top of page
Search

"Doubting" Thomas

John 20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you

retain the sins of any, they are retained.”


24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”


26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen

and yet have come to believe.”


30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

*****

Sometimes I’m amazed by just how much human bodies can go through and keep on going. Sure, there are certain traumas that a person’s flesh just can’t come back from, but as I hear this story I think about what I’ve been through, what my family’s been through, what many of you have been through, and I’m struck by just how vulnerable but just how resilient bodies can be after we’ve been wounded. They can be beaten and scarred and linger on for a surprisingly long time even when something major is wrong. Flesh is soft and frail and vulnerable, but at the very same time, it is flexible and supple and adaptive. There is a powerful softness to us.


At Easter, I think we learn that both of these aspects of our flesh, its resilience but also its vulnerability, are gifts that God has given to us in our skin. Our vulnerability is not just a feature of sin—a glitch in the system—but characterizes a glorified body also. Jesus rises with his wounds. Which might sound surprising. Wouldn’t it just be better if we couldn’t get hurt? After the trauma of the crucifixion, we might think of vulnerability as a flaw, as something to overcome; we might think that resurrected bodies, glorified bodies, perfect bodies, are invulnerable, impenetrable, unblemished. But in our story today we learn that this is not the case.


This story begins with the disciples on the Sunday after the crucifixion, huddled together, locked in a room full of fear. They are traumatized and they don’t know how they will go on living. Friday is not even a memory yet: they’re in the kind of moment after tragedy, when the adrenaline is still pumping and you forget to eat; you’re somehow so tired that you can’t fall asleep. The disciples are mourning their teacher, their messiah, whom they thought would usher in a new world, but on the cross had instead been humiliated and all of their hopes were utterly crushed. They’d committed to him, left their jobs and their families and their homes, they’d sacrificed for him; and the Cross meant that it was all a big mistake. Everything they’d hoped for was all of the sudden taken away in the most violent and humiliating way possible.


Maybe you’ve had such a moment, when a diagnosis came or a job disappeared or you lost someone you love. Maybe you were a part of a community or a church that was doing exciting things and you threw yourself all in, and then everything went wrong. How do you find new life after such a moment? The disciples can’t bear such a question and so they lock their doors and hide.


In that room full of fear and loss, Jesus comes to the disciples in spite of their locked doors, their attempts to keep everyone out, and he says to them, in the midst of their disappointment, “Peace be with you.” You can almost imagine the disciples sitting there dumbfounded, “Peace? How can peace be with us? Wait, is that Jesus? Am I dreaming? How did he get through the locked doors? Is this some demon pretending to be Jesus? Peace? Did he really say peace? How could I find peace again after that?”


The disciples actually don’t say anything, and so Jesus shows them his hands and his side. They see where the nails went through his wrists and where the spear opened his torso. They see his flesh and the places where his flesh has been opened, penetrated, wounded. And somehow it’s then that they rejoice, it’s then that they saw the LORD. They rejoice when they see his wounds. It’s when they see his wounds that they know it’s really him in the flesh, that this is not a force ghost like Obiwan Kenobi; this is the risen LORD, who lived in the flesh, died in his flesh, and now has been raised in the flesh.


But Jesus’ resurrected body still bears its wounds, and this is at the heart of the good news we share with each other. We might expect the opposite, that in the resurrection not only would Jesus’ wounds be healed, but all evidence of them would be erased. We might expect that the crucifixion would become nothing more than a bad dream, if we remember it at all. We might expect that Jesus’ resurrected body would be like Superman’s, young and strong, impervious to bullets or needles or pain. A resurrected body, we think, could not possibly be vulnerable like our bodies.


Whatever perfect is, we have been taught that our bodies are not it, either by injury or sickness or the wear and tear of age, or cultural assumptions about gender or race, or images that we began to consume as small children, and so for many of us, a “perfect body” is as unlike ours as possible. To be who God wants us to be we would have to become something other than what we are. No wonder so many Christians think of heaven as a place where our souls are separated from our bodies and so are finally happy; as though in order to be saved, you have to get rid of the scars and the limps and the general goop that come with flesh.

But that’s not the kind of story that we get at Easter (we don’t say, “I believe in the dissolution of soul and body.” We say, “I believe in the resurrection.”). In the resurrection, Jesus has flesh that is still really flesh, and it bears the marks of the Cross. To celebrate Sunday is not to forget Friday; it is to weave Friday into a new story, not a story that diminishes the terror of death, but a story that says the terror of death cannot overcome life. So when Jesus comes and shows the disciples his wounds, he shows them that God can create new kinds of life after trauma and disappointment and failure without pretending that those things never happened. This is why they rejoice.


