Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Blessing of Belief

This post is also in this week's newsletter from St. John's, Decatur. To learn more about what God is doing in and through St. John's, click here.

Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter, we remember Thomas. On the day of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, but, for some reason, Thomas was not there. Maybe he had gotten separated from the others when the soldiers stormed into the garden and had not found his way back to their company. Maybe he was so despondent after Jesus’ crucifixion that he had not found the spirit or strength to search for his friends. For whatever reason, Thomas did not see the risen Jesus for himself, and the result was a gift for future Christians.

When the disciples found Thomas, they told him that they had seen the Lord, but Thomas could not believe their good news. “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,” he told them. We are left to draw our own conclusions on the tone of Thomas’ statement. Was he defiant? Was he remorseful? Was he accusing the other disciples of making it up? Was he merely acknowledging what it would take for him to join in their belief? Although his words can be interpreted several different ways, we are preconditioned to hear them in a particular light.

The gospel identifies Thomas as “the Twin,” but we use a different moniker for him: Doubting Thomas. We fault him for his faithlessness. Two thousand years removed from the physical resurrection of Jesus, we believe without having seen the marks of the nails for ourselves. Why did Thomas find it so hard to accept? He had ten eye witnesses with whom he had spent several years of his life developing relationships of trust. If they said that they had seen the risen Lord, why wouldn’t Thomas believe? The answer, it seems, is that he doubted for our sake.

A week later, Jesus appeared to the disciples, and this time Thomas was with them. Without waiting for Thomas to address him, Jesus confronted the doubting disciple: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” As John recalls the scene for us, Thomas did not hesitate either. “My Lord and my God!” he proclaimed immediately. Then, Jesus made a proclamation that sounds like it was intended for us: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That is us. We are those who are blessed because, without seeing, we have come to believe.

Listen again to the invitation that Jesus gave to Thomas, but, this time, try hearing it with a sympathetic, compassionate tone rather than one of a chastising or confrontational nature: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe!” How we hear those words of Jesus makes all the difference. Instead of criticizing those who refuse to believe in his resurrection without first seeing physical proof, Jesus meets them in their doubt and grants them what they seek. “Do not doubt but believe!” With those words, Jesus wills us into faith and declares that those who come to belief are blessed.

Easter is not a litmus test for real Christians. It is an invitation to faith for all of us. After witnessing the crucifixion, none of the disciples expected Jesus to rise from the dead. So tragic was his execution that his closest followers all gave up on him. But Jesus met them, undeterred by their despair, and revealed himself to them, showing them the power of the victory God had won for them in his resurrection. Will he not do the same for us?

At times, we, too, find it hard to believe that there could possibly be a light at the end of the very long and dark tunnel in which we find ourselves. Sometimes everything feels stacked against us. Despite our best intentions and efforts, things fall apart. Thomas reminds us that God does not wait for us to find hope on our own. The story of Thomas shows us that God does not punish those who have doubts. Instead, God seeks them out and reveals himself to them. Easter may have happened on the third day, but it took Thomas a week before the resurrected Jesus found him. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” Blessed are those who are found by the risen Lord.

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