Because of Thomas

Hands of Proof, by Hyatt Moore

Welcome to a reflection on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter and for the sixth Sunday of this pandemic in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In my prayers and study of the Easter season Gospel stories, I have been amazed at how much they speak to our situation in this vulnerable time.

And this Sunday, when we hear the mislabeled story of “doubting Thomas,” I think we discover an apostle who is truly speaks to this moment in history.

In all of the gospels, Thomas speaks rarely and those times are all in John’s Gospel. In Chapter 14, Jesus is telling the apostles that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places. And that he – Jesus – is going to prepare a place for them. He tells them they “know the way” to the place that he is going. Thomas, honest and humble, says “Lord, we do not not where you are going. How can we know the way?”

“How can we know the way?” Isn’t that a pandemic question? When will this end? Will it end and come back? Will society be forever changed? Thomas knows what it is like to live with uncertainty, and to receive the answer of Jesus: “I am the way.” Jesus’ way of compassion is the way.

A few chapters earlier we hear Thomas speak when Jesus says he he is going to Bethany, which is near Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the center of the Temple’s and the Empire’s resistance to him. It is a place to be feared for the followers of the Messiah but Thomas says “Let us go also that we may die with him.” Thomas is committed to Jesus no matter what. Can we be committed, no matter what? I am inspired everyday but the doctors and nurses and first responders who go toward the sick and dying. I am inspired by those who do the sometimes difficult work of staying at home to keep this disease from spreading.

And then we get to Sunday’s Gospel. It is evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples locked in a house out of fear. And the Risen Jesus appears to them. But Thomas is not with them. John’s Gospel does not tell us why Thomas was missing. I have a theory. Could it be that Thomas is not there because he is still doing the work of Jesus? This apostle who was not afraid to die with Jesus is still doing what Jesus did. He is healing the sick and feeding the hungry. For Thomas, Jesus’ death does not stop the mission he gave us. It’s just a theory, don’t tell the bishop.

When Thomas comes back, the disciples tell him “we have seen the Lord.” Thomas replies with the most misunderstood statement in all of the Gospels: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in in his side, I will not believe.”

For this we commonly call him “doubting.” Or could it be that Thomas really knows Jesus? Thomas knows Jesus as the Way. The way of compassionate love. You see, Thomas does not want an angelic, abstract, spiritualized Jesus who is Risen above it all. He wants the real Jesus, the wounded Jesus, who will stay with the wounded of this world and who will take the wounded of this world to where he is.

We know how the story ends. The wounded Jesus appears to Thomas. And Thomas says the most profound expression of faith uttered by any of the apostles: “My Lord and my God.”

In our days, days of terrible suffering, times when some of us are dying without the physical presence of family and friends, a time when many are in financial need, we might ask, “where is God?” Because of Thomas we know where God is. We know that the wounded and Risen Jesus is right here among the wounded of the world. And we know his way – the way of compassionate love – is the salvation of the world. Amen.

+Doug