Acts 2:14a, 22-32
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:
22 You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
29‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
John 20:19, 24-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
It's evening on the first day of the week, and we're gathered together in a "safe space" so that we can talk about what the women have reported to us. Their tale is simply unbelievable. The tomb is empty? They have seen the Lord? Unbelievable.
Are we all gathered? Yeah, Thomas told me he wasn't going to make it today. Go ahead and lock the door. I'm afraid, because Jews are still looking for us, to arrest and punish us like they did to our teacher. Let's begin with prayer: "Blessed are you, O God, king of the universe..."
"Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’"
Unbelievable. Our Lord who was dead, whom we saw taken away and put into the tomb, is standing here among us. We have locked the doors so that no one could get in, and yet he has appeared in the flesh. Unbelievable. It can't be a trick or an illusion, he still has the marks in his hands and his side. This isn't a "he lives on in our hearts" kind of situation, he's standing here in the room with us, talking to us!
Of course, just because it's unbelievable doesn't mean it's really surprising. After all, Jesus did predict that this would happen - multiple times. But whenever the unbelievable comes to pass, we are still amazed.
"But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came."
It's been a week since the day of resurrection. The Easter season, for our congregation, continues all the way to the beginning of June. We have gathered again, in this same safe space, and most of us are excited about the unbelievable news that fills us with fear and great joy.
But Thomas isn't there yet.
Thomas is struggling with the unbelievable stories he has heard. The story of an empty tomb, told by the women, the story of Jesus's appearance among the other disciples last week. They're unbelievable.
Yet he is still welcome at the table with the other disciples. He is still invited, expected, at the table with his friends. He is defiantly sticking to his experience. Yet, when the followers of Jesus shut themselves into their "safe space," there is space for Thomas. The covenant community claims him and believes on his behalf.
I want to point out that scripture does not give any kind of “unbelieving” or “doubting” label on Thomas, he’s called the twin, and he’s still one of the twelve even before he believes the resurrection. “Doubting Thomas” may be our interpretation, but it’s not what scripture says.
In this gospel story, Thomas is still a disciple even while he is an unbeliever. God’s claim on him has not ended.
Everybody takes a turn being Thomas. Everybody has moments, or days, or even seasons, when the Unbelievable story we are given is bigger than our faith. In this gospel story, we are still welcome with the disciples even when it’s our turn to be Thomas. In this gospel story, when what God has done is too unbelievable for us to accept, there is still room for us.
We end up as Thomas for bunches of reasons. None of them are more or less valid that the others.
For the disciples at the beginning of this passage, fear had driven them into a locked room even though Jesus had already broken out of the tomb. The good news was unbelievable when they were locked into their fear.
For Thomas, his experience didn’t match what he heard. The testimony of others was unbelievable when he had not seen the Lord.
For us, perhaps it is grief that makes the resurrection unbelievable. The deep sadness of loss makes it impossible to see the gains of the resurrection, especially when our loved one is still in their tomb. In deep grief, sometimes the resurrection is unbelievable.
For us, perhaps it is hurt that makes God’s goodness unbelievable. Our cries of “Why God? Why would you allow this to happen?” can drown out the blessings of our resurrected Christ. Well-meaning believers offer what comforts and healing seems good to them, but sometimes their effort only sharpens our own pain. The blessings are unbelievable when we are too hurt to feel them.
For us, perhaps it’s just spiritual emptiness that gives us a turn at being Thomas. Sometimes we get stuck in “going through the motions,” and our spiritual practices don’t seem to fill us anymore. Our habits no longer help us to feel Jesus’s presence, and we feel lost even though we continue down the path where we were led. The real presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is unbelievable when we are stuck and cannot feel where God is leading us.
For us, perhaps it’s the behavior of believers, who proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah with their lips, but then act as though none of it matters as soon as they leave the doors of this sanctuary. Perhaps the distance between what we say and what we show makes it unbelievable.
No matter what the reason that we take our turn at being Thomas, no matter what ends up carrying us to that “unbelievable” place, there is still room for us at the table of the disciples. This gospel story talks about how Thomas’s friends, even though they disagree on this fundamental level about the most important thing that had ever happened, not just in their lives, but in human history, they did not require Thomas to be fully on board. They just asked Thomas to continue to be with them. And that is the kind of unbelievable love that believers can show, when any of us, and every one of us will, takes our turn at Thomas’s place at the table.
But what is even better news to me: in that place where Thomas is unbelieving, where Thomas insists on proof before his faith can grow, our Lord Jesus does not wait for Thomas to have a change of heart. God meets Thomas where he is. Go intervenes in Thomas’s life even before his faith is set up. Even when Thomas cries that the resurrection is unbelievable, Jesus appears before him and gives Thomas what he needs. “Peace be with you… Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Know that I am here for you, Thomas. I am here even though it is unbelievable.
When we are in Thomas’s place, and we all have been there and we all will be back there, I am confident that God will not wait for us to come out, God goes and finds us. That’s a part of the walk of faith, I think, to go through those days a seasons when it’s all unbelievable. That’s part of what it means to be the people of God.
But, the people of God go on believing, even if our individual members struggle.
A story that a professor of mine told one time:
She was the in the first class at her seminary to have women. They did not even have women’s bathroom’s anywhere on campus except behind the secretary’s desk. After struggling her way through class after class, after struggling past the objections of those who say women do not belong in a pulpit, and remember, women were the first to proclaim the resurrection, she just felt like it was unbelievable.
But she went to worship anyway. As the congregation stood around her, she could not bring herself to her feet, and she could not bring herself to sing the hymns. When she told the story to her students later, she told us, “But the congregation I was with sang them for me. The congregation I was with stood for me.”
When Thomas said the resurrection was unbelievable, the community that surrounded him believed for him. That’s what we can do as a people of faith, as a family of God. We build one another up because we’ve been there. We’ve all been in that place where we have said, “I don’t know, I mean, I’ll go with you, but I don’t know.”
The other thing about this story is that nothing that the other disciples said or did would have brought Thomas around. The disciples, I think, knew that. They told their story, they told their experiences, the testified to the risen Lord and Thomas said, “Unless I see… I will not believe.” What brings us out is the action of the Lord. God won’t leave us there forever, God does bring us out of the places where we insist, and leads to the places where the unbelievable stands in front of us and says “Touch, feel, do not doubt but believe.”
Those are the moments where we know God is most real. Not just because we see God ourselves, but because we see God at work in our community. Not waiting for us to confess that Jesus is Lord but showing us that what is unbelievable is in front of us.
There are many reasons why we may find ourselves in Thomas’s place at the table, and that’s a normal part of the life of faith. The community will hold us up throughout that time. What is most good about this news, is that the interaction of God in creation, the intervention of our Lord in the world, is not dependent on our belief. God grabs us and will not let us go with love that is downright unbelievable.
Thanks be to God for that. Amen.