2nd Sunday of Easter (A, B, C)
I admire Thomas. I can relate to him. Thomas, also known as Didymus, the twin, was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, but his designation as “the doubter” that has followed him throughout history is a trait that many of us share. At least, it is one that I share.
Most everything we know about Thomas comes from the gospel of John, He seems to be one of the more introverted apostles, he is a fact-gatherer and a deep thinker, and his coming to belief is an intentional process, one which he discovers happens best in community.
“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to 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 into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” [John 20:24-25]
Doesn’t it make sense Thomas would want to see Jesus with his own eyes? After all, he knew the man. Given the horrific and devastating circumstances of Jesus’ execution, his empty tomb, and the heightened emotional state of his friends Thomas also had good reason to be doubtful. He wasn’t about to take their word for it.
In the various biblical accounts, no two post-resurrection experiences with Jesus are alike. Mary of Magdala recognized Jesus when he spoke her name. [John 20:11-18]. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus in the context of a shared meal [Luke 24:13-35], Paul recognized Jesus in the Christians he had been persecuting [Acts 9:5b]. And Jesus’ disciples recognized him standing with them when they were together.
In the days following Jesus’ death his disciples hid in fear for their lives. Praying, surely, but also sickened and confused by the execution of their beloved friend, going over each and every amazing experience of their three years together. They grieved Jesus. And they suffered greatly as they recalled how they had abandoned him in his time of need. Suddenly, from the depths of their sorrow the disciples recognized Jesus standing with them, showing his hands and his side, and offering them peace.
But Thomas was absent. John’s gospel does not say where Thomas was or for how long, or whether his absence was physical or emotional, it only says “he was not with them.” The others told him “We have seen the Lord,” but Thomas did not see, he doubted them; he was still not present.
Sometimes in times of shock we withdraw, even to the point of denying our feelings. Perhaps we are unwilling to make ourselves emotionally vulnerable so we separate ourselves from the sorrow we share with others, and take shelter in fact gathering as we try to figure things out on our own.
“Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” [John 20:26-28]
Thomas claimed he would believe only after he probed Jesus’ wounds himself. Now, surrounded by his friends he came face to face with them and he believed.
“Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” [John 20:29b]
The Church, in its wisdom, has designated the gospel account of Thomas’ doubt and coming to belief to be read on the Second Sunday of Easter because it addresses the very real, very human emotions we all share with Thomas. Its annual inclusion in the Easter cycle is a gentle reminder to those of us who “ghost” away from our parishes and faith communities after Easter Sunday: Be present, the Risen Lord is among us.
(This is a major redaction of a previously published reflection on the gospel of John 20:19-31 which is proclaimed every year on the Second Sunday of Easter)