“Although you have not seen him, you love him” (1 Pet 1:8).
The Second Sunday of Easter has become a special day for me. For you and I live now as the disciples did then, in the evening of the first day of the resurrection. They experience Jesus differently than when he taught and cured. And that new way of experiencing Jesus is how we experience him: in the Spirit and in the breaking of the bread. “Although you have not seen him, you love him.” May we be like the disciples and recognize Jesus in the bread that he gives us, the very bread that we offer to him to be made into his body. This bread continually reminds us of his presence. And through our communions we are made into his body.
The day has become a special one for me also because of the Gospel we hear each year on this day continues the Gospel from Easter Day precisely at the point the Easter Day Gospel ends. And it is the wonderful and moving story of Jesus’ two appearances to his disciples, Thomas’ unbelief that Jesus had been raised, and finally his unbelief melted into belief at the sight of the wounds which marked our Lord.
As I preached last Sunday, about that Gospel, fear melts into belief, and belief becomes proclamation. That progress, that scheme, continues with Thomas’ unbelief.
Usually on this day, I preach about Thomas’ unbelief and what he requires in order to believe.
But today, I’d rather preach about the wounds that Jesus showed Thomas. Not about anything lurid or anything you might see in a copy of a tabloid or see on the television. Nothing like those things. The wounds that Jesus shows his disciple Thomas show at least two things at once. And the first is fairly obvious. The wounds show that Thomas was facing Jesus, the real Jesus, not a ghost or a spirit, but Jesus whom he knew to be crucified. But the second thing that the wounds show is something we often miss. The wounds show that Jesus had truly died. We forget that at times. The resurrection is not the bringing back of the near-dead or a resuscitation of a dead body. The resurrection is a greater and simpler gift than that. God raised Jesus to new life, to a new being, which formerly he in his humanity lacked. But yet he is the same person, the one who died as his wounds show. The nature of those wounds inevitably would have caused death to anyone who received them. Wounded in those ways, Jesus had to have died. No one was crucified and lived to tell of the experience.
Thomas, you recall, declared, “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” (St Jn 20:25). His doubt and his fear live next door to one another. A part of Thomas fears the reports of the Lord’s resurrection might be true. For if the reports are true, all he holds to be true has gone with the crucified Lord. Everything is new and unknown.
When the risen Lord gives without retraint the very experiences that Thomas had demanded, the effect upon Thomas is remarkable. Though he had heard the reports from the others and though he with the others remembered how Jesus had said he would rise, seeing for himself makes all the difference. He will not believe otherwise, but seeing is believing, and he believes. In his belief, he is raised to a new life himself, a new life of grace and of power in believing.
Raising Thomas to a new life of grace and of power is why the church is here, why the church perpetuates the message of the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection brings Thomas closer to Jesus and closer to the divine life—closer so that he is changed from his old unbelief to new belief. And that change is yours and is mine today and everyday that we acknowledge that Jesus was raised from the dead. In a way unknowable, in a way indescribable, we participate in that resurrection by believing in it. That is Christianity’s powerful and astounding message. Our fears and unbelief that Jesus has been raised melt in the face of that message into belief, and that belief becomes a proclamation as it does with Thomas. Christianity’s powerful and astounding message is this, that we too with Thomas and all the other believers in all times stand in front of him and say, “My Lord and my God!” (St Jn 20:28).