Thomas the disciple missed Easter; he wasn’t there with the others on that first night. Perhaps Thomas was not with the other grieving disciples because he knew Jesus was dead and with His death there wasn’t anything to live for; it was time to get on with living without Him.
Jack Wellman raises the question:
“Wouldn’t we too have given up when all of our hopes were apparently dashed to pieces when Jesus was humiliatingly crucified? I believe I would have. Thomas must have been heartbroken, having all his hopes crushed when Jesus died on the cross.” (http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/the-apostle-thomas-biography-doubting-life-and-death/#ixzz44bAwtAMW)
Thomas not only disappeared from the after-Good-Friday count of the twelve, he never made it into the first three Gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke say nothing other than to name him among the twelve.
Only John’s Gospel mentions Thomas and lets us meet him three times:
Scene One: (11:7b,8) When Jesus hears about Lazarus’ death and decides to go to his gravesite in Judea,
“The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’”
The disciples, minus Thomas, for he says, (11:16) “Let us also go, that we may die with him”
Unlike the others, he’s ready to follow Jesus, even to death.
Thomas: the bravest one of the twelve.
Scene Two: (14: 2-4) When Jesus invites His disciples to join Him in observing the Passover Meal in the upper room on Thursday night, and as was and still it the custom, conversations are interspersed between the set order,
Jesus talks about arranging private accommodations for each of them and then confirms their reservations
with the assurance that they will be where He is going.
But Thomas reacts with, (11:5) “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Thomas dares to question and in questioning shows he hasn’t listened or didn’t understand all that Jesus was trying to teach the twelve; like us when we miss what we should be hearing and remembering in Confirmation Class and worship.
Thomas doesn’t hesitate to show he doesn’t know what Jesus is talking about, he speaks, but the others, as in Scene One, keep their mouths shut; they let Thomas be the one disciple who isn’t too shy to raise the question for them.
Thomas, the inquiring one of the twelve.
Scene Three: (20: 24-25) Today’s reading that pictures Thomas hearing from the others, “We have seen the Lord.” and saying 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.” He wants to see what they saw and he missed by being absent on Easter night.
How many are like Thomas, having missed the glorious, festive Easter Sunday worship, maybe because of having to work, or being ill, or caring for someone else, or being tied into others’ plans that left no room for church and the Easter Gospel? How many, like Thomas, come to this week after the announcement, “The Lord is risen!” with the same need, the same longing, “to see the Lord?” Maybe you?
(20:27-28) Then 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.”
Artists tend to paint this moment in most graphic details, showing Thomas, like a surgeon using his finger to probe the gaping gash on Jesus’ side, but there is no proof that Thomas needed to do that. Seeing Jesus standing before him bearing the wounds of Good Friday is enough; he is having the moment the others had,
and he missed by not being with them a week before. And he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
He alone dismisses all doubt with his confession which he is the first to make, while, as in scene one and two, the others keep silent!
Thomas, the first of the twelve to be a witness.
Later Peter will pick up on Thomas’ confession and make it the text for the first, very long Easter sermon that includes the words: God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior …And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
“We are witnesses to these things;” yes, with Thomas being a very special kind of witness, just the kind you and I may need today, you and I who have glued the label “Doubting” to Thomas’ name; yet nowhere in the Gospels is he called by that title. Instead, Thomas defines the kind of doubt it’s OK to have:
Doubt that is dismissed when we admit Jesus’ disciples weren’t duped into saying, “We have seen the Lord!”
They who needed undisputable proof were convinced that the Jesus they had known before He was laid in a tomb, is the after-Good-Friday Jesus, showing His nail-pierced hands and spear-cut side; no doubt about it.
Their witness becomes our proof.
Or doubt that in Frederick Buechner’s words is like “ants in the pants of faith,” a nagging, unrelenting quest to know God is real and the risen Christ is alive. The quest of Augustine who finally admitted to God, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Or C.S. Lewis, who set out to prove God does not exist, only to find profound meaning in God revealed in Christ which he expressed in books and radio broadcasts that speak to this day to doubters who become believers.
Or testimonies given by people who have had a “God moment” that ends a life of addiction in one of its many forms –drugs, alcohol, gambling, abusive behavior. They become today’s “witnesses” who inspire us to believe what we can only experience through them, and on this Second Sunday of Easter worship.
The preacher and professor, Thomas G. Long tells of being invited to preach at a special service in church basement where all ages sat around tables and made bread which was to bake while they talked about personal experiences of faith, and then everyone –like the first Christians – would savor the loaves and experience how Christ was made know in the breaking of bread. It was a good plan on paper, but children began to play with the flour and send it in clouds through the room to settle on everyone. The ovens were slow; people ran out of things to say, and tired children began to fuss and fume.
Dr. Long says, “Finally the service ended and I was able to pronounce the Benediction: ‘The peace of Christ be with you all,’ and just as I did, a child's voice from somewhere in the room called out strong and true, ‘It already is.’"
As he mused on that “It already is,” he thought the small boy had caught what John’s Easter Gospel has to say to us today: “In the midst of a church …of noise, confusion, weariness, and even fear, the risen Christ comes to give peace and inhabit our empty places,” (Thomas G. Long, Whispering The Lyrics, CSS Publishing)
...And through Thomas, introduces us to the Easter doubt it’s OK to have:
doubt that is dismissed by the witnesses to the risen Christ,
doubt that becomes our unrelenting quest to know that same Jesus,
doubt that is diminished by others’ testimonies that inspire us to believe what we have not experienced.
When that’s who we are, then the blessing of the risen Christ is for us:
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” AMEN.