Sunday 7th April 2024 ~ Rev Dan Yeazel

“Tears, Doubts, Peace” (John 20:19-31)

Our passage this morning is the familiar “Doubting Thomas story”.  Thomas is one of the lesser-known disciples with the exception of being singled out and remembered as “the one who doubted.”  At this point, the disciples have drawn together and are in hiding after the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus.  They have been spending their time behind locked doors, and are waiting for whatever may happen next.  They too, had been filled with fear and doubt after the crucifixion, until Jesus appeared to them.  At this point, they have seen Jesus and are elated.  But Thomas hadn’t been there.  

How many times have we heard someone say “Don’t be such a doubting Thomas” and doesn’t it always seem to come with a stern look that means stop asking questions and just take my word for it.  To be a doubting Thomas in today’s world is not a good thing.  It means one is unduly skeptical, a kind of killjoy, or even a royal sourpuss. 

Poor Thomas has been much maligned over the years, and how often do we fail to see the courage he had to speak his doubts, the honesty he had to state what he needed, and the amazing declaration that he makes as he says “My Lord and My God.”

I’d like to look at his transformation again see in what ways our lives are like Thomas’s, how we can learn from his actions and how Jesus responds to us all. 

My main point will be this; Jesus seeks to encounter us no matter where we are in our lives, no matter where we are in our journey of faith, in spite of all our questions and doubts.  He longs for us to find our own faith and discover him as our Lord and God.  Honest questions of faith and even open doubts are not always indications of faithlessness, but can be open doors for Christ to meet us. 

Turning to the first part of our passage we read, “But Thomas was not with them” It is not said where Thomas was or why he was not with the others when Jesus appeared.  It may have been that Thomas was out doing errands or doing reconnaissance in the city.  Any number of things may have distracted him and kept him from being in the community of faith. 

(I think about all the Sunday Church services I have missed only to have friends tell me how great it was and how I should have been there the pastor gave the best sermon of his life and the choir finally sang in tune and why wasn’t I THERE? Well sometimes there are times that we chose to be away and it can be for any number of reasons.  Some perhaps better than others. )

I think from what we know of Thomas from elsewhere in the Gospels that perhaps his absence was something more than bad timing.  I think Thomas was a much more inward disciple.  Separating himself from the others may have been his way of dealing with Jesus’ death.  There is no doubt that Thomas loved Jesus.  He was prepared to die with Jesus in Jerusalem. The others wanted to flee but he was ready to set his face on Jerusalem and travel with Jesus.

He was most likely out grieving on his own, choosing to turn inward to find answers for himself as to what had happened.  There are most certainly times in life where solitude can be refreshing and a way to restore ourselves.  But there is a difference between being at one with God and ourselves, and being alone.  

He may have left the others and said “I just want to be left alone for a while-I can take care of myself” Withdrawing and hiding with his pain. In this way, Thomas reminds me of many of the Stoic Scandanavians  I knew in Midwest. I think there still is a philosophy of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and not troubling anyone else with your problems as a way of life. 

Many people do not want to be vulnerable with their troubles or think that it can do any good to share their problems; it will just bring somebody else down.   It does take a kind of courage to say I can’t come up with all the answers myself, and be open and vulnerable with others. 

And imagine feeling as Thomas did, feeling so low, and then to hear the news that Jesus is alive would sound like a cruel hoax, certainly too good to be true.  They say, “We have seen him” and he says “I haven’t”  Thomas thought he knew how the story of Jesus ended, but now Easter brings another ending. Easter changes everything.  The others are moving to an Easter faith and Thomas still has “pre-Easter eyes”.  Thomas says honestly, “Until I see I can not believe.” 

“Seeing is believing.., or I’ll believe it when I see it” are at many times good policy.  But sometimes one must believe in order to see.  I think that something, some thread of belief or memory, or hope brought Thomas back to the life of faith.   Whatever the reason, he came back to join the others. 

He came back and yet he is painfully honest.  The others tell him, don’t grieve, and be glad we have seen him!  He could have trend to accept their word and attach his hopes to their experience and their story but he cannot do so and still be true to his faith.  “I can not believe” He could have joined the celebration, withholding his lingering doubts and banishing them to silence, but what would have become of him?  And his faith? Surrounded by others telling him what sounded too good to be true he makes a bold statement of what he needed for him to believe. 

In Luke we see that the others doubted Mary as she reported to them what she had seen.  “Idle gossip” they said.  It was not until he appeared to them that they believed.   At first Thomas is asking for no more than what the others experienced seeing Jesus.   But then does go further and ask to put his hand in the side that was wounded. 

Thomas says what he means and means what he says.  He is not going to express a belief that he does not truly feel.  I think each of us also needs to have our own personal experiences that we hold as part of our faith.  What kinds of experiences do we hold to supply evidence for our faith?  We speak with the greatest conviction, and are most convincing to others when we speak of our own experience.  When we speak what we truly believe, or what we truly question or even fear.  In sharing this with others we are the most honest and I think the most whole.  It is not a complete faith to hold oneself to the faith of our parents and grandparents, we need to make faith our own in some way.

Someone else most certainly can help us by sharing their faith and saying here is how I experience my faith and my doubts.  It truly is in community that we will find answers, each of us have our own individual relationship to God and yet we are all members of the family of God and it is truly blessed to live together in peace, sharing the peace of Christ.  We can remind and reassure each other of truths we know, but sometimes lose sight of when we are alone.

If we question –  it is then – that Jesus has a door to respond.   Isn’t it often the darkest moments of doubts and pain that brought out the most immediate times of joy. 

What times in life are we so aware of God’s Presence that we would cry “My Lord and My God!”  Thomas’s faith is very real to him and it is something alive that he thinks about, wrestles with. This makes it subject to honest questions.  

Look what happens.  It is within a community of faith that he finds his answer.  Jesus does say come put your hand here!  The text does not say that he did, he certainly could have.  But he did not have to, now his doubt was washed away, he was back in the fellowship of those following Christ and he was in the honest place of crying out My Lord and My God.  He goes from the depths of doubt to the celebration of certainty. 

Jesus responds to Thomas’s pain and aloneness with a word of Peace. “Peace be with you” Shalom.  Jesus does not scold him but gives him a chance to have his questions answered.  Go ahead put your hand in my side, do not doubt.  I don’t think he did.  I do think he needed to. 

And the rest of Jesus words are a blessing to us and to the church that has come after.  We have not seen the resurrected Christ and yet we believe. This belief is a blessing.  Yet there will be doubts, there will be times of uncertainty, and the message is clear.  Stay within the circle of faith. Seek answers to your questions.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.   If our hearts are seeking God, no question will distance God from us. God will responds saying “Peace be with you”  “Believe”