So, for example, I look through the headlines in my newspaper most mornings. Out of the maybe twenty articles, I read one or two. Over time, I string those articles together in my mind to form my understanding of the state of the world.
This week I was particularly aware of this process as a depressing picture formed in my mind. On Monday morning I woke up full of Easter cheer, only to read about the bombings in Sri Lanka. As you probably know, Muslim terrorists set off a handful of bombs, including a couple in Churches during Easter services. The Muslim community in Sri Lanka has strongly condemned the attacks, but is now braced for violent reprisals.
Of course this didn’t come out of nowhere. The Easter bombings were in retaliation for the mass shooting at a mosque by a Christian in Christchurch, New Zealand. That shooting was in response to earlier acts of violence by Muslims. And so goes the cycle of violence, on and on. That was Monday.
In the Episcopal Calendar, Tuesday was Genocide Remembrance Day. It is April 24 particularly to commemorate the Armenian genocide during World War One. But a hundred years later, we have multiple genocides to lament.
This week, those were the stories that shaped my sense of our world. Those were the stories on my mind as I turned to our Gospel reading. We hear this reading every year on the Sunday after Easter. But those stories shifted my perspective on this familiar episode.
Our reading begins on the evening of the first Easter. The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, blesses them, and breathes the Holy Spirit into them. But Thomas wasn’t there.
When the others tell Thomas what has happened, he expresses skepticism. “Unless I see the mark of nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” For that skepticism, we have known him as “Doubting Thomas” ever since.
I have always interpreted Thomas’ skepticism as a kind of willful disbelief. Thomas refused simply to accept the claims of his fellow disciples. Thomas insisted on seeing Jesus for himself. Thomas required hard evidence before he would believe that Jesus really had risen.
I have always had some sympathy for Thomas. Resurrection is not an easy thing to believe. Asking for evidence seemed pretty reasonable to me.
But I now see that I have been missing the point of this story. I have approached it as an intellectual question, a head thing. A claim has made. The question for Thomas is, is the claim true? What is the right way to think about it?
But Jesus’ disciples, including Thomas, have just seen their beloved master arrested. They know that he has been tortured and brutally executed. They are struggling with grief and fear and shame. Now most of them have experienced new hope and love. Christ is alive after all.
That is not a head thing. Resurrection was not an abstraction for the disciples, something they may or may not believe depending on the evidence. Resurrection was a miracle of healing and renewal when all seemed lost.
And Thomas missed it. Thomas hasn’t experienced healing and renewal. Thomas is still stuck in grief and shame and fear, exactly where all the other disciples were before they encountered their risen Lord.
In our reading, Thomas doesn’t refuse to believe because he wants to see evidence first. Thomas cannot believe because he is a broken man. Thomas cannot see the light because he is trapped in darkness. The world as Thomas sees it has been defined by the crucifixion of his Lord and the death of all his hopes. There is no room there for resurrection.
What prevents Thomas from believing in the resurrection is not some kind of intellectual doubt. What prevents Thomas from believing in the resurrection is his own profound woundedness. What Thomas needs is not an intellectual argument. What Thomas needs is spiritual and emotional healing.
And Thomas is wise enough to recognize his own needs. Thomas doesn’t simply want to see Jesus risen from the dead. That would surely be enough if Thomas just needed to convince himself of the truth of what the other disciples have said. Thomas needs to touch Jesus’ wounds. Thomas, who is so badly wounded in his own way, needs to experience the love of Christ who has himself been wounded.
When Jesus appears to Thomas, when Jesus displays his wounds to Thomas, when Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, Jesus offers Thomas the healing he needs. And Thomas responds, appropriately, with adoration. “My Lord and my God!”
In that moment, Jesus has reshuffled Thomas’ entire world. Jesus has rewritten the story that Thomas has told himself. Thomas doesn’t forget about the crucifixion. It is still a pivotal moment in Thomas’s life and in world history. But the crucifixion is not the end of the story. The crucifixion doesn’t define the whole story. Now it is a story of resurrection.
That is, of course, Jesus’ story first and foremost. Jesus is the one who was wounded for our transgressions, who died for our sins, who rose again, defeating sin and death on our behalf.
But Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection, too. We see that in Thomas. We will rise to eternal life after death. But resurrection begins now. Thomas was, for all intents and purposes, dead, without hope, without future, without purpose. But in and through his encounter with his risen Lord, Thomas is healed of his despair, born again, born from above, given new life and hope. Thomas can now see that Christ is the Lord and God of all creation.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to Thomas next. There are many legends. But the details don’t matter. Here is what we know. Thomas was still going to face challenges. Thomas was going to struggle. Thomas was going to be wounded again. That is human life.
But hopefully Thomas always remembered that, difficult as the struggles might be, his life, human history, God’s creation as a whole, are not finally defined by suffering but by resurrection, by love, by God’s victory.
Thomas’ story is the good news that we all need to hear.
We read about the tragic cycle of violence, which never seems to stop. We remember the violent horrors of our world. We experience the more personal but still brutal challenges of our own lives. And we, like Thomas, sometimes break inside.
And we hear good news all around us. People tell us, “We have seen the Lord!” But when we are truly broken, we need more than the testimony of others. We need Jesus himself. We need to touch Jesus’ wounds. We need to know that Jesus understands. And we need the healing that only Jesus can offer.
On this second Sunday of Easter, we continue our celebration of resurrection, of Christ’s victory over sin and suffering and death. But on this Sunday we see that Jesus continues to carry the wounds of his passion even into the resurrection. And we see that Jesus’ wounds have the power to heal.
For that healing power, I give thanks. I thank God for our risen Lord and for the new life that he offers to us even now. In Christ’s name. Amen.