Recently, I laughed at a cartoon that someone sent me. In the center of the cartoon, was open tomb – stone rolled to the side. There was just a glimpse of someone’s robe at the edge of the cartoon, obviously someone departing the tomb. Then on the other side of the rock structure were two centurions, leaning sleepily up against the sides and unable to see the open space or the missing stone, now rolled back. The caption read: “What do you mean YOU didn’t say “Good Morning?”
You can fill in the rest of the morning conversation – sort of a “who’s on first?” Waking up that morning those guards, yawning and stretching, relieved that no one had come to steal the body during the night, were probably caught up in the assumption of “Back to Business as Usual.” By the end of the day they were certainly aware that their day was anything but- business as usual!”
Questions are a part of our daily news culture. This week on the cover of Newsweek, the question in large black letters appeared? Can Kate and Will Save Britain? Why is ok to question everything else and yet somehow to question our faith, or to have doubts places us in the camp with “doubting Thomas.” Maybe we need to rethink this label and instead join with Thomas in searching the real experience of what our faith teaches us!
I personally feel that we’ve given Thomas a bad rap –labeling him” Doubting Thomas”. After all, Thomas’ comment was made in a setting where most likely all the other disciples had much the same questions the week before.
We don’t use labels for the “beloved disciple, who didn’t believe until he saw the grave clothes in the empty tomb, calling him the “Disbelieving Disciple.” Nor do we call Peter the “Denying Disciple,” because he denied Jesus three times. We don’t refer to Paul as “Persecuting Paul, or “Self-Righteous Saul”.
It’s true that Thomas doubted the story of the other disciples, but let’s look more closely at our gospel lesson.
As our first scene opens, the disciples are sitting behind a locked door, frozen in place, terrified of what might happen to them. Mary Magdalene had just told them that she’d seen the Lord. Thomas, for whatever reason, is not present in this first scene. I would suspect that the rest of the disciples who were present were all full of doubts at various levels. What was going to happen to them now? How safe were they under the present atmosphere of the Roman government/ the Jewish authorities? Who was going to lead them? We know they had concerns, doubts, fears!!!
It sounds like they sat in a locked room full of fear and questions until they saw the risen Christ with their own eyes. Who’s to fault them for their concerns.
This is the context of Thomas’ doubt. Thomas had seen Jesus die, and now he hears that Jesus has stood among the disciples! Who of us would have readily believed that? Thomas, the courageous, who was ready to accompany Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus, knowing he was ready to die with Jesus if they were stoned to death.
So where was Thomas when the disciples first met together and were visited by “the Risen Christ?” Maybe Thomas had needed a week away to grieve – who knows? The important fact in our story, however, is that the risen Christ responded a week later to Thomas’ doubt just as he had to the earlier doubt of the disciples. I think that what is so remarkable about Thomas is where Thomas ends up – after he has expressed his doubt. Thomas reminds us to dig deeper into our faith – to ask the questions and express the doubt and then to be open to the answers.
Thomas experiences the presence of the risen Christ and he responds by saying “MY LORD AND MY GOD!” Thomas addresses Jesus in the same language in which Israel addressed Yahweh.
This was Thomas’ announcement and one that is perfect for our expectations this first Sunday after the Easter resurrection.
This is the way that we should always come to worship - with that expectation that we will experience God’s presence, the wonder of meeting the Risen Lord in our midst..
On this Sunday, Easter services are over, the excitement of Holy Week is now a week in the past and the big day’ of celebration begins to fade. We at St. Michael’s are now getting back to the business of being the Church!
Let’s not go back to “church as usual” but rather look forward to the expectation that from this day on we will seek to experience the risen Lord in our times of worship together as well as the week ahead while we go about our lives as usual.
This particular Sunday has often been called “low Sunday.” Why? Is it because we’re not ready for “business as usual?” Seems to me that this is the message Thomas brings us today. When Thomas recognizes the Risen Lord and says “My Lord and My God,” it is ANYTHING BUT CHURCH AS USUAL!!!!!!!
Doubts and questions are not forbidden in the Christian faith? At least in the church in which I find my home. Digging deeper – asking questions – searching for the One who is more real than any of our doubts or even our theology.
Jesus turned to Thomas and said: “Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” I think Jesus is talking to us here today! Jesus gave the disciples something that morning that enabled them to truly KNOW God and to continue the work that Jesus began: and it’s the same gift that we are given in order to KNOW the risen Christ.
Jesus said to the disciples “peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and then he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Not until Pentecost do we hear about being filled with the Holy Spirit. Remember those words that we so often hear the deacon say at the time of dismissal on Sunday morning? “Go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit”!!!!!!!
If you think you’ve reached a place in your life where your faith is merely “church as usual”, where you don’t come in the door with the expectation to encounter the presence of the Risen Christ - the presence of the Holy Spirit –then it’s time to be like Thomas and ask TO KNOW THAT CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED -- PRESENT WITH US NOW!
Many years ago I stood in the “Garden Tomb” in Jerusalem. I was the last one inside and the last one to leave and by some miracle of timing I stood alone for some minutes in the space that may have been the temporary resting place of our Lord.
It had been a rather dry time in my life spiritually and as I stood there, I voiced this question out loud---“Lord if you really are alive and present, I want to know – I really want to know you!”
After several more minutes, I left the tomb and about two weeks later back at home, I was dusting one of the shelves in our library. As I reached up higher than usual, a book literally fell off the shelf at my feet. As I reached down to pick it up, I was struck by the title - Nine 0’clock in the Morning. The author, who eventually became a good friend, was Father Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest from the Seattle Washington area.
I admit I was intrigued by the description regarding the men who at Pentecost were accused of being drunk at 9:00 in the morning because of their immense joy. They were not drunk with wine but with joy from the Holy Spirit - they were “wrapped in the Spirit of God.”
I carried the book out of the library and for the next few hours read with a hunger and even some incredulity that God’s joy could still invade our lives with such power and presence! I knew that God was answering my prayer and that I had but to ask God to open my heart and to fill me anew with His Spirit—releasing in me any barriers that would keep me from knowing and witnessing to the Risen Christ as my Lord and My God.
My spiritual journey did change then. There are still valleys and, times for questions, times of doubt, but ALWAYS there is the assurance that we simply have to direct our questions to the one who was present to answer Thomas’ doubt.
No -- this isn’t a time for getting back to business as usual – this is still Easter and we need to rise up with Thomas and say “My Lord and My God! You are Risen Indeed!!!!! Breathe on me your Spirit this day!!!!!