Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
Thomas may just be my favorite disciples because he questions. Most people refer to him as Doubting Thomas, because in today’s gospel Jesus says to him, “Do not doubt, but believe.” Personally I like to think of Thomas as a faithful disciple who asks questions. Asking questions is good, and I believe it is important for the development of a mature faith.
Thomas questions the validity of the story he is told by the other disciples. It is, after all, an unbelievable story of the crucified Jesus returning to the disciples, standing in the room with them and talking to them. Thomas hears this story and says, “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.”
Thomas is not mentioned of the gospels very often – only a few of times other than. He is called by Jesus and the one in which Jesus says to his disciples, “Let us go to Judean again.” The disciples advise against it because the Jewish leaders want to kill Jesus. Jesus; however, says he is going to Lazarus who has died. And here is where Thomas enters into the story. He says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas is true disciple.
He does not hesitate to follow Jesus, even if it means he, too, may die. Then, at the last supper after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, he tells them he will be betrayed. Jesus says he is going ahead of them to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house and will return for them. Jesus then says, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going,” and asks, “How can we know the way?” Thomas plays an important in the gospel story by being the one to ask the questions we might ask.
Yes, he doubted the story of the others seeing Jesus, but having doubts and asking questions do not indicate a lack of faith. Questions and struggles in our lives often lead us into a deeper faith as we wrestle with the uncertainties that exist in this life. Thomas did not know if they would live or die when he went with Jesus to Lazarus, but he went. Today, Thomas is like so many of us, he needs to experience the resurrected Christ before he can believe.
Last Sunday we heard that it was Mary who did not recognize Jesus at the tomb. Not at first, anyway. Seeing or hearing that a dead man has risen from the grave is mind-boggling. It doesn’t surprise me that Thomas reacted as he did before Jesus appeared to him.
Here, upon seeing Jesus, Thomas responds by saying, “My Lord and my God!” “My Lord and my God!” I sometimes wish I could have such an experience, that I could see the risen Christ. Then I remember that I have. My most vivid experience of seeing Christ was when I was working for a homeless program in Atlanta. I’ve told this story many times because it was a pivotal moment in my journey of faith.
A man comes into a crowded waiting room and he asks for something to eat. We had finished serving lunch next door an hour earlier and what was left over has been given away. The director tells him this and the man’s shoulders are visibly slumping as, he turns and starts to leave. A tall emaciated black woman stands up and says, “I have some food here I can share.” She had just been given the last of our leftovers. She then says, “This was a gift from God, so I ought to share it.” She picks through what she has, saving some for herself and giving the rest to a very grateful and very hungry white man. I knew immediately that I had seen Christ. Her own hunger didn’t matter, race didn’t matter – all that mattered to her was that she had food and he did not.
Her compassion and generosity put me to shame. How many times have I given from what I have leftover rather than from what I have received? The bible teaches us to give of “our first fruits,” rather than our leftovers. Yet, we are often afraid of running out, so we wait and give what is leftover – or maybe give just a portion of what is leftover.
Her actions suggest a faith in which she trusts God will provide for her. She may not know when she will receive the gift of another meal, but she has faith she will. The only thing these two people share in common is that they are hungry and homeless. They are both in need of assistance. What separates her from so many of us is that she is able to see beyond her own needs – which are significant, and see the needs of others.
Jesus comes to us in many forms. On that day in Atlanta Jesus appeared to be in the form of a homeless woman who taught me the importance of seeing everything I have as a gift from God. And, that day Jesus taught me to share what I have received, my gifts with others. We are united with others in our need, and we can overcome our struggles together.
Jesus enters into a locked room where the disciples are hiding. During this pandemic many of us have been hiding in locked rooms, so we can identify with the disciples. Peace is what Jesus brings to us; peace is what Jesus offers to us.
The door is locked because the disciples are afraid they, too, as followers of Jesus might be arrested. They are scared. Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” One week later, when Thomas is with them, they are again a room with the door shut when Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” It is significant that the door is shut. Seeing the risen Christ is not a magic cure for our fear.
I have seen the risen Christ on several occasions, yet I often forget the power of those moments and began to doubt and question the validity of my own experiences. Today’s gospel is powerful, not only because of Thomas, but because Jesus comes again and again to his disciples who are also full of doubts and questions and fear. We need constant reminders of God’s presence in our lives, and this is why we need each others. This is one of the most important lessons I learned in Atlanta – though I often need to be reminded of it. We need each other.
You being here, in the church for worship, is another reminder of how important it is for us to be together. Our journey of faith is not meant to be a solitary journey. The peace we seek can be felt when we share of gifts with one another.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, open our eyes that we might see that you are ever in our presence. Fill our hearts with your love and compassion that we might share your peace with others who might be like the disciples, hiding in fear. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.