April 11th, 2010
“Thomas and Jesus”
It's not just because I like his name. I've always had a soft spot for Thomas. Who knows why he wasn't there on that first Easter Sunday – when Jesus appeared to them in the locked room. Maybe because he wasn't quite as afraid as they were? And who could forget Thomas was the one who said, when it appeared Jesus was headed for Jerusalem, “Let us also go, that we might die with him”.
But we don't call him “brave Thomas”, do we? We know him as “doubting Thomas”. For when the other apostles told him the news of the risen Jesus, he didn't believe it. In fact, in a foot-in-mouth moment that would last for all history, he went so far as to say, “I won't believe it unless I can touch his wounds myself!' Well, Thomas, you don't want to put the Lord to the test, now, do you?
But really, this account from John's Gospel isn't so much about Thomas – and whether he is brave or a doubter. This account is about Jesus. And it's not only about Jesus and Thomas, but like all of John's Gospel, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
It's about Jesus. Jesus who is, in fact, risen from the dead. But because he rose for the benefit of his people, he takes the time to prove it to them. He shows them. He appears to them. To Mary Magdelene and the women at the tomb. To his fearful disciples now in the wake of the Good Friday tumult. And to at least 500 others throughout the next 40 days.
Jesus – so reliable and true, his word so sure and trustworthy, that he rose from the dead just like he said he would. Jesus, who fulfilled every little prophecy about the suffering servant Messiah – prophecies of the Scriptures and prophecies from his own lips. He knew he would die. He knew how he would die. He knew he would rise. And he told the disciples how it would all go down. But they didn't believe.
Not only did they doubt it, but Peter even argued with him. God forbid it! He said. But Jesus said such talk was of Satan.
Now it had all come to pass. The betrayal, the denial, the striking the shepherd and the sheep were scattered. So much for bravery from them.
Now these same cowardly doubters were locked up for fear of the Jews. And it took a miraculous entrance by Jesus for his first resurrected visit with them. Oh, but doubting Thomas wasn't there with the other doubters.
They tried to tell him. We have seen the Lord! But he didn't believe them. If none of them would believe Jesus before, is it any wonder Thomas wouldn't believe them now? As much as they tried to convince him, he would only believe on his own terms. Seeing is believing. Touching is believing. But just hearing the word? Not so easy.
And when Jesus appears a week after Easter, he tells him, and shows him, and invites him to touch. It's true, Thomas. Stop doubting and believe. And Thomas believes. “My Lord and My God!” he confesses. Doubting Thomas becomes believing Thomas.
Tradition holds that Thomas became a missionary to India, where he is still honored as the first Christian missionary there. It is also said that Thomas was stoned to death and then stabbed with a spear, thus fulfilling his own words, “Let us also go, that we might die with him”.
And on this first Sunday of Easter, the Christian church traditionally recalls this “doubting Thomas” account, for it occurred on the original first Sunday after the Resurrection. We remember the account of Thomas and Jesus.
We remember Thomas for his doubting. But we remember also that Jesus met him where he was. He knew just what Thomas needed, and invited him to stop doubting, and believe. He showed him his wounds – hands and side – proof of his suffering and death. But the one who showed the proof was alive. And interestingly, the text never says whether Thomas actually touched those wounds. But it does record his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God”.
What was truly unusual was not that Thomas doubted. The story is really about Jesus – who was alive – and who reached out to the doubter.
So what are the lessons for us? What would Jesus have us learn from the Thomas account? Perhaps, very simply, “stop doubting and believe”. For Thomas isn't the only doubter. Those other disciples doubted too. And the disciples here this morning are doubters too.
We doubt the resurrection. We doubt the words and promises of Christ. We doubt those hard words of Scripture that bump against what our culture has taught us. We doubt those plain words of Scripture that fly in the face of what mainstream science proclaims.
We doubt the perfect demands of the law. We doubt the soothing forgiveness of the Gospel. We want to believe what we want to believe, and not what he calls us to believe.
But still he calls us. And still he promises a blessing, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. What a far-reaching blessing. For almost all who believe in Christ do so without seeing or touching. Thomas and those other disciples were truly the exception. We are the rule. Christ comes to us his people through his word, and in his sacraments. And yet somehow, by the power of the Spirit, we believe. And we are blessed.
Well, we may not touch the wounds. But Christ does touch us in the sacrament. His body and blood touch our lips, and nourish our souls. One of the many benefits of the Lord's Supper is the strengthening of our faith – that is, the diminishing of our doubts. But more than that he calls us through his word. He calls us Sunday after Sunday, persistent in his mercy and grace. Stop doubting, and believe. And if he can conquer death, he can conquer your doubts and fears.
And just as he invited Thomas to put his finger in the wounds, he invites you to put your faith in his words. I am with you always. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. Your sins are forgiven, go in peace.
John closes the Thomas account, “These things are written that you may believe.” And so we hear, and so we do. In Jesus Christ, amen.