Today we continue in our Easter celebration and as we will throughout this season, we hear the stories of Jesus’ followers who were witnesses to his resurrection. We read this particular Gospel each year on the second Sunday of Easter, perhaps you remember it because of that. In part, this story has an important place in the resurrection stories because it speaks directly to us, the current disciples of Christ. Thomas’ story of how he came to belief in the resurrected Christ belongs to the generations of believers who came after those original witnesses.
The story begins. Jesus has come to stand with the frightened disciples shut into a room and locked away from those who might harm them. He calms them by speaking to them; then he shows them his hands and his side and reminds them of their purpose. They are to go out into the world to take his message of love and forgiveness to all. They will be his voice, his hands, his feet.
Later, Thomas, who was not with the others, did not believe what they told him, that they had seen the resurrected Lord. He said to them, “Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” These are strong words from one who was a practical man.
Now Jesus was then and still is a good teacher. We have numerous examples of his teaching. He used parables; he talked about God directly; he demonstrated his message in ways that formed a lasting picture of what he wanted to convey; he gave short assignments and discussed the results.
His teaching methods were varied, sometimes simple and sometimes complex, always involving his disciples in the learning process. When faced with Thomas’ doubts in this morning’s gospel Jesus did not give up on him and think that Thomas just did not get it. Rather Jesus patiently gave the lesson to Thomas in a personal way.
Jesus came a second time to that same room with the gathered disciples, only this time Thomas was present. Jesus then offers Thomas exactly what he said he needed in order to believe. Of course, Thomas did not need the physical proof he thought he needed. It was enough that he saw Jesus and heard his voice. His response was immediate: “My Lord and my God”.
Jesus knew what Thomas needed in order to believe in him and he offered it to him.
In thinking about Thomas this morning, I wonder, “How did you and I come to believe that Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord?” How were we able to say “My Lord and my God” with Thomas?
What has the teacher, Jesus, provided to you, for you to come to belief?
Each person’s answer is different. It is personal.
I once knew someone who had worked it out mathematically why there was a God. It made perfect sense to her, all the formulas pointing to the existence of God. Now, I must admit when I see pictures of fractals and the beauty of them, I know that this is not a random event. But in this case, I had trouble following the logic. Yet, these formulas worked for her. I am sure that the good teacher, Jesus, knew that for her it was the way to belief. Perhaps some of you here this morning may have come to belief through mathematics or some other scientific knowledge.
Others I have known came to belief by asking philosophical questions of another person they admired and then listened intently to that person’s explanation why it is that they believe.
For many, it is a process coming to belief; it takes time. And there are others, more like Thomas, who knew the exact moment that they believed, at 9:13 on May the first, they will say. Some may have heard Jesus speak to them in a moment of crisis perhaps with that same word, peace, that Jesus gave to his original disciples.
How have you come to believe? I am sure that you had teachers and mentors along the way for you to be here this morning.
In the words of a favorite collect, maybe you were one who lived and moved and had your being surrounded by God from earliest life. This was my experience. I was rocked to sleep by a loving grandmother who sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” in her deep alto voice. I learned Bible stories from my babysitter each day. Of course, she taught all the usual ones, but she left nothing of the scary ones out either: Shadrach, Meschak, and Abendigo the three young believers locked up in the fire and Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac. She made me love all the thrilling stories of God’s presence in all times and all experiences we may face. Without question I went to church every Sunday. My grandfather sat next to me often with his arms around me and fed me wintergreen lifesavers to keep me quiet. I knew church to be a place of being loved. In the summers I would go to Bible school for weeks at a time, moving from one denomination to another. I was one who lived and moved and had my being surrounded by God. And for this I am very grateful. This was my beginning and my foundation. I can honestly say I do not remember a time when I was not a believer.
I look forward to hearing your story!
Of course, like all long-term relationships there are times that our belief will be stronger, without a doubt, and then there will be lower times of questioning, concerns, and longings. We are human beings, after all.
Thomas had traveled with Jesus. He had learned from him and believed in him. But then the crucifixion happened, and he was at the lowest of low. Thomas’ story in this morning’s gospel is a story of longing, not of doubt. What he had been told by others, Thomas wanted to experience for himself. Thomas thought he needed concrete proof of the risen Lord but then the appearance of Jesus transformed him completely. He no longer needed to touch the wounds when in the presence of Christ. While before his idea of faith and belief was an intellectual agreement of observable facts, in a moment, it became a personal trust in a living God.
What Thomas had been told by others he wanted to experience himself. What we have been told by others about Christ we eventually want to know for ourselves. When we have questions and concerns it is a sign of our desire to go beyond secondhand knowledge of Christ to come to know Jesus himself. We, too, want to touch and be touched by Him, perhaps to hear his voice, or perhaps to see his hand in what is happening in our lives. Like Thomas there is a time for our acceptance of what we have been told.
Being a believer is not a matter of accepting data. None of us believe simply because we have been given the right set of facts. Being a believer is a mature act of faith, a gift offered by Jesus himself.
Jesus is a master teacher. He will use a variety of ways and experiences to bring to us into his life. He reaches out to each one of us. He invites us to real life and then it is our decision to join with those over the past two thousand years and accept what he offers.
How have you come to believe? Today on this second Sunday of Easter give thanks for your own journey and give thanks for those who have witnessed Christ’s love to you. For this Easter gospel is ours.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”