In the days and weeks after that first Easter morning, the gospels tell stories of Jesus appearing to people, showing them that he was truly alive. Each story has its own “recognition” moment, especially the story about Thomas, the disciple who wouldn’t believe until he had proof.
I'm not doubting the text, but I wonder just what it is that he will not believe.
Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples. And when they told him they had seen Jesus, he refused to believe them. He needed to see Jesus for himself, touch the wounds of his death and hear his voice. And when he does, he acknowledges Jesus as “my Lord and my God!” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” says Jesus (John 20:28-29). Encouragement for us all.
Poor Thomas. He quickly became known as Doubting Thomas. But, hang on, what is it exactly that he doesn't believe? Their story that they'd seen Jesus? Because none of the other disciples believed it had happened either, it seems, until Jesus appeared to them.
Each of the gospel stories include this feature of unbelief until Jesus appears. So why single out poor Thomas, the Doubter who was not strong enough to believe?
Wait, that's wrong. It should be, why single out brave Thomas, the Questioner who was strong enough to wonder?
Thomas wondered how it could be that Jesus was physically alive. Just like Thomas wondered earlier in John's gospel about where Jesus was going. In the well-known passage in which Jesus tells the disciples that in God’s house are many dwelling places and that he goes ahead to prepare a place for us, he tells them that they know the way. It’s Thomas who says no, they don’t, and asks Jesus “how can we know the way?” He replies “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:1-7).
I wonder where Thomas was when Jesus appears to the rest of the disciples who are hiding in fear behind a locked door. Why wasn't he with them? I doubt (there's that word again) he went for groceries. The gospel doesn't say, but I like to think he was the only one brave enough to be outside, trying to find out what was happening. And why was it a whole week before Thomas was with them again? I like to wonder if maybe he was out talking to people about Jesus, getting on with living the life that Jesus had taught him to live through his own life. Maybe Jesus was already alive for Thomas.
I don't think that questioning their story - that Jesus might be physically alive - moved Thomas away from Jesus, but closer to him, closer to the Truth of what Jesus was about. When Thomas questions, it prompts wisdom and truth from Jesus that brings us closer to God, too.
And isn't that the point? Like I said, it doesn't say much in the story about Thomas or what he was doing. But what is revealed to Thomas, and to us, is that essential truth: "blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe" (John 20:29).
The message of Easter is that Jesus is alive. Do you believe it? Why?
Is it because the Bible tells me so? Because it does and, to quote Anna Warner, it also tells me that Jesus loves me and that Jesus teaches me how to live fully and wholely.
Is it because we can see Jesus alive in the people around us and in their relationships with us and others?
Is it because we know Jesus is alive in ourselves? That's often the hardest one to embrace - Jesus loves me, yes, but Jesus is in me, too.
Is it because Jesus is alive, as the Word is alive, as God is alive in what is true and genuine: love, grace and compassion for all?
We can see, Jesus, we can see.