How long ago does Easter Day seem to you this morning? Of course in reality it’s only a week, seven days, ago.
Perhaps you’ve been on holiday and time seems to have flown by. For others time may have been dragging and a week has seemed an awful lot longer.
I wonder how long a week seemed to Thomas.
Because last Sunday evening Jesus appeared to all the disciples except Thomas and it wasn’t until a week later, or this evening, that Thomas himself saw Jesus and believed that he had risen from the dead.
I would imagine it seemed like a lifetime especially as, at the time, he didn’t know that Jesus would appear to him.
I’d like this morning to think some more about Thomas’s story and the impact the events of that week had on him and then see what we can learn from his experience.
At first Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted.
The Gospels have differing accounts of that first Easter Morning but they all seem to agree that it was the women who first brought the news that Jesus had risen from the dead – his body was not in the tomb.
Luke tells us that the apostles dismissed their story as “an idle tale”, and they did not believe them. Perhaps they spent the day speculating about what the women had said – wanting to believe yet needing further proof.
I wonder where Thomas went in the evening.
Perhaps he just couldn’t stand being stuck inside with all the others and needed to go out for some air and some time on his own to think.
Whatever happened when he joined the others again he found them in a state of great excitement and joy bursting with the news that they had seen Jesus – they knew now that he had risen from the dead.
Poor Thomas. You have to feel sorry for him.
He and the others had been through so much over the last week which ended in Jesus being crucified. They were all devastated and ashamed of the way they had deserted Jesus at the end.
Perhaps Thomas, when he could sleep, dreamt that none of it had happened and they were all back, with Jesus, in the safety and peace of Galilee. When he woke up it was to return to a nightmare of day time with those awful memories again.
It was just too much for him to believe that Jesus was alive again – he couldn’t bear to risk his hopes being dashed once more. And it must have been so hard for him missing seeing Jesus.
“Surely” Thomas thought “Jesus knew that more than anything else I wanted to believe he had risen? Why hasn’t he given me the same proof he gave the others?”
So Thomas spent a week agonising. He could see the impact that evening had had on the others – they were changed people. But he just couldn’t believe and he was honest about how he felt. He didn’t pretend to a faith he didn’t have. He struggled between doubt and belief until he felt he was being torn apart. He prayed for the proof of being able to touch Jesus and his wounds so that he could finally believe.
Maybe the others started calling him “the Doubter” during that week and kept trying to convince him by their words but, no, Thomas had to know for himself.
Then, a week later, or this evening, they were all together again in the same place. Maybe they were hoping Jesus might return.
Somehow Jesus was suddenly among them and when I imagine this scene I think that for a brief moment Thomas was the only one who could see Jesus. Their eyes met and stayed on each other as Jesus gave his usual greeting, “Peace be with you”. I imagine that Jesus looked at Thomas with such love, forgiveness and acceptance that Thomas’s defences crumbled releasing all the love and faith that he’d been holding back. Jesus even invited Thomas to touch his hands and his side but Thomas no longer needed that sort of proof, he had seen all he needed to see and he believed.
I imagine then that Jesus took Thomas to one side for a private word. I think that maybe he gave Thomas a special commission that only Thomas could carry out. Perhaps Jesus sent Thomas to be a special messenger and witness to all those then living and still to come, for whom believing that Jesus really has risen from the dead is just too big a step of faith to make.
Through Thomas Jesus wants to reassure everyone that any barrier to faith can be overcome to bring life in his name in all its fullness.
We still call him the doubter or “doubting Thomas” – a name given to him because of just one week in his life when he struggled with his faith – one week which has lasted for two thousand years.
Perhaps it’s a comfort to us to know that one of the close disciples of Jesus doubted so persistently but I think Thomas would want us to remember that he didn’t remain stuck in disbelief. He would like to grow and change in our minds, to become “believing Thomas” or “Thomas the convinced” and then he can encourage us to make that same journey and dare to believe that Jesus Christ is risen.
Thomas would want us to hear and respond to the message that he and the other apostles have to offer.
That’s the message we heard from Peter – the Peter transformed by his experience of the risen Lord, an experience which turned him from a broken man into that Rock on which the church was to be built.
The Resurrection is the very heart of that message.
The Resurrection is the message.
There had been many prophets, teachers and healers in the history of Israel. Their words and deeds lived on in the scriptures but they all died, including the great King David from whom the Christ was to descend.
Peter, Thomas and the others didn’t talk about Jesus just because he was a prophet and a healer.
Throughout the ages there have been terrible miscarriages of justice and good, innocent people have been put to death because of their beliefs.
Peter, Thomas and the others didn’t talk about Jesus just because he was wrongly convicted and executed.
They reason they talked about Jesus was because God had raised him up, freed him from death and they, each in their own way, were witnesses to that fact.
It is only because Jesus was raised from the dead that his birth, life and death and all that he said and did are of such vital importance.
Thomas can be there for anyone who finds it almost impossible to make that step of faith to believe in the resurrection. There may be many reasons for having such difficulty:
Things like that just don’t happen.
- · We live in an age of fantasy worlds, virtual reality and sensational claims about products from toothpaste to healing crystals – why should this one be true?
- · We all have memories of being hurt – of people letting us down, hopes being dashed.
- · There’s fear of the unknown, what life would be like if we did believe, the demands such a belief might make of us and anxiety about what other people might think.
Thomas offers us the message of one who would not believe until he could actually touch the wounds of Jesus. The message that somehow if we hang on Jesus will reveal himself to us in a way that will lead us to declare him our Lord and our God.
It may not happen in a single moment as it did for Thomas, it may be a gradual growth in faith and conviction over a long period of time.
However it happens, conviction in the resurrection of Jesus can change us and our lives as surely as it changes the apostles all those years ago.
The question is, will we allow that change and growth to happen in ourselves and other people?
Let’s hope so because a life lived in the light of the resurrection is a new and exciting life to be lived in all its fullness and with the risen Christ alongside saying: “My peace be with you”. Amen.