Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus the Christ, Amen.
I love Thomas. I really do. He’s one of my favorite characters in the new testament but he’s gotten a raw deal over the last two thousand and some years. He’s frequently mocked from the pulpit as being slow to get it, unable to grasp the power of the resurrection. Few people know him apart from the adjective he’s been burdened with for centuries, doubting Thomas. Ask people to tell you what they know about Thomas the Twin from John’s Gospel you get quizzical looks. Ask folks to tell you what they know about Doubting Thomas, and I think there’s a better than 50% chance they’ll be able to tell you Thomas is the guy who wouldn’t believe Jesus had been raised from the dead unless he saw proof.
Because that’s what we’ve been told. That’s what has been drilled into our skulls. Heck, that’s what the bible says! In our reading today, after Jesus invites Thomas to touch the nail holes and to put his hand in the hole in Jesus’ side, Jesus looks at him and says, “Do not doubt but believe.”
Except I don’t believe that’s what this morning’s reading really says. A literal translation, though kind of clunky in English, would read, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And please hear this, doubt is not the opposite of belief in John’s gospel. Doubt is not the same thing as unbelief. In John’s gospel to believe is to apprehend, it’s to recognize and encounter the living God in the person of Jesus. Belief doesn’t live in the head only, it’s a full body experience. Belief is when we taste and see Jesus. Belief is when the word of Jesus alters our way of seeing the world. It’s not a set of ideas or intellectual propositions, belief is touching the body of the resurrected God, it’s living with the resurrected Jesus.
Which is why I love Thomas. I love him because he’s so strong in his demands. He’s like, look guys unless I see, unless I touch, unless I am draw into the loving and living presence of Christ again, how can I believe? Belief for Thomas is not an idea, or a concept it’s an encounter. It’s an encounter that he didn’t get and everyone else did. He wants, he demands what the other disciples were given. Thomas isn’t looking for proof, he’s after presence. He wants Jesus, in the flesh and blood.
And so do I. And I’d be willing to wager that you do too.
Sometimes it feels like everything is broken. I’m not trying to be hyperbolic or overly dramatic here, but there’s a heaviness in the world right, a heaviness in our country that I haven’t felt in my adult life, at least not in this constant and pervasive way.
Every day there seems to be a new tragedy, and the cumulative effect feels more and more devastating. It was only a week ago on Easter morning when we first heard the news of bombings as people were gathering to worship in Sri Lanka. Yesterday, in Sand Diego, at the Chabad of Poway synagogue worship was once again disrupted by gunfire. Like in Sri Lanka people were targeted because of their faith. People are killed for who they are and who they worship.
These are but the most recent examples of how hate seems to have found a new foothold in our country and our world. Of course these tensions have been a part of the fabric of our country and world for a long time, but now they are seeing the light of day once again, and for now at least it seems like they are appearing with greater intensity and frequency. It’s disturbing and unnerving.
So like Thomas I need Jesus to show up. I need more than the concept or idea of Jesus, I need more than the theological construct of Jesus. Right now, I need the flesh and blood Jesus, I need the Jesus who suffered at the hands of people with power and influence, I need the Jesus who suffered on the cross, who endured and experienced the fullness of what it means to be human. I need the Jesus who was buried in the grave and above all I need the Jesus who moved from death into new life.
That’s the Jesus I need to see. That’s the Jesus I need to touch. That’s the Jesus I need to share life with.
Thomas, I get it. I want what you want. I need what you need.
And Jesus gives it to him. Jesus breaks into Thomas’ solitude and isolation. Jesus shows up, wounds and all, and says to Thomas you are still and forever will be a part of my life. Get over here. Be with me, share life with me. All that is mine is yours.
Jesus doesn’t offer Thomas proof, he gives Thomas himself, freely and without condition. Here I am, be with me, that’s it.
Then Thomas makes the fullest and most complete theological declaration in all of the gospel. He says to Jesus, My Lord and My God. Like Mary after Jesus calls her name. Like the disciples who speak words of hope and promise to Thomas after they’d encountered Jesus. Thomas moves from unbelief to belief, he moves from isolation to inclusion, he moves from living alone to sharing in the fullness of Jesus’ life and being that presence for others.
Because the story doesn’t end with Thomas. After Thomas speaks words of belief, words that give voice to the way he is now believing, Jesus says to him.
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
These are words of critique for Thomas. Jesus isn’t rebuking Thomas. No, Jesus is blessing you and blessing me. Jesus is offering words of hope and blessing for those who don’t get to see Jesus as Thomas does, but still get to encounter the resurrected Jesus. Jesus is describing you and me who don’t get to put our hands in Jesus’ side but still get to share in the fullness of the divine life.
On any given day, there are members of this congregation who go to share communion or simply be with other members of this community who are no longer able to get here on a regular basis for a variety of reason. These members who show up as Communion Visitors or Parish Visitors enter into people’s lives in profound ways. They receive some simple training and then as often as they like, spend time with people who are often feel isolated, alone and apart from the body of Christ.
Not too long ago one of our Lay Eucharistic Ministers, those who share communion with other people, was visiting a woman with significant memory loss. It had been a while since she had spoken. But as they shared communion together, tears began to flow and she said, “Jesus loves me.”
This is the radical power of this story, the radical power of our God. As Jesus breathes the power of Holy Spirit onto the disciples, Jesus breathes the power to be his presence in the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit you and I get to show up for one another, we get to show up for this world as the actual physical presence of Christ in this world.
Where the world is hurting, where people are isolated and alone, where hate and violence threaten to further divide this world, you and I, this congregation, Christ’s church around the world get to be Jesus. We get to be the physical presence of God in the world that so desperately wants to touch and feel, to taste and see that Christ is alive.
We get to do that. We get to be that.
It’s scary and messy. It’s hard and there’s not always a clear road map of how to do it. But we start by showing up, by being present, by extending to one another the thing we need most in this world, to know that we are not alone and that God is and forever will be right here in our midst.