Read John 20:19-29 & 1 John 1:1-2:2
We’re going to look briefly at both of today’s set passages from the New Testament, but let’s start with what must be such a well-known story about Thomas meeting the risen Jesus. This poor man’s legacy is to be forever known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, two words that have drifted into everyday language and used for anyone who won’t believe something simply because someone tells them, even a friend, but want a bit more proof, or to see it for themselves.
I fully admit to admiring Thomas for living up to this modern image, but you know… I’m not sure he really deserves the reputation of being a bit of a flaky believer who needed convincing that Jesus hadn’t simply died… end of story and of all the hopes and expectations of the disciples.
Is he really any different to the other disciples?
John doesn’t include the story of the Emmaus road, and those two followers of Jesus who meet him, recognise him in the sharing of a meal, and then rush back to the other disciples. Instead, John homes in on the disciples who decided to hide away in that room in Jerusalem, absolutely terrified about what might happen to them after their narrow escape in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Why? Well, they would be classed as disciples of a dangerous man put to death for his crimes. The disciples would be very worried that the authorities had them on their list for arrest and, at the least, imprisonment. So, doors were locked, heads were down and no amount of knocking on that door would get you in!
You want a modern example of this then look no further than Hong Kong and the protesters against Chinese rule there, or Myanmar where so many have died, and Russia, where followers of Putin’s rival Alexei Navalny are rounded up at night with a knock at the door, simply to silence opposition. The Jewish religious leaders would have wanted to silence whatever it was that Jesus was organising, nip it in the bud and preserve their positions of power. Nothing changes in human history!
The disciples were scared. They had heard Jesus’ words about rising from the dead, Thomas included, but the situation on the ground was so confusing that they didn’t know what to believe. They were hoping that Jesus would do as he said, but there’s nothing in their actions to show confidence.
Jesus didn’t knock the door, he knew the state they were in, but just ‘entered’, spoke those calming words, ‘Peace be with you!’, showed his wounds and blessed them with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What relief, what joy, what next…?
Their mission would start as Jesus had promised.
Now, Thomas must have been of a similar mind, scared by what had happened and what might happen, wondering what he’d got himself into. He, as much as all the other disciples needed more than second-hand news that Jesus was alive! And Jesus knew this, of course he did!
Jesus loved Thomas as much as any of the disciples and knew that he would have to speak those same words and show his wounds to this disciple. And we’re not even told that Thomas did indeed put his finger where the nails went, or his hand into Jesus’ side. One look seems to have been all he needed, to enable him to cry out, ‘My Lord and my God!’
But Jesus also knew that not everyone would be able to see him like this, so he adds the comment, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Which is where we come in, and not just us. John was writing quite a few years after all this happened, and believers since and forever are in the same boat. We believe because of the witness of those who have seen Jesus, and we are blessed as they were. That gifting of God’s Spirit was not confined to a small locked room in Jerusalem, it is for all who believe.
Which brings us to the second reading, where our writer tells us, ‘We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’
And that is the message every generation has spoken. I was brought up in a church-going family, sang in the choir from the age of 8, was confirmed at 11 with the Anglican Church, but to be honest I hadn’t really put all the bits of the story together, it was more a ‘going with the flow’ of family and church expectations.
It was some years later that I discovered some young people who really lived their faith, who had got it sussed out, whose faith ‘shone’ in their words, actions and Spirit-led worship. It was their witness that made the difference.
I have seen the effect that faith in Christ Jesus has in the life of others and heard their witness. It didn’t need Jesus to walk through a wall and show me his wounds, their witness was enough. It led me to walk that same path, and my life has been blessed in doing so. Just like those first disciples, I have been blessed with the gift of God’s Spirit in my life and understand that call of Jesus to his disciples, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’
Which is why I am here, following God’s call to share that same Good News, the Good News about Easter, that Jesus Christ is alive in and through the lives of believers.
And that is the challenge to all Christians at Eastertime, to embrace the call of Jesus, to those first disciples and to all disciples afterwards. We are not called to be passive believers, but to share our faith through our words and lives, that others might see us, and through us see Jesus….. and also believe. That’s how churches have grown over the past two thousand years, and how churches will grow today. In fact, that’s the only way that churches really grow.
So, embrace the Easter that we have just passed through, and let us become the Easter People that God would have us be, to his praise and glory.