19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
I’ve always been a doubter. My grandma used to tell me I was from the “show me state.” I never believed anything until I could prove it for myself. As I’ve grown up I’ve realized I’m really not that strange compared to the rest of the world. When did we all become so cynical? Think about it, how often do we say: “I’ll believe when I see it.” When did doubt become such a part of who we are as people? We’re probably the most skeptical people humankind has ever seen. We don’t believe politicians because they lie. We don’t believe ads because anything too good to be true usually is. We don’t believe in promises because we get let down. We figure it’s much safer staying in our little skeptical worlds filled with unbelief and dismay-at least then we know what to expect.
Our text joins in progress the first meeting of First Church Jerusalem. Some church this is. Here they are sitting together with the doors locked. Open hearts and doors apparently aren’t seen as important for this church. We’re told they’re gathered in fear. We assume they’ve been told about the Easter event because in the previous verses Jesus tells Mary Magdalene in his appearance to her to go and tell the others about what’s happened. How do they react? They lock the doors, stare at the walls, and sit in fear. It’s as though they don’t believe until they have some sort of proof of this wild story. And then, without warning, the Risen Christ bursts on to the scene, walks through the locked doors, and appears among them. And it’s only then that they’re overjoyed.
My mentor in the ministry was appointed as the pastor of a church that looked around and realized they looked a lot different than their neighborhood. Once in a conversation he shared with me, that when he got to this church it was as if they had locked their doors and just sat in fear of the future. That’s all they did. Sunday after Sunday was a cycle of this fear-driven life where it’s safer to keep the doors locked. Now I’ll tell you that in 15 years this church went from 25-30 people to over 700 people and became a beacon and voice for the surrounding community. He told me he really didn’t know whether they unlocked the doors or if God came in despite the locked doors. What he did know is that this church had an encounter with the living God, despite their fear and closed doors and doubt; they were never the same again.
If the story of First Church Jerusalem wasn’t enough, we meet one of their most active members, Thomas. Thomas wasn’t in the worship meeting where the Risen Lord appeared. He missed the miraculous event. Frankly who can blame him? He probably thought he could find something a bit more exciting than sitting behind locked doors staring at walls. We learn that it’s not enough to tell Thomas of the miracle of Easter. It’s not enough to tell him about the locked doors and the walking through walls and the whole spectacle of the Resurrection. Nope. It’s not until he can touch and see for himself. In other words, Thomas says, “show me.”
How many of us, in our most honest moments, can relate to Thomas? Think for a moment real hard. How often to do come to church because that’s what we do? How often do we come and wonder to ourselves in the car on the way over here, “why am I doing this in the first place?” Our friends can tell us all day long about their experiences with God. They can tell us of the moments when they just “knew” God had been so close to them. But we don’t believe them-not until we touch and see for ourselves.
So if we all doubt and fear then what does this text have to say to us today? Well here’s the turn we aren’t expecting in our text. This text isn’t about us-it’s about God. There’s no example here of how to live versus how not to live. There’s no superior exemplar of Christian values. The truth is, no one gets it. Everyone in this story is like doubting Thomas on some level. Everyone’s from the “show me” state here. And that’s why this text can’t be about us. If it were, we’d still have our doors locked and we’d be sitting in fear of what comes next.
This story is about God. This story tells about a God who dares to intrude right in the middle of our lives. This story tells us that even though we have church more like First Church Jerusalem with their locked doors and doubting attitudes, the Risen Christ can still move among us. Here we’re able to bring our doubts and our fears and confess that we don’t always get it. And you know what-it can be the most liberating thing we do sometimes! What better than to say out loud those fears and those doubts about our faith we have week after week? What’s more freeing than to admit we don’t get it? We don’t have to fake it anymore. We don’t have to pretend like we always understand what we do in church. We don’t have to put on the persona that our faith life is the most vibrant part of who we are. Deep down we know we struggle with doubt at times. Deep down we know we fear that we don’t have everything together. And here, Thomas and First Church Jerusalem show us that it’s okay.
But be forewarned-as we sit in this place of doubt and fear we’d best be careful. It may happen when we least expect it. It might be in the words of a song, in the words of a prayer, in a smile of a neighbor, in the call of a loved-one. It might even be in the deafening tenor of the utter silence. But we’d best be careful. The Risen Christ might just come through those walls of doubt we pretend aren’t there and shake us at our very core. He’ll remind us that it’s okay to doubt, but now we can believe too. Now we’ve seen and touched the miracle of the Resurrection. In the meantime, we’re left rocked to the foundation of our being. And all we can say is, “My Lord and My God.”