Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Of the disciples, Thomas was the only one who did not see Jesus in the Upper Room the night of his resurrection. If it had been Peter who was away, or James or John, or any of the others, they might not have believed either. But for whatever reason, he is the one who is given the nickname of ‘Doubting Thomas,’ although, we might remember, no one calls him this in the Bible.
So it is Thomas who stands in for us, who may not see Jesus in bodily form raised from the dead. If we believe the story, the reason we do not see him is because he is ascended into heaven. He did not withdraw his presence but transformed it. He is now able to be present to people everywhere of all places at all times. This was not true before. He was only able to be in one place at one time.
It would not be good if Jesus were to be visible and tangible to us. For then he would not, he could not be present at St. Simon and Jude, or First Lutheran downtown, or at the Orthodox churches in Carnegie. If he were to be visibly and tangibly present to them, he could not be present to us here. It’s that simple.
But it’s not that simple. For we are visible and tangible people. We long for a Jesus ‘with skin on.’ We long to behold that which we believe, if only to show love to him, to be able to cry, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Without this story of Thomas, where would we be? We might view our doubts, whatever they are, as failures. Perhaps we would think that God will be angry with us, or will not receive us, should a little part of us, or a big part of us, doubt the resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps we might think that while some were blessed with a sign, we were not.
Thomas gives us hope that Jesus comes to those who are seeking him and cannot find him, those who would have faith but wrestle with doubt. He brings him to faith by coming close to him. Jesus does not reject Thomas, but blesses him.
But though Thomas receives this great blessing, we receive a greater one, according to Jesus. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen but yet have come to believe.’ This doesn’t mean that we have to make a great act of will in order to believe in Jesus. It means that God will bless, has blessed, many who have not seen him with faith in the resurrection. And that we should not worry if we have doubts, for we are just like Thomas. We can be confident that as God blessed Thomas, he will bless us with faith in his presence that overcomes doubt. Not extinguishes doubt, not represses doubt, but overcomes doubt.
The Holy Spirit works faith in the resurrection in many ways. First, there is the testimony of the Scripture about Jesus. John himself says about his writings about Jesus, ‘These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.’ We take eyewitnesses to be authoritative in our courts. Why not with the Gospels? The Gospels purport to be eyewitness testimony. They do not agree in all respects. But don’t people see things from very different perspectives? We would not expect every witness seeing an event to have exactly the same testimony. But we would be able to get a handle on an event if several people saw it from different angles.
There is the testimony of what the apostles did after the resurrection. When we see Peter boldly confessing the resurrection of Jesus before the high priest, we ask, ‘Can this really be the one whom the Gospels show as denying Jesus before everyone?’ It is the very same person on very different sides of the resurrection. Christians have pointed to the change in the disciples, their willingness to risk their lives for the name of Jesus, not killing in his name but proclaiming it in peace, as a sign that they had witnessed the Resurrection.
Finally, there is the testimony of the martyrs, those who had not seen Jesus but whose faith in the Resurrection was so strong as to die for him. In the classic understanding, a martyr does not seek death. He or she is not killed before given a chance to deny the faith and live. In refusing to renounce Jesus, they show by their last acts their trust and encourage us to emulate it. The second-century bishop Polycarp, urged to swear by Caesar, reject Christ, and avoid the flames, said, ‘86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
None of these ‘prove’ the Resurrection scientifically. But we cannot experiment on a living person with free will as we can experiment on nature. And the Gospels insist that Jesus lives. Jesus tells us that we are blessed, that he will bless us, with faith in him. He comes to his Christian community in Word and Sacrament. Encouraged by the Gospel writers, the apostles and the martyrs, we may joyfully cry with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!,’ trusting in him and serving him as Polycarp did, doing the works he has given us to do while we are on our way to him.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!