In last Sunday’s Gospel you recall how we placed ourselves beside the three disciples who went to the tomb on Easter morning, and how only one of the disciples correctly read the signs that told him that Jesus had risen from the dead.
In today’s gospel we are invited to move away from the tomb, to join the disciples elsewhere, locked in a room together, afraid to go out lest they are identified as Jesus’ disciples. They have been told that Jesus is alive, and that one person has even seen him, but they don’t believe it.
One of those who doesn’t believe is Thomas. Earlier in the gospel Thomas is heard to say, ‘Let us go up to Jerusalem with Jesus so that we may die with him. Thomas is an idealistic young man, willing to die in the bloodbath of martyrdom, like so many young men who have got personally caught up in the troubles of the Middle East.
At the Last Supper, when Jesus tells the disciples that he is going away, Thomas simply cannot get it. He cannot see that Jesus’ life’s work is complete and now he must return to his heavenly Father.
By the time we meet Thomas in today’s gospel, his idealism and misunderstanding have turned into a kind of cynicism….’Unless I see the holes made by the nails….I will not believe. Thomas wants a sign, like the other disciples had, but he wants it on his own terms. He wants to believe, but only on his terms. Unless something changes, Thomas may receive the sign, but he will still not be able to believe.
By the end of this brief gospel story Thomas has made an extraordinary interior journey. The distance he has travelled is summed up in his words, ‘My Lord and My God’. For the first time Thomas finally knows who Jesus is, his Lord and his God, and he worships him.
So what happened? What had changed for Thomas? There are in fact no cut and dried answers to any questions concerning the Resurrection because it is a profound mystery known only to faith. Therefore questions asked outside a context of faith will turn out to be the wrong questions, and answers given within the context of faith will always need to be qualified, and leave more to be said.
Within these limitations then, we can say that the first thing that happened was that Thomas met the risen Jesus, but he did so in a privileged way that will never be repeated. When human language, even in the Scriptures, tries to describe how Jesus appeared or what he looked like, it simply fails. These appearances of Jesus are quite unique. We cannot recreate them or reproduce them or re-stage them. We either accept the testimony of the disciples that they ‘have seen the Lord’ or like Thomas at first, we don’t.
But there is more that can be said, about Thomas and his interior journey. When Thomas joins the disciples in the room Jesus invites him to put his fingers into his side. There’s something almost childlike about what Thomas is being invited to do. We know how important touching things is for a small child. It is by touching things, putting their fingers into something, that the child discovers the world. By inviting Thomas to put his fingers into Jesus’ wounds Jesus was not just saying to Thomas, ‘I am the same person that you knew physically before my crucifixion’ (though he was saying that), at another level Jesus was also inviting Thomas to enter into the reality of everything Jesus had said and suffered, to discover its deeper meaning, and relate to Jesus and his sufferings in a radically new way.
But notice how Thomas never actually takes up Jesus’ invitation literally to put his fingers into his wounds, like the child. So he does not actually follow his own agenda of refusing to believe to its logical conclusion, even though Jesus had given him permission to do so. What happens, I believe, is that Thomas moves from a childish form of faith to an adult faith. He expresses that faith in worship, in the words, “My Lord and My God”.
It’s as if Thomas has moved from thinking that ‘Seeing is Believing’, to acknowledging that actually, Believing is Seeing. By making that small but gigantic movement of belief and trust Thomas has allowed himself to be opened up to see a whole new world that he could never have seen by going it alone, or standing on the outside and looking in in judgement – a world in which Jesus is at the heart, drawing Thomas into himself.
But we haven’t exhausted all that can be said, so once again we must ask the question again, what happened for Thomas, and what changed?
By the time Thomas walked into the room, the other disciples had already seen Jesus, and this experience had changed them. Jesus had given them peace. He had given them the Holy Spirit, and promised them that those whose sins they forgave would be forgiven. You recall that on this occasion Thomas had not been with them. Why? Because he had left the disciples. He had given up, gone it alone, locked into his own agenda, playing the unbelieving hard man.
If Thomas was with them on the second occasion it can only be because this changed community of disciples had opened the door and let Thomas in to join them. They had forgiven him for leaving their company. They had forgiven his misunderstanding and his false heroics. By forgiving him, letting him back into their company they gave Thomas the opportunity to meet the risen Lord. In forgiving him they were preparing his heart to be able to respond when Jesus came to meet him.
And one final point. Reading between the lines, when the community of disciples gathered together they were, effectively, at worship. They were worshipping Jesus, their Lord and their God, just as we, this gathering of believers today, are worshipping him now. Worship is central, and vital, if we are to meet the risen Lord and enable others to meet him too. ‘Indeed, unless we worship there is little that religion, or even Jesus’ resurrection, can say to us’