It’s a rather drastic change in tone going from the joy of the Resurrection with Mary Magdalene shouting, “I have seen the Lord,” to the fear and uncertainty from Thomas and the other disciples locked inside a room as dark as the tomb that engulfed the man they chose to follow for years of their life. We go from the victory over sin and death to wondering if it happened at all. And yet the story of Thomas’ doubt is just as real as the Resurrection itself, even today. Plenty of people not only continue to doubt the greatest miracle of all time, or even Jesus as the Messiah, but whether or not God exists at all.
Because last Sunday, as Christians gathered all over the world to celebrate that Resurrection of our Lord and Savior with tremendous delight to fill every sanctuary across the planet, something different happened at a park in Pakistan; where a suicide-bomber went in and detonated during a worship of the same God of the Resurrection as we did, leaving scores of Pakistani Christians, including far too many women and children dead.
So it begs the question, “How can be there this God incarnate in Jesus Christ when Christians are being killed on Easter Sunday?” People, just like Thomas, still want to see this Jesus holes in hand and side standing up to a fear as real as the disciples endured in that locked-up room long ago. Where is He now? Why isn’t God stopping the killing of all these absolutely precious children of God? The doubts, the disbelieving continue. But that’s not God’s fault. It’s our fault.
If we’re not careful our faith comes off that we worship a God of obsessive control, a God Who puppet-masters every single movement in the entire universe, using people and entire nations for a certain purpose, including for punishment, to teach a lesson. “Everything happens for a reason,” the cliché goes. “It must be God’s will.” The world doesn’t just say that. Plenty of ardent church-goers say that too.
And yet the Resurrection told a completely different story, the most un-cliché story of all time. This God brought freedom from sin and death, and yet did not institute a new order of power over all children of God from thereon out. God did not take over people’s freedom to choose: choosing to love, to offer food to the hungry, to offer shelter to homeless, but unfortunately also still able to choose to manipulate, to unleash anger and hatred, and even to kill. We do not proclaim everything happens for a reason. We proclaim a Risen Christ Who shows up to everything that happens regardless of the reason it happened. We do not proclaim that everything that happens is the will of God, because God’s will is to nourish, to love, to redeem, to save. God’s will is life, not death. Jesus went into that darkness of death and would not allow it to take hold of Him, and soon enough, for all children of God for all times and places.
And so, the church filled with human beings have and will continue to make mistakes in proclaiming this God of love beyond our imagination. People of all religious backgrounds continue to manipulate God for their own personal gain, and have been since the beginning: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus; far too many people have been killed because of it. It’s not God’s fault. It’s humanity’s fault. So yes, there are doubters, and flat-out disbelievers, to say the least, because of us.
And so we return to the story of Thomas and all the disciples locked in that room long ago out of fear from people who were using religion to instill intimidation and horror. Soon enough the Risen Lord shows up and brings peace in the face of that fear. Peace He brings not only to the other disciples, but to Thomas, the one who doubted His Lord could pull it off at all. In the end, Jesus loved Thomas as much as all the other disciples in that room. But I don’t think that’s the best part.
As the story goes Thomas goes off wanting to see the holes in Jesus’ hands and side in order to believe the Resurrection actually happened, undercutting the most powerful moment for all the disciples gathered in that room. Thomas must have gotten deep under their skin. They must have been furious with Him, after they saw the Risen Lord first-hand only a week before. A whole week before Thomas could be satisfied: a week of tempers flaring between him and the rest of them; but at no point do they ever kick Thomas out. At no point do they try to convince him that he wasn’t worthy to be called a disciple any longer. Thomas’ new family united through Jesus Christ, never ever left him.
And so that same Risen Christ continues to cry out for the church to be a safe-haven for the Thomases all over the world, children of God He cherishes as much as the rest; for the church to be a place and a people for questions to arise, for conversations to ensue, for the faith that Jesus ignited with a Resurrection of eternal proportion, to be nourished day-in and day-out.
Nevertheless, the truth is all of us have had our “Thomas moments.” All of us have wondered. All of us are human after all. And all of us have needed a place and a people to turn to in those moments, not to hear that we’re not good enough anymore, but to know we are still loved and cherished; to be the place and the people that Jesus can show up time and time again and say simply but beautifully, “Peace [of Resurrection life] be with you,” now and forevermore. And for that, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon