`Doubtless Thomas`

I suppose it`s fair to say that it was the Romans who did the deed.  But it was the people of God who really crucified Christ. All of which explains why the resurrection stories have an air of reconciliation about them; we might even say re-purposing or re-tooling. Yes, there is a `sending`; a mission to the wider world but first and foremost the Lord comes to his fearful people to put them on track. This of course, is why the gathering in the Upper Room is so evocative. Because we know that the Lord also comes to us in our place of fear, isolation and confusion; the place where we brood and fester. And he comes with his word of peace.

The more obvious and shall we say `individual` examples of this are the Lord`s encounter with Peter; who had denied him three times. Last week we heard about Mary Magdalen; who wanted to cling on to how things had been with Christ in the past. Today we hear about Thomas. The Lord comes to this man we have labelled `doubting Thomas`.

Now, we don`t know why he was absent when the Lord initially came to the disciples (perhaps his family were visiting him for the Easter break?!) but we might easily imagine that he was one of those who needed to grieve alone. However, dropping out and isolating yourself can often lead to all manner of illusions can`t it? We sometimes us that phrase, “You need to get out more” don`t we?

Now, Thomas has become something of a poster-boy for a lot of people hasn`t he? Time and again I hear people say “I`m a bit of a `doubting Thomas`, Vicar”. However, whilst I have a lot of sympathy with those who have honest questions; I am rarely convinced. because candidly, in my experience, whenever I answer one of their questions there is always another; and then another and so on. When you offer them an opportunity to really explore what they are struggling with; somehow, they never have the time. What I mean is that, all too often, `I`m a doubting Thomas` simply becomes a badge that they wear or even a shield to prevent God getting too close.

To put it another way, these `doubting Thomases` simply want God on their terms. That of course, was Thomas`s problem. Notice how he tells the other disciples “Unless I see….” He is setting the terms. And here is the root cause of the crucifixion. It was religious people trying to dictate terms with God. The God who showed up in Jesus of Nazareth simply didn`t fit the bill. But this is when the Lord brings about a change in Thomas. It`s there in the wounds. It`s so ironic that Thomas demanded to see the wounds of Jesus. Yes, he wanted physical proof but the Lord insists that Thomas takes an extremely close look, doesn`t he?

The point is that the wounds are much more than boxes you tick in some dispute about whether it all really happened. No, the wounds are the marks of love. They are a sign of what has been done on the cross for you and I. What Thomas and other `doubting Thomases` ever since, struggle to acknowledge is that it`s always safer to keep Jesus as a matter of debate or as a problem to be solved. Because if you have to look into the wounds then God becomes personal. When I look into the wounds, I can`t fail to see the fruit of my own rejection of the God who wouldn`t dance to my tune.

But Jesus comes to Thomas and to the other frightened and bewildered disciples; not with a spirit of vengeance or anger. He comes with words of peace and forgiveness… he comes and bids us look into the wounds; not that we should be guilt-ridden but more deeply aware of what he has borne for us. You see, when Jesus comes, he comes as our Saviour and this is what the average `doubting Thomas` is actually running from. They would much rather have a Jesus who is a sort of Guru. They want someone who will support and affirm their spiritual quest. Unfortunately, it doesn`t work like that. As someone said, `we don’t grasp at the divine life or control it; we receive it”.

The story goes that the Devil once appeared to St. Teresa of Avila. He came disguised as the Risen Jesus. “Away with you!” she said. “You are not my Lord”. How can you tell?” asked the Devil. “Because you have no wounds”, she replied. I suppose you might say that we don’t get Christianity without a Cross. We don’t get Easter without Good Friday- though some try. We don`t get Jesus on our terms- but on his. We recognise him by his wounds.

I once knew an old man who really understood this. Sunday by Sunday, I would see him at the Communion Rail. I would hand a piece of bread to him with the words, “the Body of Christ”. He would always reply, “was broken for me.” Or as Thomas says. “My Lord and my God”.

Amen to that.