April 16th, 2023 “Fear and Doubt in Jerusalem”
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
Each year on the second Sunday of Easter we find ourselves in the locked room with the disciples as they wrestle with their grief, fear and doubt. This story tells us something more. This resurrection experience that happened on the first day of the week tells us that by the time this Gospel was written Christians were regularly gathering on the first day of the week.
None of us is immune to fear and doubt. None of us has a perfect faith. This means that we all live at a distance from God. This is the classic definition of sin - living apart from God. Our separation from God generates doubt and causes us to be afraid. None of us can say we have no fear and we have no doubts. We see ourselves mirrored in God’s word from the Gospel of John today.
Each year on the second Sunday of Easter we encounter once again Thomas the twin. Thomas who quickly gets the nickname he will be known for to generations. Doubting Thomas.
Today’s reading is the 1st conclusion of the Gospel of John. We have heard stories unique to John and in this conclusion we hear about Thomas once again. Thomas does not appear very often in our Gospel stories. Almost all of the references to Thomas appear in John. The disciples have witnessed to Thomas, but because he was not present at the first appearance of the risen Christ the disciples will experience him again.
Thomas wants to understand what he is getting into and asks questions. For Thomas, seeing/not seeing, asking questions and believing/disbelieving are all part of his personality. Jesus never reprimanded him for this. This is a striking thing in itself. Jesus accepted the doubts, Jesus answered the questions. Jesus understood Thomas.
The story of Thomas did not end in the locked room on the first day of the week. According to tradition he later traveled to India where he preached, converted many people and founded a Church that continues to this day.
Thomas was a disciple who needed to ask questions and needed to see differently became a disciple who was willing to travel into the unknown for the sake of Christ and the good news that he brought. Thomas wanted to touch the wounds of Christ so that he would know it was really him. The story of Thomas is not a story of weak or little faith. It is a story of great faith but the need to be sure - to know for himself to ask and to be answered.
In the Canada Lutheran magazine from October/November 2022 edition Deacon Sherry Coman addressed the story of Thomas from John’s Gospel. Deacon Sherry asked the question “What was really going on with Thomas?’
This is what she says.
“Thomas has not yet chosen to commit himself to what he already knows, perhaps out of pain, perhaps out of grief, or perhaps in fear of it not turning out to be true.”
The evidence of Jesus’ wounds that Thomas touches becomes a turning point in his acceptance.
Deacon Sherry goes on to say “the transformation of Thomas is not so much that of someone who moves from doubt to belief, as it is a calling forth of the deep inner knowing that Jesus has always been there. Jesus’ invitation to touch the places of his wounds is unlike anything we see in the post resurrection appearances. Jesus somehow sees the resistance of Thomas as a kind of suffering, and invites Thomas to reach into his own woundedness. In this way Jesus shows all of us how much he understands what each of us needs in order for us to be transformed into the disciples we can be.”
I really appreciated this interpretation of the story of Thomas the twin who became best known as “doubting Thomas.” Thomas usually gets a negative interpretation because he was not ready to just accept what the other disciples had told him. He wanted his own experience and I guess we could say he wanted proof. Even though we call Thomas a doubter I think he has a special place for most of us. If this man who had lived and eaten and drank with Jesus had doubts then we too can speak of our doubts and look for reassurance. We want to be like Thomas and say yes Lord, I believe.
But some days it is not so easy. We have fears and doubts just as the disciples did. Just as generations of Christians who have come before us. But this story can reassure us that Jesus will come to us in fear and doubt. That Jesus is with us. That Jesus understands us as he did his disciple and friend, Thomas the twin.