by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
What if I told you I was abducted by aliens? Would you believe it? What would convince you – corroborating reports? video tape of the event? multiple witnesses that prove my story?
As we continue with our season of Easter (a season that lasts until Pentecost on June 9), we continue to ask the question – what does EASTER mean to us? How does it make a difference in our lives, today?
So we begin at the tomb, once again, with the witnesses to the resurrection. Last week, our Easter text from the book of Luke, talked about three women discovering the empty tomb. Do we remember who they were?
Mary Magdalene, Joanna (the wife of Chuza who was the steward to King Herod) and Mary, mother of James.
In our scripture text today, which is the parallel text from the book of John, the first witnesses are down to just one: Mary Magdalene.
But what is a witness if their story is not believed? How do we understand the event of the resurrection, if those first disciples didn’t understand it? If the events were happening today, would we believe? would we treat those first witnesses with skepticism, blind belief or would we ask for more evidence? If the events were to happen today, I think our investigation would look a little like this… go to the tape.
So, let’s get into the text and examine the actions of Thomas… who in my opinion is more like us than the others. Our text from the 20th chapter of John’s gospel contains the second and third appearances of the risen Jesus. The first was to Mary Magdalene in the garden, which is part of the Easter Gospel from John. These three appearances take place in Jerusalem. (1)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
He appears to the women, but the disciples don’t believe.
So he appears to the disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there, and he does not beleive.
So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said 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.’And so forever he is known by the name “Doubting Thomas”….
* Like the young actor in our video, Thomas was skeptical about the story. But although many translations include “doubt” in v. 27 — and thus lead to the phrase “Doubting Thomas”, there is no Greek word for “doubt” in the verse! Instead the Greek word used is “apistos” meaning without trust or without certainty. Thomas wasn’t certain, he had questions, and yes, he even had doubts. (2)
* But why is the opposite of “Faith”, doubt? Doubting, questioning, healthy skepticism, is part of who we are. As rational, reasonable – meaning “able to reason” – people, we are gifted with a healthy amount of questioning, with the ability to listen to all sides of a story and judge which is most likely.
As the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, explained: we are gifted by God with the ability to think, to question, to ponder and God wants us to use our reason to understand God, God’s people and the world God created. One of the characters of a Methodist, Wesley explained, is that “ We think and let think.” (3) We don’t need to agree, but we are charged to use our ability to reason in our faith journeys.
So maybe we should rename “Doubting Thomas,” with it’s negative connotation. What should we rename him? Reasonable Thomas? Skeptical Thomas? Thomas the realist?
Whatever we rename Thomas, he was a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and devoted his life to spreading the story of Jesus and growing the church.
You see, after this event, and after the days spent in the company of the risen Lord, Thomas sailed away …. Thomas is traditionally believed to have sailed to India in AD 50 to spread the Christian faith, and is believed to have landed at the port of Muziris, (in modern-day Kerala state) where there was a Jewish community at the time. (4)
An early 3rd-century Syriac work known as the Acts of Thomas connects the apostle’s Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said,
“Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” (5)
What do we believe? Are we still waiting for proof? To touch the puncture wounds to know it is real? Are we able to follow Jesus, and work forJesus, and serve Jesus while we still have questions and uncertainty?
“Fear not, Thomas. Go Away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” God is sending us into the world – not all of us to India – but into our neighborhoods, our places of work and school, our communities and connections and promising to come alongside us.
May we trust that God will not desert us as we enter our own places of mission. May we trust that Jesus Christ – although he is gone from our view – he is not gone from our lives. May we trust that, as disciples in this world, we are not alone, we are not forgotten, and may we be faithful disciples in a world of uncertainly. Amen.
- Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x19e2.htm
- “The Character of A Methodist” by John Wesley, found on https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N20188.0001.001/1:3?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
- Found on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Apostle