(Hendrick Terbrugghen, Doubting Thomas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1604)
"My Lord and My God"
Sunday Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040316.cfm
I’ve often wondered if the Apostles themselves were amazed by what happened at the “many signs and wonders” that were worked by invoking the name of Jesus. Even more, I would imagine that Peter himself was astounded by the fact that “at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them” to be cured. We hear of such wonders in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, primarily Peter and Paul, this Divine Mercy Sunday. It would be logical to assume that human amazement was not trumped by God’s miraculous work. Truly his mercy was abundant in the early days of Christianity. But, it remains so today as well.
Our present day community of believers is indeed generous and kind, faith-filled and committed, compassionate and welcoming. We do feed the hungry and care for those who are sick. We do educate and form Christian consciences. We do worship the Lord as one and show reverence for our sacramental and prayer life. Yet, we do all of this as fragile, doubting, liberal, conservative, traditional, young, old, middle aged, rich, poor, middle class, highly educated, professional and average. As extroverts, introverts, as teachers, musicians, health care workers, counselors, therapists, “blue collar” and “white collar” workers or a combination of both, as male, female, black, white, brown, yellow, thus bringing both “Jew and Gentile” together. You get the point. Somehow, though, it all really does work and when you really think about it, it is astounding that it works so well despite all of our limitations. There is a divine force at work.
Still, we should not be surprised by normal divisions and differences yet gently challenge and heal the factions or potential “smoke of Satan” when we see it. If that is so, what does keep us united as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic - our faith in the risen Lord Jesus? Is only believing enough? Should we expect that the shadow of a holy person will heal? The resurrection stories are not scientific analysis or an explanation of how there may be extraordinary exceptions to the measurable laws of nature.
Our Gospel story (Jn 20: 19-31)heard every year on this 2nd Sunday after Easter, is a powerful reminder that faith which demands proof as it did in the case of Thomas the absent Apostle, must go beyond merely what our hands have touched. Jesus’ mercy is extended to his Apostles, hidden in fear for good reason, as he suddenly appears to them in his risen form. He says, “Peace be with you (Shalom).” He breathes on them and says “receive the Holy Spirit.” He entrusts them with the power to forgive sin in his name. This is not a Jesus resentful of their abandonment or Peter’s three time denial but the Lord who brings new life. This is mercy as only God can extend.
Yet, the absence of Thomas begs the question of the early Church, the early Christian communities no matter how peaceful they may have at first (more likely on occasion) may have been, and the ultimate question of our Easter season and our culture of technology and science today: How is it possible to believe in the risen Lord if you have not seen him? The story is simply too unnatural (dead do not come back to life) and delusional at its worst. Yet, their hope in promise kept it alive.
What did the Apostles discuss on the day after Jesus’ death? I would imagine, after the initial shock wore off, that a variety of opinions were expressed on what to do now, on who Jesus claimed he was, on the meaning of his promised resurrection, and certainly how they felt about each other: e.g. Peter and Judas in particular as the betrayers among them. But we do know they were somewhat paralyzed by fear and confusion. They were hidden away.
In the midst of this muddle Jesus returns because their future as foundational witnesses MUST be based in the tangible encounter with the risen Lord. So, Thomas’ legendary doubt was totally understandable and excusable. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands . . . I will not believe.” Can you hear Thomas saying in essence, “I really want to believe this but how can I unless I see as you did?”
Once again, Jesus returns and shows Thomas what he needs, the wounds of his suffering and passion. In a beautiful moment of recognition, while Thomas thought he needed to see it all, simply the Lord’s appearance before him moves Thomas to proclaim the truth of our faith: “My Lord and my God.”
Did Thomas actually touch Jesus wounds in his hands and side? We assume he did but the Gospel does not indicate that. Jesus invited him to do so but did he? I personally feel he was so overwhelmed he may not have because seeing Jesus became enough proof. Either way, Thomas could not deny who he saw and heard now before him. And that brings us to today.
The occasion is a lesson in the true meaning of faith – how the early Christians and consequently all of us since have come to believe. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” Jesus states. That is faith. So we are either crazy, delusional fools, seduced by twenty centuries of history and tradition, living on unfounded and meaningless hope or we are followers of Jesus the risen Lord who comes to us in his Word and Sacrament every day and in particular every time we gather with our perfect and less than perfect brothers and sisters to say, “I believe in one God . . .”
We see him in the faith of each other, we touch him through generous compassion, we hear him in sacraments of healing and merciful forgiveness, we taste him in the Holy Eucharist, we are made one with him in vocations of selfless love and service, we sense him in prayer and worship.
What more proof do we need?