The story of Thomas, the doubter. The one who had to touch to believe.
My dictionary had many, many definitions of doubt, and these are only a few:
• one was to be hesitant to believe or accept,
• another was to be apprehensive or suspicious of,
• yet another, was an unresolved point or matter.
How many of us have experienced doubt in our lives? Maybe it is about whether we are loved, just as we are. Maybe it is about our health, or worries about aging. Maybe, like Thomas, it is about our faith, and what is this Easter story, all about anyway.
Are we ashamed that we have doubts? Do we keep silent, thinking that no one else has them? Or do we say boldly, I don’t understand, help me believe. Like Thomas did.
I don’t think Thomas was as much of a doubter as we have often thought. I prefer to think of Thomas as a questioner. You know, one of those annoying people who always has to know how something can be true, never taking things as face value. One of those people who want to know for themselves, and not take for granted any one else’s experience. I am sure we have all met them. I am sure we have all been that person at times. Questioner, and doubter.
I remember when I first started leading worship, I was an inquirer, I hadn’t started my formal training for ministry. I had lots of questions and doubts about my ability to do lead worship each week. As I studied and prayed and worked each week, I came to believe that maybe I could, and then suddenly I believed that I could. Not only believed because the community in which I was preaching was supportive. But believed because I had the experience of leading worship. I was able to see and touch the risen Christ through many of them. And so I believed… in the relationship and in the experience.
I think that is what Thomas was looking for. The experience that the other disciples had had in that locked room. He wanted to believe that his friend had been risen from the dead, but he could not help but question it. After all he had seenhim crucified, and buried. How can someone come back from the dead? And disappear from a tomb? And come through a locked door? I would venture to say that more than a few of us would question our friends who were telling us these tales.
I think that Thomas bitterly regretted not being in that locked room that night when Jesus first appeared. And in his regret, desperately wanting to share in that experience, he said “Unless I see that scars myself and touch them myself I do not believe.”
Don’t forget this is a week after the disciples had seen the most horrific event imaginable happen. It staggers Thomas’s imagination and it staggers our imagination, that Jesus would be risen and recognizable, and able to get into locked rooms. The disciples had virtually been hiding in a locked room ever since the crucifixion. Hiding in terror for their lives. They were locked in their own little tomb of fear, and sorrow, and agony. And into that place, Jesus came, just as we often need him, right at the right moment. We don’t know how he got into that room, but he did. Just as we don’t know how comfort and strength will sometimes reach us just when we need it the most. Jesus came and said, “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.”
Into a terror and doubt filled room, Jesus came breathing the Holy Spirit, filling them with the breath of life, just as God breathed life into Adam. They would be the new creation. And what happened?
Those same disciples who couldn’t stay awake through Jesus’ last night with them, those same disciples who pretended not to know him, those same disciples who had run and hid after the crucifixion became leaders of the new community of faith. They shared whatever they had, not only with one another, but also with the beggars and the unclean, and the women and children. Sharing with the same compassion and love as Jesus had for them. Sharing bread and wine as if it were Jesus body and blood just as Jesus commanded them to.The love that they were showing to those starving, hurting people was the same love that Jesus showed to them. They were different people from the people they once were. Challenging us to question and doubt. Just like Thomas.
And how did Jesus respond to Thomas’s need. He came once again to that locked room, and he greeted them saying, “Peace be with you.” He looked right at Thomas and said, “Touch me, feel my scars.” Thomas reached out and Jesus was there, and he fell on his knees saying, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus did not condemn Thomas for wanting to touch him. Instead he came and gave him a blessing. Even as he says within that blessing he also said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
That my friends, I think, is the message to us. We cannot see Jesus, he lived and died, and rose long, long ago. But we can believe because we have stories of his life, his teachings, and his resurrection. We can believe because others have believed. We can doubt and still believe. We can question and still believe. Our questions and our doubts, and our love are the keys that unlock the tomb of fear. The God who is beyond all human understanding welcomes our questions and our doubts. They enable us to break out of our prison and live as God’s people. Loving and caring in the world.
We can touch and be touched by Christ, because others who have gone before us, have been touched by Christ. Because we have been hurt, we can heal hurt. Because we have sorrowed, we can comfort. Because we have hungered for Christ, we can nurture and feed others who hunger. We have touched Christ’s wounds, we can tend others’ wounds. We can experience Christ in each mouth fed, each naked one clothed and each sick person tended.
My friends, believe in the risen Christ.
He is alive! Thanks be to God, amen.
Acts 4: 32-37
April 12, 2015
St. Paul’s Spryfield