They had just lost their friend and mentor. They watched him brutally murdered. They watched in horror but could do nothing to stop it. Their entire world has been turned upside down. Scripture tells us that they were locked inside because they feared that the authorities were coming for them next. One of them, probably sitting in the corner all by himself, was coming to grips with his denial. No one knew what to do next.
Then, like a flash, he was there. The friend they saw murdered just hours before was standing there right in front of them. How did he get in? Is he a ghost? How can this be we saw him die? The questions running through their heads must have been overwhelming. Maybe it’s the wine. Perhaps it’s a lack of sleep. But here he is. Scripture tells us he simply says, “Peace be with you.”
The familiar greeting of their friend. But how can this be? He died. We watched them put him in the tomb and roll that enormous stone over the opening. The door was locked, yet here he is, standing right in front of us talking. Maybe it’s a dream.
Then “he showed them his hands and his side.” Jesus, is it really you? But they still had questions, but no one wanted to ask. They rejoiced that their friend had come back to them. He said to them again, “Peace be with you.”
Scripture says, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” Reminiscent of Genesis when God, after having created humanity, breathed life into the nostrils of his creation. At creation, God’s breath animated humanity, and now, Jesus, who is God, is breathing the breath of God in the form of the Holy Spirit to animate them for the mission. It is complete; the relationship between God and humanity has been restored to what it once was.
But for some reason, Thomas was not present. Scripture leaves no clue why Thomas was not with the rest that first night and we can only speculate. When Thomas returns, Jesus is gone, and the others tell him what had happened. How can this be? We watched him die. Scripture tells us that Thomas said, “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.” Thomas wants proof.
It took a week for Thomas to get the proof he was looking for. Thomas sat with his doubt for a week. The others gave him space and did not deride him or make fun of him for his questions; they simply let him be. Thomas needed time to process it all, and the others gave him that space.
Then it happened. They had gathered again, and this Thomas was with them. I am sure he cleared his calendar, for he was not going to miss it this time. Maybe it was belief, and perhaps he wanted to prove the others wrong. Whatever it was, it drew Thomas to that place, that place of memories of happier times just a few weeks before.
Then it happened. No flash of light. No trumpet blasts. No smoke. Only Jesus, standing there. “Peace be with you,” he said to them. Then he turned to Thomas. Jesus knew he had questions. Jesus says to him, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
But Thomas does not touch Jesus. He looks at Jesus and says, “My Lord and my God!” Notice what happens next; Jesus asks him a question but does not wait for an answer, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” He does not scold Thomas for his lack of faith; he uses this time to teach more. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Thomas is all of us who have questions. This story is essential as it shows that it is okay to question, have doubts, and want proof. Faith is believing without seeing, and that is not easy. We are being asked to consider something that there is no proof for, nothing that can be seen or examined. Thomas had the opportunity to touch the risen Jesus, but what he saw was enough for him.
After Jesus healed the young man, the man’s father said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” This should be our prayer; help us in our doubts, and in those times, we find it hard to believe. We do not have to believe everything we were taught as children or that we hear as adults. However, the one article of faith that it is crucial to believe is that God loves each of us and forgives each of us.
I find great comfort in these words that Paul wrote to the church in Rome, and I pray they bring you some comfort. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Amen