As we just heard, Thomas refuses to believe the other apostles when they tell him that Jesus is risen. Thomas insists that he will only believe the evidence of his own eyes. Thomas will not believe in Christ’s resurrection unless he can actually touch Jesus’ wounds.
Some criticize Thomas for this initial lack of faith, but that is not my inclination. I suspect that most of us have struggled with doubt at one point or another. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
Thomas’ doubt leads him to investigate. Thomas thinks for himself. Thomas wants to see evidence before he commits himself.
All that is good. God gives us brains for a reason. Our world would be a better place if people inclined to religious or political extremism spent more time in critical reflection and less time spewing hatred, intolerance, and violence.
So as I say, I am not inclined to criticize Thomas for doubting. In so far as doubt pushes us to think for ourselves, to reflect on what we believe, to seek truth wherever we might find it, doubt is a good thing.
But even if doubt has a useful function, doubt is not the goal. Doubt is not an end in itself. If Thomas never came to faith, his would be a sad story.
Thankfully Thomas does move from doubt to faith. And how he moves from doubt to faith is the lesson of our gospel reading. It is an important lesson for our skeptical age.
Our gospel reading shows us different ways we might come to faith.
People often believe based on the testimony of others. Most of us first learn to believe the things we believe about God and about Jesus Christ because someone we trust tells us about them.
But the testimony of others was not good enough for Thomas. Thomas was not willing simply to accept what the other disciples said.
A second way to come to faith is by reading Scripture.
At the end of our passage, John says that Jesus did lots of things that are not included in the Gospel. But the Gospel is full of stories about Jesus’ signs. And “these [signs] are written so that [we] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” They are written to lead us to faith.
Sometimes Scripture is enough. On the road to Emmaus, the resurrected Jesus meets two disciples. Jesus explains the law and the prophets to them. And as Jesus and the men discuss the Bible, the men’s hearts burn within them (Luke 24:13-35). That is a beautiful story about Scripture speaking directly to our hearts, inspiring us, leading us into faith.
But Thomas was not there on the road to Emmaus, and Scripture did not lead him to faith. Thomas refuses to believe unless he can see Christ for himself. What Thomas needed, what I suspect most people need for truly mature faith, is a personal encounter with God.
And the good news of our passage is that Christ gave Thomas what he needed. The good news of our passage is that Christ meets us wherever we are. Christ meets us on our bad days as well as our good days. Christ comes to us with what we need to help us get on track, or to get back on track.
What Thomas particularly wanted was to touch Jesus’ wounds, and Jesus gave him that opportunity.
We cannot touch the wounds of the crucified and risen Lord in exactly the same way that Thomas could. But touching wounds is a good way to think about the encounters that we can have with Jesus.
Many of us encounter the risen Lord in the reverse of Thomas’ experience. We do not touch Christ’s wounds. But Jesus touches us in our wounded places. Jesus grants us healing or comfort or peace.
In those moments, if we pause to savor them, we know that we are in the presence of our resurrected Lord. And, like Thomas, we can say, “My Lord and my God!”
This morning, before you come to the altar for communion, take a moment to think about your wounds. We all need to heal. We all need to forgive. We all need help with whatever is burdening us. Before you come to the altar, name those parts of your life, those parts of your soul, that need Christ’s healing touch.
When you get to the altar, offer your wounds to God and pray that Christ grants you healing. As you take communion, feel yourself being nourished by the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.
After communion, I will anoint you, and I will say, “Remember that God’s love is stronger even than death, and to God’s love you are returning.”
Let those words soak in. Know that Christ touches your wounds. Know that Christ embraces you in love. Know that Christ invites you into an ever deepening relationship with him. Know that Christ summons you to an ever growing faith, so that you, too, can adore Christ and can say, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
By the time Thomas can call Jesus Lord and God, he has clearly moved from doubt to resurrection faith. But Thomas’ growth in faith did not stop after his first encounter with the risen Lord.
Thomas was called to be an apostle. The word “apostle” means sent. In our gospel reading for this morning, the apostles are literally being sent out by Jesus.
Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus says to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In all this, the resurrected Lord is commissioning and equipping the apostles to do the work they are called to do.
That is true for us as well. We are not apostles. But we are called by God. We are sent by God. We are sent by God into the world to do the work that God gives us to do. The specifics differ for each of us, of course. But in one way or another, we can all share the good news of God in Christ. We can all share Christ’s healing love with a wounded world. We can all join in Christ’s mission to change the world from the nightmare that it sometimes is into the dream that God has for it.
And as we do that work in whatever form it takes, we are following Thomas’ example by touching Christ’s wounds.
Jesus says, whatever we do for hurting people, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40). When we help others in the name of Christ, when we touch their wounds, we are, in a really important way, touching Christ’s wounds too.
And that is the journey of faith. That is the way from doubt into faith. We are touched by Christ. We touch others in Christ’s name.
Christ’s love flows into us and through us and between us and out from us into the world. And as Christ’s love flows, we move deeper into resurrection faith. We move deeper into the grace and love of God. And we too say to Christ, “My Lord and my God!”
Thanks be to God for the invitation to resurrection faith. Alleluia, alleluia! Amen.