Updated: May 2
But these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Some of us are alone, some of us are struggling, some of us are working long hours, in ways and conditions we never expected, some of us want to just stay in bed, stay warm and in a dream like state, or where we can just read a book that takes us away from it all, because the word we keep hearing, the word that is not without foundation, alarming though it may sound, is that we are in a time of crisis.
Crisis. I invite you to pause and notice how you feel when I say the word. I’m naming it, and I know it’s difficult. But right now, we are having a variety of responses to it that I want to reassure you are completely natural. Our minds and bodies are built to respond to danger in a few very particular ways – flight, fight, or freeze. That’s nervous anxiety, where we feel trapped; it’s working really hard to tackle or deny any sense of agency, whether that’s in actual jobs where we can achieve things, or if it’s scrubbing the house to within an inch of its life; or it’s that desire to stay in bed, or to numb ourselves with non-stop escapist TV.
All of these are completely natural, and we may well flit between them too.
Crisis, somewhat appropriately, comes from the Greek word krites, and it means time of judgement. It’s that moment when all will be revealed, when the truth will out. And thus, it is what happens when we truly land smack bang at the foot of the reality of the cross.
The death of Jesus is the moment of crisis for the disciples, for the friends and followers of Jesus.
And this is why Thomas and his experience of the risen Lord can speak with real acuity to us today.
Thomas is a disciple for our time.
Thomas is the disciple who wants evidence, scientific proof that Jesus is risen. This echoes the modern, sometimes cynical, but also desperate for reassurance, voice that keenly demands – show me, prove it, explain it. It’s not only wanting to witness it themselves, but a demand to understand the nature of the things which is otherwise struggled to be understood.
But I’m not simply tying Thomas to a modern, scientific perspective. Let’s rewind a little. Thomas is one of the twelve, he’s in the inner circle. He knows Jesus intimately and has been part of the group gathered around him, pretty much from the beginning. And then after all their adventures, after all that hope and amazement, Jesus is carted off by the authorities and brutally executed, all their hopes plans and imaginings dashed to pieces and seemingly destroyed.
And yet, Jesus had been talking about this. Jesus had foreseen this. Pain and sacrifice were what he had tried to prepare them for. Of course they hadn’t really listened, had failed to understand. But now they were in trouble, and scared. Things were serious now. The authorities were onto them, and they were not merely social pariahs, but at risk of being assumed seditionists, rebels, terrorists. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God, declaring all are welcome, acceptable and of value is now a dangerous thing. Challenging the power and authority of the synagogue and the temple, questioning their right to make judgements and revealing their hypocrisy is dangerous. Causing unrest, disquiet and questioning does not sit well with the Romans. Life is dangerous now. Hopes about alleviating the suffering of Israel, which the coming of the Messiah was surely supposed to have addressed, seem to have been dashed. Where has the hope gone?
And then all his friends start saying Jesus is alive, but they’re still hiding in the upper room. What is going on? Notice how Thomas isn’t there in the room with the others, hiding. Has he gone back to work? Is he keeping himself busy with getting provisions? Is he still trying to make a difference or has he got other responsibilities that he needs to get on with? Isn’t it interesting that his coping mechanism when the chips are down is different to the others’?
What does he think of what they’re saying? If Thomas is a rationalist, a materialist (in the sense of holding to the solidity and physicality of the world, not that of being interested in money), then he’s the type who is a realist. He’s not a dreamer or spiritual or airy-fairy.
What I’m seeing is that it’s not that Thomas is unfaithful. He’s just the type who likes facts and figures, solid info he can get his head around. He’s a doer. And that doesn’t make him better than those who stayed in the room, any more than how in our situation it’s just as good that some are out there working and volunteering, whilst others necessarily stay indoors, need to isolate, or need just some time out and away from the strain of it all.
But what I do want to say is that when he asks to see those marks, those scars, those wounds, he’s onto something really important. He’s right. And he’s more right than he realises about just how important it is that the risen Jesus still has his wounds.
For Thomas, most likely, he’s checking out that the others aren’t having some kind of mass daydream, hallucination or fantasy. Some kind of ethereal, floaty Jesus vision that hovers at a distance placating and pretending everything’s alright. Thomas knows everything isn’t alright. Thomas knows that Jesus was crucified as a criminal and a politically dangerous revolutionary, as a warning and example to the people, to keep them in their place.
Thomas doesn’t want his friends escaping off into some kind of fantasy land which might just get them into more trouble and doesn’t deal with the real pain and danger of being people who understand the nature of reality, of humanity, to be different to that which the powers that be have and the social system that creates and which they want to maintain.
But I want to go further in how critically important it is that Thomas is right in wanting to know that the risen Christ still has his wounds. For a dreamy, perfect, untainted Christ denies the reality of suffering. A spiritual vision of a perfect lovely Christ, pretends Jesus did not go through pain and death as a result of how the powers that be responded to his unequivocal, authoritative teaching that all humanity are equal and equally beloved of God. Unmarred, we risk losing how having spoken the truth to power, power tried to shut Jesus down.
And even more so, without wounds, we escape the all too familiar, yet difficult reality that sin and death are real and there are worldly consequences. As people today are suffering, and dying, isolated and hurting, a sweet and benign, or perfect and ethereal Christ does not meet us where we need him. Does not deal or face the reality of the pain and injustice and mess of suffering, death, evil and sin. We need to know that Christ has been through it all and then come out the other side. That the cross means something. Resurrection and crucifixion need each other. Either alone ignores the reality of earthly life, but also the reality of our truly loving God. In those healed wounds, we see that pain and death was dealt with and has been healed, but healing does not involve cover up or denial or ignoring. In those healed wounds, we see and know that God in Christ has dealt with it all.
And this gives us the power and strength to live with our faith in these dark and uncertain times. Christ’s solidarity with suffering, and living through and redeeming, healing, transforming sin and death, is the gospel we need to hear, share and proclaim.
And you know what – Jesus sees what Thomas needs, and knows how important those questions are. Jesus doesn’t blame him. He offers to let Thomas touch his wounds, feel those scars. But Thomas on just seeing then knows, recognises and is transformed in that he realises what it all means. For he is the first disciple on meeting the risen Jesus who not just recognises him as his Lord, his Master, or his Teacher, those former relationships, but he proclaims the even greater truth – that Jesus is also his God.
And then returning to the opening comments that this is all written that you might believe – these deep truths having been relieved, Jesus then says to us, and John shares that blessing with us, and says ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’.
That’s addressed to you and me. That blessing reaches out beyond the pages in which those words are recorded, and is offered to all the world.
Knowing what the cross has achieved, knowing that the resurrection happened, knowing that in this we see God in action. Jesus leaves us not just with this good news, but with his peace and his Spirit. We are left with shalom, the peace of God which passes all understanding, and the Spirit, which is of truth and love and peace. We are left with both our hearts and minds given ease.
As we sit in our homes listening to these words, whether it is in a momentary pause, for those busy serving the community, or in the quiet of isolation, quiet restraint that protects self but also so many others, may we know that peace, receive his Spirit, and believe that by his wounds, we are healed.