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John 20:24-29

Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with the disciples when the risen Jesus came. the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’

 

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

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How is faith even possible in the 21st century?  For many who have cried out for help, their experience is that they have only encountered the silence of God. Prayers do not seem to be answered and it is hard for people to find healing from the wounds that separate them from the possibility of faith. Surely there must be grace for those who, for good reasons, struggle to believe.

 

The church, the community of faith is not for perfect people, whose lives have provided the perfect environment for an unquestioning faith to thrive, but rather it should be a place of healing for those whose lives are fractured. For individuals whose experience of life is less than perfect, the church community should be a place where faith is possible, and also where the able can carry the disabled, as Christ carries us. Unfortunately, the church seems, instead, to place boundary markers on the levels of faith that people have. We create insiders and outsiders in a way which Jesus never seems to do.

 

Today’s Gospel story can only be found in the fourth Gospel. It is a two-part story, which takes place just after the story of Christ’s resurrection. It is probably one of the most beautifully honest in the New Testament. Thomas, like the other disciples has witnessed the horror of the crucifixion, something which would in all logic make the very idea of resurrection impossible.

 

There is, however, something different about Thomas’s experience to that of the other disciple. The other disciples seemed (in this story at least) to have stuck together like glue, while Thomas had taken the solitary position and tried to make sense of the Good Friday and Easter events by himself. John does something very clever here. Relying on the testimony of eyewitnesses, he superimposes the Easter story on the experience of Christians in the latter half of the 1st century.

 

The Jesus in his story appears almost Ghostly, but I am convinced that this is not what the storyteller is doing. He is projecting the Jesus of history onto the experience of Christian communities in the present.

 

After the crucifixion, all the other disciples have witnessed the risen Christ, but Thomas had taken a little longer to find his way back. He returns to his friends, and when the disciples tell Thomas they have seen the risen Lord, he just refuses to believe them. To us, this earns Thomas the title, ‘Doubting Thomas.’

 

‘Unless,’ Thomas said, ‘I see the wounds in his hands and his side, I will not believe.’

 

Of all the passages in the Bible, this is one of the most human. In this first encounter with the community of the resurrection, Thomas is without hope. One of the 12 disciples saying, quite openly to his friends, ‘I am sorry, but I just don’t get it. I cannot believe!’

 

What is beautiful is that at no point does anybody judge him or condemn Thomas for expressing this doubt. Despite his doubt, Thomas is reinstated in the community where faith, again, becomes possible.

 

The second part of the story takes place a week later. The room is locked so in a sort of ethereal way, the risen Christ is projected on the persecuted community of AD 80 or 90. Thomas is there, and he encounters the risen Jesus. Now this is only possible because he is part of the healing, worshipping community of faith.

 

Thomas had, a week earlier, asked to touch the wounds of Christ. Now the risen Christ invites him to reach out and do just that; 'There you go,’ Jesus said to Thomas, ‘put your hands in the wounds.’

 

Thomas fell to his knees and said, ‘My Lord and my God.’

 

Fifty years after the event, the memories of the risen Christ would appear almost ghost-like, but the wounds are indeed present in the body of Christ, in the suffering of the Christian believers. Jesus is present amongst them by his Spirit. Those who choose to lock their hearts from receiving that Spirit are called to open up the locked doors of their hearts to him again (Revelation 3:20) and re-join the worshipping community. Jesus knows that unbelief is possible, but he invites you to join with the community (The body), where faith is again possible.

 

Jesus says at the end of the story, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Almighty and eternal God,

who, for the firmer foundation of our faith,

allowed your holy apostle Thomas to doubt the resurrection of your Son

till word and sight convinced him:

grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe

and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God;

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Amen

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