go. Remember the power of the God who sent me.
And then, in true Jesus fashion, Jesus leaves, going who knows where, and doesn’t return to His disciples for a week. A week.
In that week, we find out that Thomas wasn’t there the last time Jesus appeared. Who knows where he was, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the room last time his teacher and lord appeared to the rest of his friends, the rest of the disciples, and so for an entire week he has to listen to their joyful recountings of what Jesus said, what He looked like, the wounds on his hands and his side, what they all said and thought. Thomas wasn’t there; his whole story of the event is whatever presumably whatever happened when he went to the market or to visit his family for Passover or whatever. He hasn’t seen anything; Jesus hasn’t come to him. He holds out: “I won’t believe it until I can see the wounds for myself.”
“I won’t believe it until I see it for myself.”
That feels, this morning, like the most relatable part of this story. I know we’ve been telling the Easter story, rejoicing in our Lord’s resurrection with flowers and alleluia’s and family dinners and so much more. We’ve been looking to God’s miracle, to new life, to all the ways that God makes our lives new.
But man, I have not been feeling it. Easter morning was hard; just before church, I had read about the bombings in Sri Lanka, where multiple Easter services were bombed and hundreds were killed. Where is the resurrection and new life in such horrific violence? There was another synagogue shooting yesterday; where is the resurrection and new life in that? What about our own prayer list, all the people who have been on it since I got here? Or my own life, all the stubborn sins and problems that won’t go away, that are sticking to me like burrs no matter what I do–where is the resurrection and new life in that?
I suspect we’ve all heard sermons about this text, all about Thomas’ lack of faith, about how we should believe unquestioningly and without proof, at all times and no matter what. About how Thomas was a terrible person because Jesus had to come back again to prove His resurrection to this one, troublesome disciple.
But this morning I am Thomas–”I don’t know how to believe without seeing your new life, God.” “You say there’s new life, and I don’t see it right now.”
And so I, at least, am glad that the story ends with Jesus’ return. Jesus returns for this one disciple, this one sheep, who needs to see what his fellows saw, needs to see his lord and savior in the flesh, see the wounds in his hands and in his side. Jesus comes to another locked room, and offers Thomas His peace–welcomes him, in other words, and greets him as a friend–and only then says, “Come and see. Here is the new life you were looking for. See, it’s really me.” And then Thomas believes.
I’m glad that Jesus returns, that Jesus sees the questions of His disciple and cares about them. He sees the confusion of Thomas–Thomas, who, remember, denied ever knowing Jesus three times, who was probably desperate to see Jesus, to know that he was forgiven, that he could still be a disciple–and Jesus comes. Not on a timeline any of us would like–again, what is with that one week??–but Jesus comes. Jesus offers new life to Thomas as well.
There’s none of this grumbling that so many people seem to imply, like, ‘It’s so inconvenient that I have to go appear again. What is with Thomas? I have better things to do than answer the same questions again.’–there is none of that. Absolutely none. Jesus comes to Thomas, who’s full of questions, who wants proof, who just wants to see Jesus, and Jesus greets him as a friend and gives him proof.
It’s okay to do the same thing, okay to pray not some variation of, “God, You’re wonderful” but instead variations of, “God, I don’t see new life. I don’t know where you are. I have so many questions.” It’s okay. God is with us in our doubts, our questions, our griefs–all of it. That’s why Jesus is also known as Immanuel, God-with-us. That’s why Jesus returns to Thomas.
Jesus is with us in our doubts and questions and struggles, just as He is with us in our joys and celebrations. Jesus is with us through it all, loving us through it all.
Alleluia, and Amen.