One of the great things about being in the Narrative Lectionary is that we don’t always get the same ol’ lectionary readings that we get year after year. I, for one, did not miss John the Baptist this past Advent. I also didn’t miss the usual Transfiguration stories. And I was really looking forward to a different selection for the Sunday after Easter other than the annual piling on of the disciple named Thomas… but alas, that was not to be.
In the interest of full disclosure – I preached this text on Easter Sunday. My angle was (and is) this: Easter is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of what’s next. And what’s next according to the community that gave us the Gospel of John? Church and Mission – the community of faith and the loving on the world that Jesus sends us to do and the community holds us accountable to.
When Jesus shows up – it’s church. There was the greeting “Peace be with you” – the passing of the peace. There were the hands and the side – at the communion table we gather around the body and the blood. There was the Holy Spirit being breathed upon them and the sending out of his followers to go out into the world – the charge and benediction.
How many of us are still in our locked rooms unwilling or unable to get out from behind the closed doors of disbelief… or guilt… or shame… or feelings of unworthiness. Take heart, because in this text of John’s even after Jesus breathes the spirit on the disciples, the following week they are still in the room with the doors locked.
How do we unlock and open the doors? How do we engage in the world around us the way God created and called us to do? The new commandment from Jesus is that we love one another. He said, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
How do we do that?
We have to be willing to open our hearts and our minds to the world and to God and how God wants us to live and love in this world. And that… is scary. When we leave things open, anything can happen.
Another angle can emphasize how much Thomas’ faith journey mirrors many of our own.
In chapter 11 Jesus is told that his friend Lazarus is very sick. After a delay he decides it is time to go to him, but warns the disciples that the journey there will lead to his own death. Thomas responds with a vigorous, ‘all in’ approach – Let us all go and die with him!
A few chapters later and Jesus and the disciples are gathered around a table together for the last time. Jesus is telling them to love one another and to love others, trusting in God:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.
Thomas interrupts: Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?
His interruption and questioning very much reflects someone who so badly wants to understand, but just can’t wrap their head and heart around it.
Then in a very real way the disappointment and violence and death of this world we live in pushes him to belligerently tell his friends:
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
We’re quick to remember how Thomas doubted, we need to remember what came next. “My Lord and my God!”he said. My Lord and my God!
- If you’re tired of preaching this one to the choir you could shake things up with the bodily resurrection debate. Would a physical body be able to just appear in a locked room… twice? Also, the offer is made for Thomas to touch, but does he? The text doesn’t say.
- There are a lot of doubting Thomas’ out there – how do we give them what they need to believe? How do we give them Jesus?
- Where are you headed? Please share in the comments!