The good news of Easter is that scars are welcome in the Kingdom of God. This pushes back against the temptation in this season of hallelujahs and pastels, or just in churches in general, to pretend that everything is OK when it’s not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people talk about something awful that’s happened in their own life, or are trying to say something to someone else who is going through deep pain, and at the end they tack on, “But it’s all in God’s plan” or “But God is good.” Sometimes people say those things because they believe them, but sometimes we say things like that because we don’t want to face our own vulnerability. God is good and can bring new creation out of chaos, but we’re not God, and so when hard things happen we can be mad and sad and depressed and grieved without having to pretend that we’re OK when we’re not. We are effected by the things that happen to us in this life, we are wounded and scarred in ways that cannot be papered over by niceties and that is OK. We break, we fail, we are overcome by unintended consequences. Easter is not just for those who are all put together; Easter is good news no matter how torn up you are right now. If Jesus has scars in the resurrection, then we don’t have to pretend our wounds don’t hurt now.


We don’t have to practice invulnerability right now because our hope is not that we will become invulnerable in the end. Our hope is that rather than bringing pain, our vulnerability will open up possibilities for love and peace that draw us deeper into God and one another. I think this is what we see happen with Thomas. Poor Thomas has been known as Doubting Thomas for the better part of 2,000 years. He wasn’t there when Jesus first came to the disciples and he doesn’t believe for one minute that they saw him, and his chief reason for doubt is all this business about Jesus’ wounds. Thomas remembers those wounds well enough when they were still bleeding on Friday, and he is sure that there is no life in those wounds, and I can’t say that I blame him. What we call “doubt” is Thomas’ own wound after the terror of Friday, and so the question he raises is not “how do you convince yourself that the claims of Christianity are true when you’re not sure they are?” The deeper question is, “how do you go on believing and hoping and loving and getting up to try again after trauma and disappointment and failure?”


A week later, again on the first day of the week, Jesus comes back just for Thomas. And he invites Thomas to touch where he doubts. He invites him to put his fingers in the holes in his hands and his whole hand into his side. When Thomas doubts, Jesus doesn’t chastise him; he draws Thomas’ doubts into his wounds. When Thomas doubts, Jesus invites him deeper in. “Yes, Thomas, don’t just smile and say God is good. Don’t turn away and lock the doors. Here is the very thing that is causing your doubt. Touch it. Explore it. Confess it. Cry out with the Psalmist, “How long O LORD?” Crawl inside of it and see what you find there.” Jesus doesn’t shy away from Thomas’ hard questions but encourages him to press further into the very wounds that caused his doubt in the first place.


In that moment, Jesus’ vulnerability, the openness of his side, becomes a space for Thomas’ own wounds, it becomes a space where Thomas can become who he is after he has lost what he had hoped for. Jesus’ wounds become a womb of new life. Jesus and Thomas and the Disciples cannot go back to a time before the Cross, but they can go further up and further in, they can do the work of becoming who they are now.


Thomas makes a confession of faith when he touches Jesus’ wounds, but it is not the same faith he had before. It is not a faith in an invulnerable warrior king; it is a faith in a God whose side is open and who pours out the Spirit to welcome our wounds into their wounds. It is not a faith that says “Everything is sunny all the time always,” but a faith that says “yes, the worst has happened, but a new week is coming; a new day is coming; that hope has died but I am always becoming. I will not fear the doubt that is the birth pang of new creation; I will unlock my doors, I will be vulnerable again, I will learn how to find faith and hope and love now. I will fail and I will be disappointed and I will get up anyway.”


My friends, I know many of us carry wounds, doubts, traumas, disappointments, failures, into this Easter season. But they are welcome here. If you find yourself wondering “Why is this happening?” and the cliche, pious answers don’t give you any comfort, you are welcome here to keep asking that question. You do not have to pretend your wounds don’t bother you just because we confess “Christ is risen” because Christ is risen indeed with the scars from the cross in his hands and on his side. Your wounds are welcome in his wounds, and as you press further up and further into his side, perhaps you will find that by some miracle you to have been raised into new life when you weren’t even sure it was possible. Amen.

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page