What does it take to believe something is real?
We all have our own litmus test – what we need to experience to prove something to us.
For example, I am a spring skeptic. Summer has to pretty much be here in full before I believe spring has really come.
You see, winter releases its grasp slowly in northeast Indiana, where I grew up. The coming of spring is an epic battle between the raw wintry days and the warmer spring breezes.
The early blooming crocus, the green sprouts of daffodils and tulips hint at the end of winter. For some people, that is enough – the fragile green poking up out of the ground is all the sign of spring they need.
Same for the grass getting greener. Grass is a fickle sign – a tiny bit of warm weather in January and it greens right up just in time for the next Artic Clipper to dump snow on it.
So warm sunny days in March or early April don’t fool me – I know that there could be snow just a few days later. I don’t really believe that spring is here – truly here – until I see the evidence in the trees. Not the budding of the trees, but the soft green fringe of tiny new leaves. Only then do I relax and put away the winter coats and boots.
This year, even the budding trees don’t convince me that spring has banished winter. I’m still holding my breath, waiting for winter to rage back in with an elaborate April Fool’s joke – I’m sure we still have to pay for all these beautiful warm days we’ve had the past few weeks by enduring another snow storm.
As I said, I am a spring skeptic.
So I can empathize with Thomas. He’s been dubbed “doubting Thomas,” somewhat unfairly,
I think. Thomas’ story is not about doubt. Thomas’ story is about believing or not believing.
It’s about what it takes to know what is real.
Thomas needed proof. After all, Jesus was dead and buried. They all knew it, had seen it. And dead people stayed dead. Well, there was that thing with Lazarus, but Jesus did that. And Jesus was dead now. Who else among them had the power to raise the dead – no one that’s who!
The news Easter morning seemed too good to be true – Jesus raised from the dead! Jesus talking to Mary in the garden – who could believe it!
Then Easter evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples in the room which they gathered.
He just appeared in the room, even though the door was locked.
Jesus stood right there in the middle of the room and talked to them. Jesus came to them and stretched out his hands and revealed the wound in his side.
Jesus gave those disciples huddled in that room exactly what they needed to know that the spring of resurrection is really here.
Now they all believed.
Everyone, that is, but Thomas.
He was not there when Jesus appeared.
And despite the excited reports and the joy of the other disciples, he was unconvinced.
He needed proof - he needed to see for himself. And so we say he doubted.
Really though, Thomas was not different from any of the other disciples – they all had to experience the reality of the resurrection personally in a way that proved to them that this was real – that resurrection was happening here and now:
- For John, it was the empty tomb,
- For Mary, it was meeting Jesus in the garden.
- For Peter and the others, it was Jesus’ presence in the upper room.
- For the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, it was the breaking of the bread.
They all believed once they encountered the risen Christ.
Thomas wanted that encounter with the risen Christ – just the same as the other disciples had. He needed that experience, to see Jesus, to feel his wounded hands and touch his wounded side to prove to him that resurrection was happening here and now.
Jesus doesn’t leave Thomas hanging. Jesus doesn’t leave Thomas in his unbelief. Jesus comes to Thomas.
Jesus shows up, invites Thomas to gather the evidence he said he needed, invites Thomas to touch him.
And Thomas discovered that he didn’t really need that much proof. Just the encounter with the resurrected Jesus was enough for Thomas to exclaim, “My Lord and My God!” – The strongest affirmation of who Jesus is in the entire gospel of John.
You know, none of us is really all that different from Thomas. We all have those moments where it’s hard to believe, where our faith is stretched thin. We have those times in our lives where our hopes hang on a cross and we huddle in fear in a locked room. Those times when words of resurrection ring hollow in our ears and we need to touch the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and stick our hands in his side in order to remember what is real and true.
Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging. Jesus doesn’t leave us in our unbelief. Jesus comes to us.
Jesus shows up, invites us to gather the evidence we needed, shows us the wounds he bore for us and invites us to touch him.
Jesus shows up in the waters of baptism, washing away our sin in his blood.
Jesus comes to us in the bread and the wine, his body and blood nourishing us, strengthening us and keeping us in his grace.
Jesus is the Word spoken and the word proclaimed that meets us in the space between faith and unfaith and transforms our hearts.
Jesus comes to us and loves us and we cry out, “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus is present where two or three of us gather to share our life together – to comfort each other, share each other’s joys, to pray together, to share a meal, to enjoy each other’s company.
Jesus stands right there in the middle of the gathered community of believers and speaks peace to us, breaths the Holy Spirit into us and sends us out - sends us out as his hands and feet to be the presence of the risen Christ in the world.