Year C, Second Sunday of Easter, 28 April 2019
Annual Poetry Sunday
Trinity Church on the Green
In honor of Poetry Sunday, I begin with a poem by Anglican priest and poet Malcolm Guite, which he wrote in honor of Thomas:
“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.” (1)
Poor Thomas. He gets such a bad rap, year after year. “Doubting Thomas” we call him. But thank God for Thomas. I feel he represents me. I’d like us to start calling him “Believing Thomas” instead. Ultimately, he believed! Malcolm Guite suggests we call him “honest Thomas, courageous Thomas, even Tenacious Thomas!”
Earlier in John’s Gospel, when Jesus says to the disciples “…And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas honestly replies, “‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” TO which Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” Thomas is not usually remembered for asking this important question, yielding a most important response from Jesus. Instead, he is remembered for doubting.
After all, was it his fault that he got left out of the initial gathering with the other guys? That he wasn’t there when Jesus showed up the first time?
Haven’t we all been “that person” – the one who is out of the loop – or not in on the joke. You couldn’t make it to the party, and you missed the big announcement, the big reveal. Or you missed someone special like Jesus showing up? And when your friends told you about it, you were like, “mmm, I’m not sure I can believe that.”
We’ve all been there, no? And isn’t that the point?
Our Lenten sermon series was on trauma and grace. I’ve continued to think about trauma and grace through Holy Week, and into the Easter season. I’ve thought a great deal about the traumatic part of it – how all the friends and followers of Jesus must have been utterly TRAUMATIZED. With a capital “T.” I really feel like we underplay it: there’s little talk of feelings in the stories of the Crucifixion and resurrection. But Jesus’ friends and family must have felt trauma – they must have been in shock. To have seen Jesus killed – to lose their beloved friend – to suddenly have their entire world and all sense of hope collapse around them. To literally watch him suffer and die a horrible, painful death. They must have felt so helpless. They must have felt horror. And then, they must have felt such fear for their own lives. Add grief on top of that. How rough it must have been for them.
Somehow, I doubt many of them got much sleep those three days. John tells us that the doors of the house were locked – that the disciples were hiding in fear. They were likely sleep deprived. They were anxious and afraid. They probably weren’t eating much. Those of us who have been in this state of mind and body know how disorienting it can be. When you’re running on adrenaline, barely able to think or see straight. To then suddenly see Jesus? Well, no wonder some would think they were seeing a ghost. No wonder someone like Thomas might would have thought they were hallucinating.
And lest it be all on Thomas. In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 28, Jesus appears to the disciples, and “they worshipped him, but some doubted.” In Luke’s telling of the resurrection, chapter 24, the women find the stone rolled away, and are told by the two men in dazzling clothes, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…”And these women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James run and tell the eleven and all the rest!
“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
Instead, Peter takes off and runs to the tomb. He has to see it with his own eyes. Peter doubts, yet doesn’t wind up getting dubbed “Doubting Peter.” Later on, in Luke’s telling, Jesus appears among them and says “Peace be with you,” much like he does in John’s Gospel. And it then says that “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”
Jesus has to say to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ Jesus invites them to touch him, and then asks for something to eat.
So, Jesus shows up among his traumatized disciples, and they ALL doubt. They have to touch him to believe that it’s him. They have to witness him eating broiled fish to believe he’s not a ghost.
Thomas wanted to touch his wounds. Would you?
Thomas ultimately believes, and receives grace. Jesus came just for him. Jesus came and did not admonish him, but invited Thomas to touch his wounds and believe. And Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”
The traumatic state of our world and our lives can cause us to fear and to doubt. To doubt our institutions, leaders, the media. To doubt those around us, our colleagues, our friends, our family. We can doubt our own selves, our own sense of self worth as beloved children of God in a world that is fast, furious, and unforgiving. When bad things happen all around us, we can begin to doubt our faith. Our invitation is to not give up, but keep asking for more. Like Thomas, may we have the courage to say what others are thinking, and to ask for what we need. May we ask for God’s grace again and again when we need it the most, and to show that grace to each other. We cannot touch the actual wounds of Jesus, but we can care for each others’ wounds, and through each other we can see the risen Lord! Through the love and care of community, we can be reminded that we matter – that we matter to God, and that we are all most worthy of God’s love and grace, even if we doubt. We come together to worship because worship affects us – it can transform our doubts.
Wherever we are in our faith journeys, may Thomas inspire us to not doubt but believe, and to declare before Jesus, “My Lord, and my God!”