Easter 2, A
John 20: 19-31
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
(If enthusiastic response) – Oh, I so missed hearing that resounding proclamation here last week. I love getting our Alleluias back. After the journey of Lent this bold declaration sweeps in like a breath of spring air, clearing out the cobwebs and ushering in a sense of hope and light and life….
(If lackluster response) – Mmm. Ok. I know that time flies. I know that the cadbury cream eggs and the peeps and the egg dying kits are 75% off now. Only a week ago it was 60 degrees and sunny and lovely, and this resounding proclamation sounded forth from these very pews. Now it’s forty and cloudy and Easter seems a lifetime away, but I know that you remember that sense of fresh hope and light and life in our bold Easter proclamation, so we are going to try that one more time – Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!….
The disciples, huddled in their fortified little room, were decidedly not feeling that joy, that exaltation, that sense of life renewed. They were hoping against hope to make it to the next hour, the next day, the next week.
I grew up hearing about the tornado that flattened the nearby city of Xenia in 1974. One day, when my parents were out, I heard the siren go off. I knew the plan – I knew where to go. I also knew exactly how much good it would do to go there if a tornado actually flattened my house. Just the same, I went to the small, windowless utility room. I chose the most fortified looking spot and sat down. I sat. I waited. I waited to find out if my world would end. I remember even now – so many years later that profound, bone-chilling, penetrating fear – a palpable weight at the pit of my stomach.
The disciples knew fear. They had followed a man that they knew was the messiah, the savior. They followed him right up until they didn’t; until they scattered and ran, denying their friend, their teacher. They saw their hopes of salvation savagely beaten, tortured and murdered. They knew that the forces which destroyed their hopes would happily destroy them as well. They saw their world ending. They fortified the doors, locking out the danger. Locking out the disappointment. Locking out the threat. Locking out the grief. But they had carried their fear in with them, palpable and cold. It permeated the room and hovered among them, a thick miasma.
Shalom aleichem. Jesus stood among them, undeterred by their locks and fortifications. Shalom aleichem. Peace be with you. The traditional Jewish words were at once greeting and blessing – connoting not just peacefulness but a deep and abiding tranquility, a holistic sense of well being (Working Preacher). With the breath of the spirit, the disciples are freed from their self imposed prison built of fear.
Thomas was not among them at the time. Maybe he was not as frightened as the rest and ventured out into the world. It would not have been the first time he had shown courage – it was Thomas who cajoled the frightened apostles into accompanying Jesus to see Lazarus saying “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Maybe he had drawn the short straw and was sent out for bagels and blintzes. Maybe he just needed to go to the little disciples’ room at an unfortunate time. The text gives no hint. We know only that Thomas the Twin was absent. He did not have the same benefit of viewing the wounds of Jesus’s hands and side that the others received. He wanted the same opportunity.
Thus he earns his historical name, “Doubting Thomas”. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” “Doubting Thomas” Not Thomas the Twin, as the Gospel writer dubs him. Not Thomas the Brave or Thomas the Faithful for his earlier act of courage and loyalty. Not even Thomas the Understandably Skeptical. I believe that the vague disdain in which the church has held dear Thomas is unfortunate. We seem to imply that doubt threatens faith, and only blind adherence to inherited dogma can save it. Apathy threatens faith. Indifference threatens faith. Doubts give faith new life. As Frederick Buechner points out, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”
“I do not feel obliged” said Galileo, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forget their use.” We live in the age of the scientific method, of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Far from preserving the faith, forbidding skepticism, vilifying doubt is rather to close and lock the doors against the freshening breeze of perspective and to smother in the stagnant air of orthodoxy. Denying doubts is as much a way of pushing away the fear that still lurks as locked doors. It means closing our minds, closing our hearts, hiding from truth.
Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for his doubts. Far from it. Jesus comes back. Jesus meets Thomas within his skepticism. Jesus offers Thomas what Thomas needs in an encounter so powerful that Thomas answers with one of the most powerful christological statements in all of scripture, “My Lord and my God!” Tradition has it that Thomas went on to proclaim the Gospel far and wide, scoping beyond the vast Roman Empire and as far as India. Would that all our doubts took us so far.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is not a rebuke to Thomas. This is a message to us. To you, to me, to our children and our children’s children. To those of us born 2000 years too late to put our fingers in the mark of the nails and our hands in his side. To those of us who have built fortifications against our fears; constructed locks against the threats of the outside world.
Shalom aleichem. Peace be with you. Jesus joins us, stands among us where we live, where we hide, where we fortify our lives against the fear. He breathes his spirit upon us if we will receive it and bids us live. Live our doubts, live our questions, live our faith, live His love, live abundantly in Him.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia! Amen!