Saturday, April 6, 2013

Second Sunday in Easter: Doubting(?) Thomas

Readings for this Sunday:  Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

It’s funny how a label sticks with you.  How one moment in your life can define who you are.

Take Thomas for example.

Doubting Thomas.

That one moment with the disciples becomes a moment that defines him, not just for his lifetime, but throughout the centuries.  And it’s kind of unfair – really, if you think about it, none of the disciples believed right away.  They all doubted.  Like I said last week, resurrection is a hard thing to believe – it takes some time to wrap your head around what the empty tomb means, what Easter is all about. 

They’ve all heard the stories – the women’s tale about the angels at the empty tomb saying “He is risen.” {He is risen indeed.}  Peter and John going to see for themselves and finding only the grave clothes.  Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the garden.   

All the disciples have heard (and a few have seen) that Jesus is risen {He is risen indeed.}, but it isn’t until that moment in the upper room, when Jesus appears to them, when they see with their own eyes, that they believe.

That’s all Thomas wants – what the other disciples got.  They all doubted, but Thomas gets stuck with the label.  Really - it’s unfair.  If you think about it, we don’t’ label any of the other disciples by what they do.  I mean, we don’t call Peter “Denying Peter.”  Or how about Nathanael – when Phillip tells him about Jesus, he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth,” and it’s only when Jesus meets him face to face, that Nathanael decides to follow – and yet, we don’t call him “Cynical Nathanael.”  We don’t call James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “Greedy James” or “Grasping John” - and they spent time trying to figure out who was the greatest of the disciples and had the audacity to ask Jesus if they could sit at his right and left hand.

But there’s “Doubting Thomas.”  That one moment defines him. 

He could just as easily have been “Faithful Thomas.” Back when Jesus gets the news that Lazarus is sick, and he decides to go to Bethany despite the very real danger, the disciples tried to talk him out of it. “It’s too dangerous,” they say, “the Pharisees and the chief priests want to kill you and Bethany’s just too close to Jerusalem.”

Once they realize that Jesus is not going to be talked out of this trip, it’s Thomas who says “Okay then.  If you’re going, Jesus, then I’m going too. It may be the death of me, we may all die, but I’m going.”  It’s a risk. Thomas is really to take a risk for Jesus.  Maybe we should call him, “Risk-taker Thomas.”

Or think about the last meal the disciples shared with Jesus.  After dinner, Jesus tells them he’s going to go away and prepare a place for them, and come back for them, and that they know the way to this place. Thomas asks, “Lord, how do we know the way?” And Jesus says, “I am the way.”   It’s Philip, not Thomas, who asks for more, he asks for proof, “Show us the Father.”  For Thomas, Jesus says he’s the way and that’s good enough for him. Maybe we should call him “Trusting Thomas”

By the way, why was Thomas missing in the first place? Was he the one who was selected to go out and get food?  Maybe he was the only one that would go -  maybe everybody else said “Hey, not me! I’m not going out there!”  After all, they were locked in the upper room out of fear of that chief priests and leaders.  What happened to Jesus might happen to them.  Was it “Courageous Thomas” who was the only one who would go and get provisions for the others?

We don’t know. Does Thomas go out and check to see if it’s safe? Does Thomas go out to pray for them in the temple? Does Thomas go out to continue Jesus’ work?  We don’t know. Maybe he really should be called “Serving Thomas.”

The label that sticks with him is “Doubting Thomas.”

You know, he has another label too.  Thomas is also called “the twin.” Who is he a twin to? We don’t know. John never says.  But some people think that John wrote this story about the disciples and Thomas the way John did, because Thomas stands in for all the disciples who sometimes doubted and sometimes trusted, who sometimes were fearless and sometimes huddled in fear, who were sometimes questioning and sometimes just believed Jesus without question.

Thomas is our twin. Thomas stands in for us, inviting us into the story, into that encounter with Jesus.  We all have our own doubts and fears, and moments of faithfulness and moments we can proclaim the gospel and radiate Jesus in our lives, and moments where we’re serving others and loving the neighbor,  and moments where we’re huddling in fear that upper room.

Jesus comes to those fearful disciples huddled that upper room, he says “Peace…peace be with you.”  And he calms their fears, and he restores their hope, and he forgives their failures, and he loves them.   

And he breathes on them, breathing the Holy Spirit in them, a new breath of life for a new creation.

And then he sends them, Thomas included, to continue his work, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, to proclaim peace, proclaim God’s forgiveness and mercy and love.

Just like Jesus comes to us, and breathes on us, and brings us peace and restores us. Yes, we have those moments where we’re huddled in fear, we have those moments of doubt, but we also have those moments when we encounter Jesus:
·         in worship where we hear the Word proclaimed in scripture and song and prayer;
·         at the table where we meet Jesus in the bread and the wine;
·         in each other as we share one another’s burdens, and love one another as Jesus loves us.

We encounter Jesus in the one moment that really does define us forever – in the waters of baptism, where we are given a new name – beloved, child of God.  A label that says that all other labels the world may give have no meaning.

We’re going to see this defining moment in a little bit when little K comes up and we welcome her to the family God, and we call her by that new name we all share: “child of God.” And we’ll remember again that we too are called “child of God.”

It’s funny how a label sticks with you.  How one moment in your life can define who you are.