The scriptures tell us the evening on the first Easter Sunday; the disciples gathered behind locked doors to make sense of all the events that had transpired. From entering Jerusalem in an exciting display of heroic welcome to the last meal they shared to Jesus, to their brother, Judas betraying Jesus, to his passion and death, and then there was Peter- Jesus’ “Rock” who was a leader among them. What on earth could have just happened? What did it all mean? Who would sort out for them so they could process all the events?
Amidst all the commotion of the previous week events, one disciple, Thomas shows up late- for reasons not known – and seems to miss out on the discussion. What the disciples reported to their fellow disciple Thomas they had seen seemed unbelievable. And Thomas didn’t believe it! They said they saw Jesus alive. Well, Thomas saw him alive until late the previous Friday afternoon when Thomas saw him dead. It was now Sunday afternoon — and to what they said they saw, Thomas’ response was, “Seeing is believing,” and until I see something different from what I have already seen, I will not believe a word of what you say.
And for that little exchange, Thomas has gone down in history, not as the disciple Thomas, but as “doubting Thomas” — with his entry in my desk dictionary! I looked it up., a “doubting Thomas” as defined by Webster’s dictionary is “a habitually doubtful person. And not just about Jesus. About anything. A “doubting Thomas” is one who when presented with the facts, stresses his or her right to raise questions, and demand proof, and doesn’t believe it until they get proof.
Thomas wanted tangible, touchable proof that Jesus’ was still around. He did not need further proof of Jesus’ death. Thomas was there. He saw with his own eyes that the Christ had been crucified. He wanted the same proof that Jesus, whom he had witnessed beat to death, wanted evidence that he was alive and has been seen by the other disciples. For Thomas, there was no doubt that Jesus was dead, and every reason under the sun to doubt that Christ was alive. For his honesty, he has gone down in history as “doubting Thomas” — the man who doubted the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the term “doubting Thomas” has negative connotations to this day.
But it shouldn’t. Because Thomas isn’t alone, even in this Sanctuary. And Jesus said not one negative word or comment about him. From the very beginning, on the eve of the first Easter, doubt was a part of the risen Christ. We say Christ is risen, we even sing it together in our worship, but do we act like it’s accurate? Do we sincerely believe Christ was raised from the dead? Or down deep do we, like Thomas, tend to doubt the story of Easter?
Jesus says to him, “Do not doubt, but believe.” Don’t doubt, start believing. Doubting has to do with debating the facts; while believing would have put our trust in something or someone. One involves my intellect; the other my whole life. One involves accepting something as true; the other is that I am already accepted by the one who calls himself “the truth, the way, and the life.”
It’s not really up to us to factually proof the resurrection the way the world demands facts and figures, but that we believe in the power of the creator that God’s love is naturally stronger than the power of death. And consider what it means for you and me.
Thomas insists that the risen Christ cannot be separated from the crucified Jesus. And in these after Resurrection Sunday, when the altar lilies are beginning to fade, when the pretty Easter eggs are gone, and the bad news headlines are personal grief’s threatening to overshadow the good news of Easter, we need Thomas and his example of the persistent desire to see Jesus. And grow in our understanding that doubting is part of our journey of faith.
As tender as it is to admit, we all have our doubts. Doubting is not the opposite of faith, but are incorporated into our active life of faith, and our faith in Christ need not be perfected in this life. There’s no way we can discover all that God wants to reveal to us in the waters of our baptism. There is more to have revealed to us. Jesus himself showed up with battered hands and scarred up fee, and that’s how the disciples recognized him. That is the reality of our discipleship.
You are and doubt but are encouraged never to lose our faith. His doubts lead Thomas to an encounter with Jesus. For us, it might mean we seek a life of faith that serves us better as we mature, once we examine and let go some of the thoughts that formed our childhood faith as we discover a more profound richness to our adult lives. Unpacking our doubts can indeed be frightening, going to the liminal place where transformation can happen, but much encouragement and understanding comes from those times when we face our misgivings head on and seek a deeper understanding of our lives in Christ.
Jesus did not blame Thomas for his questions and for seeking a new reality. So often, we interpret our doubts to mean disbelief, but in the risen Christ there is no condemnation, not for Thomas nor for you and me. Growing in our faith begins with curiosity, and faith being a living active thing, as Luther aptly describes it, must be fed for it to produce. So what are you feeding your walk of faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ?
May we learn a lesson from the life of the Apostle, Thomas, that there are things in life that will never be proven. Jesus says, “Thomas, you have believed because you have seen. But, blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe.” With these words, Jesus is describing you and me. We ’ll never see the crucified Jesus in this life, you and I will not have the opportunity to place my hands on his wounded side and my fingers into his scars. It will never be proven to you and me that he was indeed raised from the dead.
There will be times when we encounter the darkness of doubt in our souls and will face our doubts about our faith in the risen Christ. We might even equate this feeling of gloom and believe we are losing our faith. Remember in the light; God reveals the glory of the resurrection. In the moments of life, God has told you that God will not desert you. In the moments of light, God had said to you that the resurrection is the reality. Don’t let the darkness cause you to doubt. Don’t doubt, but believe. And if you question, know that that it’s ok. God meets us just where we are. Thanks be to God. Amen!