2 Easter – April 12, 2015
This piece of scripture from John always occurs the Sunday after Easter in our lectionary and is often called “Doubting Thomas Sunday”. I am not sure that Thomas really deserves a bad rap for his questioning, it seems pretty reasonable to me and Jesus responded. I wonder if we focus on what we call doubting, because it validates our own sense of doubt about the resurrection. Thomas’ need for proof justifies our deepest desires for evidence of an empty tomb. So perhaps we might admire Thomas’ willingness to speak up for what we need in order to believe.
Back in John 14, Jesus said : “‘And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”
Show us the way! We don’t know the way! I wonder what Thomas thought after that. Maybe he took Jesus seriously. Maybe he thought he could. So when the disciples say to Thomas, “Guess what? We saw the Lord!” (the same thing that Mary Magdalene says to the disciples, by the way) Thomas is thinking to himself, “Well, that’s just great! Jesus did say he was the way. I remember that. And when we were talking about the way, well, that meant Jesus was preparing an abiding place for me. And how can I know an abiding place with him without being with him?
“I mean, wait a minute. Mary saw the Lord. The other disciples saw the Lord. It’s not that I need proof. I just need to be with him. Because that’s what it means that he’s the way, right? Jesus’ way is not that which discriminates. Jesus’ way is not that which disregards. Jesus’ way is not that which discards. Jesus’ way does not mean I’m left out. That’s not how I heard it anyway. I didn’t know where he was going and I didn’t know the way. And then, he said he was the way. I need to feel that abiding place again. Because that’s what the way is.
“I just need to be with you Jesus. To touch you, feel you, see you, hear you, taste you. One more time. I need to feel that abiding place again, I need to feel the way, again. One more time.”
Well, it seems you found the way, Thomas, but really, you knew it all along. You knew the way was not a roadmap. You knew the way was not a claim meant to exclude others. You knew the way was not that which you could use to reject others. Instead you knew the way was being in the presence of your Lord and God — and that’s all you wanted. You wanted what Jesus said you know. You asked for what Jesus said you should. You needed what Jesus said is yours — always.
And in that moment you saw Jesus as your Lord and as your God. Wow. Thank you, Thomas, for your courage to ask.
We know that the risen Christ was no ghost, no ethereal spirit. He was flesh and blood. In his post-resurrection appearances, He ate. He still, as Thomas discovered, wore the wounds of crucifixion. That Christ’s flesh remained broken, even in his resurrection, serves as a powerful reminder that his intimate familiarity and solidarity with our human condition did not end with his death. I am struck with the awareness of how deeply Christ was, and is, joined with us. The wounds of the risen Christ are not a prison: they are a passage. Thomas’ hand in Christ’s side is not some bizarre, morbid probe: it is a union, and a reminder that in taking flesh, Christ wed himself to us.
There is a story that poet Donald Hall tells of friends who purchased an old farmhouse. Cousineau, an artist, tells about it.
It was a ‘warren of small rooms,’ and once they settled in and began to furnish their new home they realized that the lay of the house made little sense. ‘Peeling off some wallpaper, they found a door that they pried open to reveal a tiny room, sealed off and hidden, goodness knows why: They found no corpses nor stolen goods.’ For Hall, the mystery of poetry to evoke powerful feelings finds its analogy here, in its ability to be sealed away from explanation, this is the place where ‘the unsayable gathers.’
And so it is on the pilgrim’s path. Everywhere you go, there is a secret room. To discover it, you must knock on walls, as the detective does in mystery houses, and listen for the echo that portends the secret passage. You must pull books off shelves to see if the library shelf swings open to reveal the hidden room.
I’ll say it again: Everywhere has a secret room. You must find your own, in a small chapel, a tiny cafe, a quiet park, the home of a new friend, the pew where the morning light strikes the rose window just so.
As a pilgrim you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.
This week’s gospel lection offers us a secret room, and, with it, an invitation to touch, to cross more deeply into Jesus’ story and our own. John tells of a room in which the disciples gather—a locked room, for fear. For secrets. And there, in their midst, Jesus appears, offering his hands and side, offering peace, offering the Holy Spirit, breathing into them (“and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” John means for us to remember). But Thomas is gone, John tells us, and will not believe unless he sees. So Jesus returns a week later, slides through the shut doors of the secret room, shows himself to Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says, as if touching and seeing are one and the same. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
History has labeled this disciple Doubting Thomas, as if his uncertainty were the most memorable thing about this follower of Jesus who, elsewhere, is the first to step up and say he is willing to die with him (John 11.1-16). Yet Jesus, as is his way, gives Thomas what he needs. In Jesus’ hands, in Jesus’ side, Thomas reaches into a secret room, a place that, though “sealed away from explanation,” as Cousineau writes, makes some kind of sense of the long pilgrimage that Thomas has undertaken with Jesus, to whom he is now able to say, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas was presented with a new reality. Thomas’ reality was too small, his vision of what is possible too limited and when Jesus calls him to faith, he is actually inviting him to enter into a whole new world. And this issue of having too small a vision of reality is what I find interesting. Because most of us fall into a worldview governed by limitations and are tempted to call that “realism.” Which is when we, as a community, need to be reminded of a grander vision. A vision not defined by failure but possibility, not governed by scarcity but by abundance, not ruled by remembered offenses but set free by forgiveness and reconciliation.
So, did the pilgrimage through Lent offer you a secret room? Somewhere along the way, did you find a place that offered, not an explanation of your path, but a window onto it, a space within it that enabled you to see it anew, and the one who called you there?
In the weeks to come, may we remember that Easter is not just a day but rather a season. May the gift and challenge of resurrection, new life, go with you, and may the path ahead be graced with secret rooms. Amen.