May 8, 2011
“When a Week Lasts a Lifetime”
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
Do you think anybody asked? They had to notice. You would hope someone said something. There were only ten, so they had to know. That evening, the first day of the week; or as John says, “it was evening on THAT day.” The day when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw the stone had been removed. The day Simon and Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved raced to the empty tomb. The linen wrappings were lying there. The cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was rolled up in a ball, tossed somewhere all by itself. It was the evening of THAT day. The day Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. The two disciples had returned to their homes; seeing, believing, and as yet not understanding according to the bible. But Mary stood weeping. That’s when she saw two angels who asked why she was weeping. That’s when Jesus appeared to her, asking why she was weeping. She thought he was the gardener. He called her by name. She knew it was him and Jesus sent her to tell the disciples. Mary went and announced to the eleven that she had seen the Lord and she told them that he had said these things.
It was the evening of THAT day and there were only ten of them in the room of the house with the doors locked in fear; locked in fear of the religious leaders and the authorities who had put Jesus to death. The fear would have been of those in power but John’s choice of words here unfortunately names a whole people and those words dangle in the listeners’ ear today along with a whole lot of history that will never go away. There ought to be a cringe that come when you encounter John’s Gospel and his sweeping language. The fear in the locked room on the evening of THAT day would have been a directed fear, a specific fear, a known fear that came with a face, or an office, or a title. It had only been a few days. Three days to be exact.
So on the evening of THAT day, the first day of the week, when there were only ten in the house and door was locked in fear, did anyone ask? “Where’s Thomas?” You would think with only eleven of them, they wouldn’t need to count heads. You wouldn’t need a buddy check like it was a second grade field trip to the circus. For goodness sake, it was THAT day. THAT day! Thomas? Thomas!
In the synoptic gospels, the only time Thomas is mentioned is when the writers give their account of Jesus calling the disciples. A list of names is offered. So Thomas is mentioned precisely once in each of the other gospels. In John, Thomas comes up a few other times before his legacy scene here in the 20th chapter. Earlier in John when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was dying, Jesus didn’t rush right back. When he told the disciples he had to go back because Lazarus was dead, he foreshadowed raising Lazarus from the dead by telling them it was better for him not to be there so that they may believe. That’s when, according to John, Thomas said to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him!” And in the 14th chapter of John, when Jesus offers those memorable words “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…..you know the way to the place where I am going.” It was Thomas who interrupted, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
The two appearances of Thomas in John; the enthusiasm of rushing to be with Lazarus;. the yearning to know where Jesus is going and how they can know the way. At least from John’s perspective, Thomas was concerned about being in the right place at the right time. Being where Jesus wanted him to be. Not missing out. Not missing. Before he was Doubting Thomas, he was GPS Thomas wanting to know the way: in 2 miles, go where Jesus wants you to go. Thomas! Thomas?
On the evening of THAT day, the first day of the week, with the door locked and amid abundant fear, Jesus came and stood among them, and said “Peace be with you.” Jesus stood among the ten because Thomas wasn’t there. The gospel doesn’t give even an inkling of where he was. It just says he “was not there with them when Jesus came.” It doesn’t say the others were worried about him, or that any one asked, or they even noticed. Thomas, who by every other account didn’t want to miss anything, was missing the Risen Jesus, missing “peace be with you”, missing hands and side, missing rejoicing, missing being sent, missing that breath of Holy Spirit, missing the commissioning of forgiveness. Thomas wasn’t there. He was absent. Lost. Distant. Removed. Checked out. Otherwise occupied. Busy. Away. Excused.
Forgotten. Not There. Thomas wasn’t there. Thomas, of all people. He was somewhere; somewhere else. And if he wasn’t there, he may as well have been miles away. If there was ever a party, an appointment, a meeting, a gathering not to miss, it would this one, when the Risen Jesus stood among the other ten and breathed on them peace and the Holy Spirit. Thomas, not left behind, just left out.
Sometime later that night, maybe the next day, the ten others told Thomas what happened. He said to them “Unless.Unless. Unless.” And all he asked for was what he missed. Hands and side. Touching. Seeing. I will not believe….unless. It was a week later. This time the eleven were again in the house with the doors shut. Jesus came and stood among them. This time there was “peace be with you”, and for Thomas, hands and side, touching and seeing. It was like Jesus came again just for him, just for Thomas. Jesus said to Thomas, “Here touch and reach. Here. Right here. Do not doubt but believe”
Doubt gets a bad rap in the story of Thomas. The word in Greek is more like “unbelieve” or “unfaithful”. It’s not doubt as in question or uncertainty or lack of assurance. “Do not unbelieve, but believe” Like in Mark’s gospel, the father who brought his son to Jesus to be healed. He cried out “I believe, help my unbelief” Not this doubt or that question or this uncertainty but unbelief. The Gospel of John is full of “believe.” I know it sounds kind of silly, but it seems like there is more “believe” in John than any of the other gospels. In the prologue to the gospel, “there was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3. “For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.” “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” John 6. John 11. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not unbelieve but believe” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” “Blessed are you who have seen and yet have come to believe!” Jesus said. John chimes in then, writing about all the other signs that Jesus did in the presence of the disciples which are not written in the book. 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. All the “believe” in John, it sort of comes to a climax right there; John’s editorial comment, John’s summary, the crux of the matter….that through believing, you may have life in his name. That’s quite a week, for Thomas? From Thomas? Thomas! to “my Lord and my God!” From lost and all but forgotten to life in his name. From somewhere, anywhere else to believe. Believe in God, also in me.
Some scholars point out that in John, believing is less about doctrine and more about life in his name; less about being correct and more about living in his love; less about a creed and more about abiding in him. Believing. Abiding. As in the fifteenth chapter, “Abide in me as I abide in you….Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Abiding. Resting. Nestling. Being. In him. Abiding Place. Thomas found a place. His place. From out of nowhere to abiding in him. Life in his name. That’s not a week, that’s a lifetime.
Thomas? Thomas! to My Lord and My God! You and I somewhere inbetween. There will always be questions, uncertainties, lack of assurance, doubt….there will be days when it comes to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that you’re just absent, checked out, wrong place, missing, left out. But the invitation of the Risen Christ, the power of the resurrection, the heart of the gospel, is for you to live in his name; not just forever, but today and tomorrow, a week and a lifetime. Believe and live.
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