JOHN 20:19-31 SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
A dozen years ago or so Piper went north to attend her sister’s wedding taking Christian with her, leaving Thomas and I back in Gettysburg for some Father-son bonding. My only job that weekend was to register Christian for soccer (and keep an eye on Thomas, of course.) The youth soccer program in town was absolutely huge – a half dozen fields all in use all day on any given Saturday with hundreds of parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends, lined up all along the side lines shouting and cheering and blowing air horns – that sort of thing. So, in the midst of such chaos and with Thomas in tow, I went to the registration building, which was a school auditorium, and got in line. When my turn came to fill out the mountains of paper work, I turned my head to remind Thomas, who was only two at the time, to stay close. By the time I had signed the last page and worked out the cramp in my hand, the “spidey-sense” that God gives to young fathers was tingling. I whipped my head this way and that way to see where Thomas had gotten to – but he was gone. And when I say gone, I mean nowhere in sight. I searched the auditorium. I searched the stage and backstage. I wandered out in to the chaos running from field to field, all six of them. Nothing. I ran to the parking lot field with cars entering and exiting and my heart skipped more beats than I could count. Still nothing. I ran along the highway next to the fields, scared out of my mind. Not there either.(Notice that I am telling this story when Piper is away on a retreat). By now I was in total panic. I had lost my son. Just about the time I was going to begin to start shouting his name until every single man, woman or child there stopped what they were doing and helped me look for him, he came skipping down the path that led to the auditorium. “Hi, Dad,” he said. “I found the playground.” I didn’t know whether I should fall on my knees and thank God or scoop up my son and cry tears of joy until my face ran dry or find a mirror and count the grey hairs that surely must be springing up like daffodils in springtime.
Where was Thomas? He had gone to look for the playground. I had my answer.
But on this Sunday, as our thoughts turn to another Thomas, that answer remains elusive.
Ten disciples locked in a room, but where was Thomas? Maybe out looking for the playground, but that is doubtful.
We have to be curious, don’t we? Ten disciples all locked in a room – for fear for their very lives. Deadbolt thrown closed. Maybe there is a little peep hole with a piece of fabric covering it so that when they hear a knock someone can carefully, ever so carefully walk up to the door and lift the piece of fabric and sneak a peek on who is there. We shouldn’t blame them. Their leader, Jesus, had just been executed three days prior. And not just executed, but crucified, branded an enemy of the state. Nailed by his feet and by his hands. A spear thrust into his side until it likely pierced his heart. Mocked, humiliated. The people riled up into bloodlust by jealous religious authorities. Who knows when the knock on the door would come for them? Who knows if there were crosses already waiting with their names on them. If there was the same bloodthirsty mob right outside their hideout yelling “crucify them – all of them!” Who knows? So the ten disciples were huddled, locked in, hiding, waiting, in fear. But not Thomas. No. He was off somewhere else. No hiding for him as far as we know. No huddling behind a locked door. He was not paralyzed by fear as far as we know. He was merely not there. And by not being there he missed Jesus’ return appearance. And thank God for that. Yes, you heard me right. If Thomas was there, then this story loses something very important. We lose something very important.
The rest of the disciples get to see the holes in the hands and the hole in Jesus’ side. The rest of the disciples receive their mission and the Holy Spirit (this is John’s version of Pentecost). They get to receive the greeting of Peace.And Thomas gets to hear about it. At this point he doesn’t call them liars or accuse them of suffering from mass hallucination, instead he focuses on himself. "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." That’s what he thinks it will take for him to believe.
And we’re thinking – what chutzpah!Since when do we get to make the rules?
Since when do we get to dictate the terms of our own faith?
We think – if Jesus gives in to Thomas, then what’s to prevent any of us from asking for our own terms: “Hey Jesus, unless you heal my friend, I will not believe.” “Hey Jesus, unless I get this job, I will not believe.” “Hey Jesus, unless everything starts going right in my life, I mean like right now, I will not believe.” Where will it end? Thomas doesn’t care.
Then Thomas gets to think about this for an entire week. Most folks miss this point. He throws the proverbial gauntlet down at Jesus’ feet (of course, Jesus wasn’t there at the time) and then gets an entire week to think about it. And that week is why you and I are so lucky that Thomas was missing from that locked room the first time that Jesus shows up. That week, that week that must have been filled with questions and lingering doubts (after all he saw Jesus die on the cross); wonder and awe, fear, yet the very possibility of faith - that week, I imagine, describes most of us at one time or another, or even more likely, people that we know.
Where was Thomas that week? Well, dollars to doughnuts it wasn’t spent wandering around looking for the playground. Much more likely it was spent walking slowly on the razor’s edge between faith and doubt.
The phrase “Doubting Thomas” is so much a part of our lexicon – but the man through whom that moniker is birthed is getting a raw deal. We need to know that sometimes our journey will take detours into lonely and unexpected complications; where shadows of doubt dwell. And we need to know that at the end of the detour that Jesus is waiting for us with holes in his hands and holes in his feet and a hole in his side offering his very flesh for us to see, to touch, to poke. Whatever it takes. He’s not offended.
Look I was 15 years old when my parent’s marriage hit the proverbial wall and they fell out of love. I wasn’t just angry at God – the very notion of a loving God seemed ludicrous. If their loved died, then anyone’s love could die, even God’s. I felt that God had set the rules - that love was a forever thing – and then in one painful night when Dad walked out, God took from me everything that made sense in my world. At least Thomas gave Jesus an ultimatum, I wasn’t even on speaking terms with him.
Maybe you or someone you love has had similar issues with God. Perhaps still does. Still do. Anger. Doubt. Disappointment. Confusion. Fear. It’s all there in the journey for us or for others we know and love. But here’s the thing: Jesus did not die on the cross so that these things ultimately blind us to the gift of grace that he won for us on that cross. Jesus did not die on the cross only to allow our doubt claim the victory.
We read: 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.” The power of the resurrection is more powerful than our doubts. Jesus who gave up everything for us at the cross, still humbly gives faith to heal our doubts and faith to make whole our brokenness. Whatever our faith needs, Jesus will still provide – his hands, his feet, his side, his life, his all.
Thanks be to God who receives our faith as it is and stands ready to enrich it as we have need for every trial. Amen.