Listened to a nice sermon last sunday. Had many nice parts to it to think about but one point had me enthralled.
And occasionally, somebody skips the service. That happens from time to time, right? It happened here in the First Church of the Upper Room. The faith community (the disciples) are gathered together, not sure how the service is going to go now that Jesus is gone, when suddenly Jesus is there: He is standing there with them! He gives them a greeting: Peace be with you. He empowers them with the Holy Spirit by offering them his own breath. He even does a little preaching on forgiveness.
However, someone is missing. Thomas is not there. Absent, not present on Easter Sunday (of all days!). We don’t know why, but I’m sure he had a good reason. Isn’t it comforting to know that even in the earliest days, people missed church?
Unfortunately, for Thomas, he missed something HUGE-- the Risen Christ. Jesus, who three days before had been executed before their eyes, put in a tomb, a stone rolled in front –dead…buried. Yet as they gathered together, Jesus was there—a living, breathing person.
And Thomas missed it.
So later, when Thomas joins them, the disciples share the news – Thomas, you should have been in church on Sunday – Jesus was there.
And Thomas says I don’t believe it.
Have you ever been the odd person out?
The lone dissenter, the devil’s advocate, the cynic, the skeptic, the black sheep? The Doubting Thomas?
“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.”
Now that’s what I call throwing down the gauntlet. In the face of the account of 10 witnesses, and not just any witnesses, but men with whom Thomas has spent years, with whom he has worked, laughed, eaten, suffered and grieved – he is saying to them, I don’t believe you. We are not in the same place on this.
Imagine being one of the disciples and listening to your friend say he doesn’t believe you. You have just shared great and glorious news and your experience isn’t good enough for him.
I have tried to picture this scene in my mind and I have to believe that the moment was pivotal one for these 11 men.
You see, I think the best part of this story is verse 26: “A week later his disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them.”
A week later: I think we rush right past those words, so take a moment and imagine what that week would have been like. What would that week have been like for the disciples who saw the risen Christ?
I think it’s safe to say that their encounter with Jesus was a topic of conversation at least once or twice. Maybe the first couple of days, that’s all they talked about.
What would that week have been like for Thomas who doesn’t believe? Do you think he wondered if his fellow disciples were having a laugh at his expense? Do you think things may have gotten a little tense sometimes? Maybe he got up a left the room once or twice.
Maybe they just avoided the topic altogether.
We don’t know- the gospel writer leaves that to our imagination.
Here’s what the scripture does tell us. When the next Sunday comes, they are all together – even Thomas. His faith community stands beside him. They do not reject him for his doubts, for his unbelief. They don’t criticize him for needing to see and touch for himself. They don’t ostracize him for not getting with the program, for not being in exactly the same place that they are. Thomas doubts, and the disciples let him doubt, and he remains a part of the community.
As for Thomas, he felt like he could stay.
I believe that this is one of the greatest gifts that the church has to offer. This is a shining example of how we live the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
We know that this is not how it always works. We know that there are groups, including communities of faith who would say to those like Thomas: hit the road. I have heard those stories from folks who had that experience. How unfortunate. Because, as we see from this story, even in the earliest time of the church, even with those who were closest to Jesus, there was doubt, there were questions. Yet, there was room in the community for the doubt and for the questions.
More importantly, there was room in the community for the doubters.
Since the elders don't come to my door anymore, perhaps someone here could ask one of these doorknockers how Thomas could question and doubt the word of his fellow worshipers and not be disfellowshiped from their group.
It seems the WTS doesn't say to much about this aspect of Thomas's life. They use this entire story to show how Thomas used words as an exclamation rather than a statement of fact "My Lord and my God!"
It would be nice to hear how the WTS explains this one. But we wouldn't here the answer. They will kick us out before the answer comes.