If it’s hard to believe in Christ’s Resurrection today, it wasn’t a whole lot easier in first-century Palestine. Even after the disciples had seen him on Easter night, they scattered. Jerusalem, after all, was a dangerous place for followers of the crucified Jesus. In Matthew, they decamped immediately for Galilee. In Luke, two of them left that very day for Emmaus. In John, most of them drifted back to their homes. They had all heard the story of the Resurrection. Many of them had even seen the risen Christ. But they hadn’t yet grasped its meaning for them.
Thomas had an even harder time than his friends. For some reason he wasn’t with them on Easter evening when Christ had appeared, greeting them with the Hebrew words, Shalom eleichem, “Peace be with you.” But Thomas was there a week later when Christ appeared again, this time adding words specifically addressed to the doubtful disciple: "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." And believing from that moment, Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God.”
On its surface, this story doesn’t offer much to help us with our doubts about the Resurrection. If you and I were to have a vision of the risen Christ, that might go far to settle things. But we really don’t expect visions today. And John seems content to leave us there, trying to believe in the Resurrection because Thomas and the others believed. But think about for a moment—this story does tell us something crucial about Christ’s coming to us.
For even though he doubted, Thomas didn’t run away. After his Easter night experiment with going it alone, he came back and rejoined the other disciples. He waited with them, doubtful though he was, praying with them, breaking bread with them, until a week later he was able to exclaim with the others, “My Lord and my God.” If he was going to believe in Christ’s Resurrection, it seems that Thomas had to come back and be with the rest of the disciples.
That’s why you and I, when we doubt the Resurrection, need to stay with the Church. When we can’t believe for ourselves, we need to be with others who can believe for us. For faith is infectious: when we haven’t got any, we can catch it from those who do. At its base, I think that’s what the Church is—the place to come when you do have faith, so you can share it with others, and the place to come when you don’t have any, only doubts, so you can catch it from others.
There’s another crucial point about believing. This one comes not so much from this morning’s lesson as it does from the other gospel stories about the Resurrection. There are about a dozen such accounts, and in at least half of them, it takes some time for his followers to recognize the risen Christ. Thinking him a stranger, Mary Magdalen conversed with him in the garden, two disciples talked with him on the road to Emmaus, seven of them breakfasted with him on the shore of Lake Tiberias. He had been with them all the time. But in each case something had to happen—he had to call them by name, for example, or he had to break bread with him—before they could see who he was.
I love to quote these words from a great Jewish sage, the Baal Shem Tov: “The world is full of wonder and mystery, but we take our little hands and cover our eyes and see nothing.” Applied to us, they suggest that Christ is here with us this morning. He may be sitting near you in the very same pew. It’s just that you don’t recognize him. “We take our little hands and cover our eyes and see nothing.”
Believing the Church’s Easter message means a lot more than believing that Christ once rose from the tomb. Because we could accept that as just another historical fact—much as we accept the reality of Jack Jouett’s ride, or the Battle of Hastings, or the destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War. Those beliefs, significant as they are to an historian like me, have no necessary connection with how you and I live our lives. Only as we come to know the Resurrection for ourselves will the Easter faith become real for us.
If our Easter faith is true, and I believe it is, then Christ is risen once and for all—not just 2000 years ago, not just 6000 miles away. You and I, like his earliest disciples, are meeting around a table and sharing a meal. Let us pray that as we eat the Bread and drink the Wine, we may pull our little hands away from our eyes and see him as he is with us today. For he is here, in the friend next to us, in the stranger across the aisle.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 May 2009 13:58