CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Touching the Body of Christ
When 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." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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."
A 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." Then 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." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.
- John 20:19-31
Every year, on the first Sunday after Easter Sunday, the gospel is the story of doubting Thomas. It’s a resurrection story all right, but it’s an especially complicated resurrection story–the story of the one disciple who doesn’t get the full story, the one disciple with challenges and questions. In the western church, Thomas is forever remembered not for his faith but for his doubt, a patron saint for all of us who have ever questioned, for anyone who has ever asked God for a sign.
For Christians, doubt and faith go hand in hand. There isn’t a Christian alive who hasn’t, at some point, wondered whether there’s really anything there, whether the empty tomb is empty because of the resurrection or because there’s nothing to our faith–no resurrection, no Jesus, no nothing. Whether it matters. Whether we matter. And the story of Thomas reminds us that everybody doubts, that it’s still possible to have doubts and to be a disciple. It’s even possible to have doubts and to be one of the greatest disciples.
But no matter how reassuring we find the story–or how challenging–there’s an especially troublesome detail that underlies this whole event, and it’s the one most favored by painters and artists throughout the centuries. It’s that Thomas wants to touch Jesus; he wants not only to see the marks of the nails in his hands but to place his finger in those very marks and his hand in Jesus’s side, to touch the wounds of the crucifixion. It sounds gruesome, but the problem is that Thomas was Jewish and for him, the act of touching wounds, even of the living, let alone the wounds of someone who just that morning had been dead, was profoundly unclean.
So why on earth would Thomas want to do that? Remember, the ancients didn’t think like us. They weren’t looking for scientific evidence and measurable test results, proof positive of real injuries. Thomas, in touching Jesus, was exactly like every other person in our gospel stories who reached out to touch Jesus: Thomas wanted connection. Thomas wanted healing and power and contact. And he wanted it enough that he didn’t care what it would do to him. For Thomas, it is contact–connection–that brings about belief.
And for Thomas, that contact with the risen Christ–the real, wounded, alive-again Jesus–that connection gave grace and power and strength that enabled him to go and preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, and even to die as a martyr for Christ.
Thomas and his doubt let us know it’s OK if and when we doubt, too. But I wonder if Thomas’s true gift to the church isn’t that he shows us that doubt is OK but rather that he shows us how important it is to touch the risen Christ. Thomas reaches out his hands to know the power of the resurrection and is given power to preach and proclaim. He changed lives and built disciples because he touched Jesus.
Everybody doubts. Questions and fears, anxiety and worry, they work on all of us at various times over the course of a human life. We worry if our faith is true, if God is real, if we matter, if God even cares. We worry about loved ones, and we doubt our God-given abilities, our gifts and our choices. And that’s OK–it’s part of being human, and every person of faith doubts. Our calling and our challenge is to doubt like Thomas: to reach out in the middle of our thoughts and hesitations, to seek Christ with our own hands, and to let God work in us and through us.
Today, we won’t see and touch the body of Jesus in quite the same way, but his words are still true: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Blessed are those who, sight unseen, reach out for the body of the risen Christ, even in moments of doubt, to taste and see that God is good. Blessed are we when we receive communion, when our hands touch the body of Jesus. When we present ourselves or our children to be baptized into the body of Christ. When we connect with one another in fellowship and community, touching lives and hearts. Blessed are we when we seek Christ not in his risen body but in our neighbors, in connecting with the people who surround us, touching those in hunger and need. Blessed are we when we doubt and when we believe. Amen.
The Rev. Canon Sally French, D. Min., is the canon for east regional ministry and collaborative innovation.
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