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The disciple Thomas is remembered as “The Doubting Thomas” because he needed to see and experience Jesus for himself before he would believe. What do we need to see and experience, so that we may believe?
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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.”
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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
The resurrection has happened. In the verse just prior to the passage this morning, Mary Magdalene tells the disciples that she has seen the risen Lord. She tells them the good news.
So where do we find these disciples of Jesus in today’s passage? Are they rejoicing and proclaiming this good news as Mary Magdalene did?
Are they living as transformed and changed followers of Christ?
They are huddled together in a room, doors locked for fear. Except for Thomas. Thomas is out. Perhaps he is the only one courageous enough to venture out into the world, probably getting food to feed his terrified friends. So, as such, of course, he misses it.
Jesus shows up. And all the other disciples get to see him, actually see his body and hear his voice. But not Thomas because Thomas is getting take-out for his buddies.
And the disciples who were once terrified, even after Mary Magdalene told them about the resurrection, are now, all of a sudden, rejoicing and at peace. Thomas comes back, finds them like this, and he wonders, “What has happened here? What has changed?”
So they tell him, just as Mary did, “We have seen the Lord.”
Thomas responds in that way that makes him notorious as “The Doubting Thomas.” He says, quote, “Unless I see … I will not believe.”
He’s not asking for anything more than what the other disciples got, but he’s singled out in Christian history, perhaps because he demanded proof. He refused to believe until he himself was able to see.
And, interestingly enough, his demands are met. Jesus shows up yet again, and Thomas is given the proof he seeks. But not without some commentary.
After Thomas has seen and touched Jesus, what does Jesus say to him? “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
For centuries, this verse has been used to vilify doubt. But when we read this story in its entirety, if nothing else, it should normalize doubt.
All of the first disciples doubted. None of them believed that Jesus had risen until they saw it for themselves. Doubting is normal. Doubting is expected. Doubting is what the first disciples of Jesus did.
And Jesus shows up, in his resurrected state, over and over again, so that the disciples will believe. He shows up to Mary and the women at the tomb. He shows up on the road to Emmaus. He shows up in this upper room filled with frightened disciples, not just once but twice.
Jesus shows up.
So while he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe,” he also knows that it’s rare, unlikely, and unusual for those who have not seen to come to believe.
Perhaps he said this not to vilify doubt, but to lift up how incredibly difficult it is to believe when you have not seen. After all, as the saying goes, “seeing is believing.” And not just seeing with your eyes, but with your heart, your hands, your ears, and all the senses that allow you to know and experience love, life, and resurrection.
Seeing, in the full sense of the word with your whole being, is believing.
So what about the rest of us who have come long after Jesus walked this earth? If seeing is believing, how are we to believe?
I don’t know how you came to faith. Maybe Jesus did show up in your room like he did for the disciples.
Actually, Anne Lamott, a Presbyterian elder and prolific author who has spoken here at Calvary on several occasions, describes one of her first encounters with Christ this way:
I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with. (Traveling Mercies. pg 49-50).
Anne Lamott saw Jesus, not with her eyes, but with her soul, sitting in her room right there, with her. But for most us, we haven’t had that kind of experience.
I would guess that many of us came to faith by coming to church with someone we know. Maybe it was coming with our parents as children and slowly grasping and taking ownership of our faith. Maybe it was coming with a girlfriend or boyfriend who wanted you to, and then something just took root, deeper and longer than even that relationship lasted. Maybe it was seeing someone at work or someone you volunteered with who seemed to have great joy and meaning in their lives and realizing it came from their faith.
Most of us haven’t seen Jesus. But we have seen people:
people who have invited us with their words or their actions to consider God;
people who have inspired us to wonder about the deeper meanings of life;
people whose generosity and love have astounded us
and made us curious about their faith.
Mother Theresa used to say, “I see Jesus in every human being.”
She said that as a means to explain why she lived her life serving those who lived in poverty, but most of us would say, she, especially embodied the risen Christ in her life and in her actions, and she was more right than she ever even intended.
Every single human being, including ourselves, is created in the image of God. So, while we cannot see Jesus, we can see one another. And we can see Christ in each other.
Glennon Doyle Melton, author and blogger of Momastery, writes this,
I am a child of God, and so is everyone else …
In each new person, I see an invitation to know a new side of God. There are as many sides of [God] as there are people walking the earth. I think that’s why [s]he keeps making people.
He’s not done telling us about herself yet.” (Carry on Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. pg 176). (end quote)
What if we approached each person we encountered that way, with the belief that they might show us a new and different side of God? with the belief that they could be Christ to us?
If we are willing and able to see, perhaps those we’ve helped, those who’ve helped us, and even those with whom we greatly disagree are all Jesus in disguise. Perhaps for us today, other people is how we see and experience Jesus. And seeing is believing.
But there’s another side to that coin which is this: perhaps for other people today, we might be how they see and experience Jesus. And seeing is believing.
Another Theresa of the church, Theresa of Avila wrote this beautiful poem about us being the body of Christ in this world.
Christ has no body on earth but yours, no feet but yours, no hands but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
You are the hands and feet of Christ. When you reach out in compassion to others, when you choose love over hate or fear, when you lend a helping hand, you are the hands and feet of Christ.
And the church is the Body of Christ with Jesus as its head. The apostle Paul when writing to the church in Corinth said: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Alone, we can only be the hands or the feet. But together, we can be the whole Body of Christ to the world.
Now, the church hasn’t always lived up to this high calling. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 2/3 of young adults (that’s 30 and younger) believe that the church is, “judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political” (Putnam, Robert D. and David E. Campbell. 2010. “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.” Simon & Schuster, pages 120-121).
Jesus certainly made political statements, but they always lifted up those who were the most marginal, vulnerable, and oppressed in his society. But he certainly wouldn’t have been homophobic, because Jesus’ message of love cast out fear, rather than feeding on it.
The grace, the mercy, the true acceptance and belonging Jesus offered to everyone was revolutionary. But the Body of Christ, the church today, has not always followed in his footsteps. We have not always lived up the image Jesus modeled for us.
And yet, in this age of doubt and cynicism, when the church is known more for its judgment and stances on hate, we are called to be the Body of Christ in the world. After all, seeing is believing.
When we are Christ-like to each other, we show that God’s love and grace are not only possible but alive and real.
And friends, when we gather around The Lord’s Table, we are reminded that all are indeed welcome, that all should be fed, and that, like last Sunday’s story, “the Road to Emmaus,” sometimes we recognize Christ only after we break bread together.
The early leaders of the Protestant Reformation tried to understand communion a little better, to try and figure out what it might mean for us. John Calvin from whom our tradition stems, didn’t believe in transubstantiation like his Catholic ancestors. He didn’t believe that the elements themselves actually became the body of Christ when we ate it. But he also didn’t agree with Ulrich Zwingli who said that Christ’s presence was merely symbolic.
Calvin posed an alternative way. He said that when we celebrate The Lord’s Supper, the real presence of Jesus is there. Christ is present in communion, but not in the bread and cup themselves. Rather, in the interaction and the experience of the gathered people as they come together to eat.
Whether we see him or not, Jesus is here, presiding at this Table, welcoming us.
So maybe our faith is as simple as table fellowship.
Sharing a meal with one another, breaking bread, gluten free or otherwise, and seeing the humanity in one another and seeing the holy in one another.
I encourage you this morning, as you share in this meal, to look around you. Take note of the ones who serve you and the ones you serve.
And notice, perhaps for the first time, Christ in them and Christ in you.