A sermon based on Psalm 16 and John 20:19-31 preached on April 27th, 2014.
You could say that Thomas had a rough week. Never mind that we’ve given him a hard time for the last 2,000 years, can you imagine what Thomas underwent in just the 8 days after that first Easter?
John says that Jesus appeared to the disciples on Easter evening. He stood among them in the locked room that they had been hiding in since Good Friday. Jesus said “Peace be with you” and then breathed the Holy Spirit into them.
But that was 8 days ago. And Thomas wasn’t there to see it. It had to be an alienating and lonesome 8 days for Thomas.
I wonder what must have happened when Thomas came back to the disciples’ hiding place that evening.
Let’s imagine you’re all Thomases and I’ll play the role of the disciples.
Let me set the stage a bit, first: Earlier that first Easter day, the 2 Mary’s came pounding on the door, wanting, needing to be let it. They were breathless. Their eyes were wide. They were trying to tell the disciples something. Something about a gardener. But the gardener was really Jesus. It was confusing. Their words hardly made any sense.
The women said they saw him. He was alive. The disciples scoffed. Surely the two Mary’s were mistaken.
Later that same evening, before the sun went down you (you all are Thomas) wanted to run a couple errands; maybe it was your turn to go and fetch whatever you could find for dinner. You’re strolling back to where you and all the rest of the disciples had been barricaded for the last 3 days, and as you approach the hiding place you hear the rest of the disciples in a complete uproar.
You walk inside, wondering what’s going on.
Thomas, we’ve seen the Lord! He was right here! You missed him. Sorry guy, but that was awesome!
No, not the door, Thomas, he didn’t walk through the door like you just did. We kid you not—he walked into this room through that wall, right there!
Thomas, he spoke to us! Thomas, he was alive, just like the women said he was! He was standing right here and—what did he say—oh, he breathed on us and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’.
Thomas! Wow! We’re telling you… It. Was. Amazing!
Tell me, Thomas, how do you feel? What’s running through your head right now? Let me know what you think.
Wait, what? Why don’t you believe us? This is no joke. We promise, we’re not pulling a fast one on you. We wouldn’t kid you about a thing like this!
You won’t believe unless…what? Until you see what? Until you do…what?
Really, Thomas?! You don’t mean that! That’s ridiculous.
Do you seriously not believe what we’re telling you? Thomas, you’re incredulous.
Can you imagine feeling alone in a room jam-packed with 10 other disciples for an entire week—each of them swapping stories about what they saw and heard that Easter evening? It would have been annoying!
I imagine Thomas plastering on a fake smile as his fellow disciples told the tale to one another over and over again. But I can also imagine the heavy loneliness that he must have felt. We all know what it’s like to be left out of a story. We’ve all laughed at inside jokes that we were never inside of. We all know what it feels like to try to be a part of a conversation that we really don’t understand.
Poor Thomas had a rough week.
Jesus had nicknames for all of his disciples—or at least his closest ones. He nicknamed Simeon “Peter” which means “Rock”. He called James and John “the Sons of Thunder”. Matthew was a tax collector, so Jesus dubbed him “Levi”, which means “to take”—proof that Jesus had a great sense of humor. James was called “Alpheus”—“learned”. Jesus gave Judas—not the betrayer but the other Judas—the nickname “Thaddeus”, which means “courage”.
Thomas’s nickname as we heard in this passage is “Didymus”: the twin.
We’re not quite sure why Jesus called Thomas the Twin. We aren’t told of a twin sibling. It could be that he and another disciple looked a lot alike—could it be that Jesus thought Thomas looked a bit like him.
But at this moment, Thomas didn’t feel so much like a twin. Right now, he felt quite alone in the world.
I have to stick up for Thomas. All the rest of the disciples saw Jesus. Would any of them have believed had they not seen? I guess it’s possible, but it’s probably unlikely. So when Thomas demands to see Jesus before he believes, he’s not asking for anything more than what all the other disciples had already received: he’s asking for proof.
Who could blame him? I’d be incredulous and stubborn, also.
In this way, I am Thomas’ twin. And I wonder if you are, too.
A very long week later, Jesus returns to visit the disciples once more. Thomas is now with them. Jesus knows about Thomas’ unbelief. He invites Thomas to touch his hands and side… notice, though, that nowhere in this story does it say that Thomas takes Jesus up on the offer. Thomas never touches Jesus. Thomas sees, and seeing seems to be more than enough for him.
Jesus says to Thomas,
No more disbelief, believe!
but I imagine those words aren’t just for Thomas. Those words were spoken to everyone in that room. After all, the disciples were still fearful. They were still holed up in that tiny room. Every disciple in that room needs to be woken up from their disbelief.
It can be easily overlooked that the earliest confession of faith in the risen Christ comes from the man who most call Doubting Thomas.
After Thomas sees Jesus that second Sunday of Easter, he exclaims the words,
“My Lord and my God!”
Thomas’ words in that tiny room in Jerusalem now ring out for the whole word to hear!
But this story isn’t about Thomas. It isn’t about any of the disciples. This is a story about a God who comes to us—even when we’re hiding away in our locked and lonely rooms. Even when we’re too scared to speak up or step out. When we’re too frightened by what awaits us out there.
This is a story about a God who meets us where we are and shows himself to us—his hands and side. Who shows us his scars as if to say,
I know the pain that you know, I’ve experienced the same darkness you’re now living in, and I’m here with you.
Jesus walks into the spaces in which we feel stuck and says to us,
Peace be with you.
We belong to a God who knows what we need to see and offers us a way to see it.
Our faith as Christians is an incarnational faith. We are not called by God to put our trust in things like an enlightened soul or in some immaterial thing like future world peace. I dare say that we aren’t even called to put our trust in the afterlife. What we’re called to do is to put our trust in Jesus, the One who became just as human as we are even if he was just as divine as God is, who came close enough for Thomas to touch him. Close enough to his female disciples that they could wrap their arms around his feet that Easter morning. Who comes to us where we are, shows us what we need to see, and breathes his Holy Spirit into us. This is a story about the One who meets us in the very spaces of our unbelief and offers us a word of peace and grace.
We come to worship on Sundays in hopes of seeing Jesus. We come to this space to be with others, to express our unbelief out loud, to wrestle out our fears, to engage our doubt, to ask “Why” questions, to remind each other of the One who we follow, the One who meets us here—where we are.
We bring what little amount of faith we have—whatever we can muster—and we also bring a truckload of doubt. But still we come, hoping that Jesus will somehow meet us here and speak a word of peace, to invite us to come closer to him so that we may believe and trust more fully.
We don’t know why Thomas was called Didymus: “the Twin”. Maybe he had a biological twin who everybody forgot to mention. Maybe he looked like another disciple or maybe like Jesus himself. But, I’d like to think something different: We are all Thomas’ twin. We all look like him and act like him. We all need the same thing that he needed—to see something real—something we can touch if we need to.
Maybe we recognize that part in us that needs more to grab onto—that desperately desires to see the risen Lord in our midst. That needs to see before we can believe.
Ultimately, what we really want is to respond to Jesus’ presence among us with just as much joy as Thomas did. Then we too can exclaim,
My Lord and my God!
And in that way, why wouldn’t we all to become Thomas’ twin?
All praises to the One who meets us where we are—behind the closed doors of our hearts, who meets us in all the spaces in which we feel trapped. All praises to the One who refuses to leave us there—who gives us a word of peace and assurance. The One who breathes new life into us—the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.