By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today’s Gospel reading begins on the evening of the Resurrection. Earlier that same day, you may recall, Mary Magdalene had encountered the resurrected Jesus standing outside the empty tomb. Sometime later, she reported what she had seen to the other disciples.
Now, just a few hours later, we find the disheartened disciples in hiding. The predominant emotion is not wonder and joy at their Lord’s Resurrection, but fear. We are told that the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities. And the specific fear that casts such a pall on their gathering is the fear of death. They fear that soon they too will be arrested and put to death on a cross.
Now, we shouldn’t judge the disciples too harshly. Everyone here, I suspect, has experienced the crippling effect of fear sometime in his or her life. And there are oh, so many things that we fear—this damned pandemic being one of them! And each and every one of our fears impedes us in some way, keeping us from living life fully. But the one primal fear that underlies all others is the fear of death. What we all ultimately fear is a death that utterly annihilates, a death that renders life meaningless. For, if death wins in the end, what is the point of life? Fortunately for us, this existential crisis was resolved at the Resurrection.
In today’s account, Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples, locked doors notwithstanding. He greets them. And then he verifies his identity by displaying the wounds of his crucifixion. This Resurrection appearance, in and of itself, serves as a sign to the original disciples, and to us today, that death does not win and that life is not meaningless.
Jesus comes back to give new life and new purpose to his disciples. He breathes into them. Just as God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils in the story of Creation, so Jesus breathes new life into his fearful disciples, saying: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The disciples, and the Church that follows in their footsteps, have been empowered for mission by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that mission is the reconciliation of the world.
Now, back to the story…. Thomas was absent when the Risen Lord had appeared to the other disciples. And he adamantly refuses to believe their account of the event. Literally translated, he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and poke my finger into the mark of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will never believe!”
A week later, the disciples again are holed up in the house with the doors locked. This Sunday, however, Thomas manages to make it to church. Again, Jesus appears to the assembled disciples and greets them. He openly invites Thomas to follow through with his grotesque demand to probe Christ’s wounds. And then he admonishes Thomas, saying, “Stop being untrusting; rather, be trusting.”
Does Thomas then go ahead and poke Christ’s wounds? No, despite the misleading testimony of over a thousand years of Christian art, he does not. Instead, he proclaims Jesus as his Lord and God. Thomas has what can only be called a conversion experience, and in the blink of an eye, he enters into a more profound state of faith.
Now, let me end by saying a word or two about the nature of faith. First, it is not the same thing as belief. Yes, as Christians, there are some foundational truths that we are asked to believe, the Resurrection of Jesus being one of them. Even so, the core of Christian faith is not belief, but trust. Now, we may have doubts from time to time, especially during a trying time like this pandemic. That’s to be expected. But what is crucial, I think, is to hold on tight to a fundamental trust in a loving God—a God who loves us so much that he gave us his only Son, so that we might have eternal life; a God who then raised Jesus from the dead, so that we might come to believe. For if, with God’s grace, we can abide in trust and believe in the hope of the Resurrection, we can let go of every crippling fear and get on with the joyful work that God has given us to do: to share God’s love and forgiveness with the world and to reconcile the world to God.
May God grant us that grace, now and always. Amen.
© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.