Link to the Video reflection https://youtu.be/bYZzw_qATGM
Link to the Bath and Wells reflection:
Acts 4:32-35, John 20:19 end
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
This morning, we meet most of the disciples in our gospel reading from John, carrying on from where we left off last week. On the evening of the first Easter day, locked in their house. I say most of the disciples, because it is important to remember that Thomas isn’t there. In the room emotions are running high and significant anxiety is in the air. They are locked in the house because they are afraid. What are the disciples afraid of? Well certainly – The authorities, as Jesus followers they would have felt very vulnerable after his death, but also they were frightened by the recent turn of events like finding Jesus tomb was empty. It was worrying that the body had been stolen and then Mary amazingly saying she had seen the Lord alive again. That would really have put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.
Then in the next moment the mood swings from fear to jubilation. Jesus is there among them, and saying his familiar greeting ‘Peace be with you’. Their deep seated fears quickly evaporate and are replaced by rejoicing. There they are with the risen Jesus scars and all miraculously amongst them. Jesus lingers a while to confirm on them the power of the Holy Spirit, yet by the time Thomas returns to the group Jesus has gone. The other disciples explain what has happened – We have seen the Lord! they say, but Thomas doesn’t believe them. He says those immortal words, which have identified Thomas with the label doubting ever since: “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.”
We now have a around 11 people saying Jesus has risen – Mary and up to 10 other disciples. We are not sure how many were in the locked room of course, but Thomas chooses not to believe any of them. His choice was not to believe his friends and those who knew him well, and those whom he shared following Jesus with for the past few years. This choice Thomas made, was not a recipe for popularity and probably would have made for a very unpleasant atmosphere amongst the disciples for the following week whenever Thomas was around.
If we think about this incident in the cold light of day, I can easily see what it would be like if 10 of my closest and constant companions were absolutely convinced of something extremely important and I refused to believe them for a whole week! The fallout from my behaviour would be pretty painful! For it was a whole week before this situation is resolved. We can only imagine Thomas sticking resolutely to his guns, being dour and miserable. Being in the depths about Jesus’ passing. I am not sure doubting really captures the nature of Thomas’ problem at the point. Maybe stubborn is more appropriate, or a touch arrogant. Perhaps even being determined to be miserable and pessimistic might be closer to the mark or a kinder confused and grieving.
Thomas’s outlook is a real contrast to the mood of his friends. His fellow disciples were joyful, expectant and excited about the future bathed in the Holy Spirit. They are praying and preparing for what was to come. The contrast between Thomas and the other disciples is not unlike the difference in the mood of worship on Good Friday – where tears can be shed in sorrow at all Jesus bore for us, and the mood in our worship on Easter Day – where if any tears are to be shed, they are shed in great joy and wonder at the moment.
It is not hard to grasp how frustrating this situation round Thomas must have been for the other disciples. I say it is not hard to grasp, because in our life experience it is quite likely that we have seen someone digging in their heels needlessly over some point or another. Refusing to budge despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary of their point of view. These things have a nasty habit of becoming points of principle and can go on for so long, that we begin to forget how they started!!
From my childhood I can remember a long running feud between my grandmother and her next door neighbour, over of all things a ‘borrowed’ garden broom. The broom was the source of much controversy. My grandmother was adamant the broom was hers and her neighbour equally adamant it was his. Every so often there were incidents of the broom being reclaimed from the shed of the other person. I remember how it all got completely out of proportion with my grandmother demanding locks be fitted to her shed – (in case the broom and other garden tools were stolen by her light fingered neighbour when she was out). Eventually and very embarrassingly, it was found that some years earlier my grandmother’s broom had been tidied away after use into the roof timbers in her garage. Therefore the disputed broom she had been arguing about all this time had indeed been borrowed by my uncle from her neighbour, whilst her broom had been overlooked in its hiding place in the garage roof – they just happened to be very similar brooms! Thus, the infamous and much disputed broom did indeed belong to her neighbour and not to her.
Another reason we can easily identify with this kind of stubborn ‘Thomaslike’ behaviour is that on occasion if we are honest with ourselves – we may well have been that person refusing to budge, clinging to our position. When in our heart of hearts, we are beginning to know we are mistaken, but somehow it all becomes too difficult (and is too much of a loss of face) to admit that we are the ones in the wrong. In our society there is a tendency to not admitting to being wrong about things. This is based on it being humbling and humiliating. We feel the need to cover our tracks or our behinds! This stuff is the cause of a lot of the time wasting and the political behaviour we experience in groups of people.
In my personal experience, admitting to being wrong about things when I have been wrong is anything but humiliating. It can be very cleansing, renewing and refining. This kind of admission has its own way of transforming the situation, allowing everyone to move on and is deeply dignified.
A week later in our gospel story, Thomas has little choice but to surrender his stand, when Jesus reappears amongst the disciples. Thomas has to let go of his doubts and his dogged determination not to believe in the truth of the resurrection. How did Thomas feel when Jesus addresses him and says – “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” I don’t think he felt humiliated, but deeply loved and profoundly moved. The gospel account doesn’t answer the question. Did Thomas reach out to touch Jesus? Did he touch the nail marks on Jesus hands and put his hand into the wound in his side? Whether he did or didn’t this was a deeply intimate encounter and a transformative point for Thomas. It was more than enough for Thomas to recognise Jesus – he says – My lord and My God! A real affirmation of all that Jesus was to Thomas.
You can almost see the grinning disciples in the background of this scene, with the light of ‘We told you so’ glinting in their eyes, as Thomas finally gets it. Their feelings for Thomas were also not about humiliation, but love mingled with relief and overwhelming Joy!
So in the glow of Thomas’ affirmation, let’s shine the spotlight on our lives for a moment. Going back to our own doubts, along with any out of date points of principle or anything we are stubbornly clinging on to (where we know we are in the wrong), or things that we know are just plain holding us back on our Christian journeys. Let’s make this the day when we like Thomas own our mistakes honestly and move on from them.
Let’s look at our issues in the face of the risen Jesus. The risen Jesus who is here with us as we read this reflection through the power of the Holy Spirit, the power he breathed on the first disciples in the locked room. The power that surrounds us on every step of our journey and is in our every breath. God’s love for us is not about humbling or humiliation for our issues but it is just us intimate, deep, profound and overwhelming as Jesus love for Thomas so clearly was.
Let’s open our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to help us let go of what is holding us back, and to move us on. Let the marks of the nails in the risen Jesus hands and the wound in his side heal and stir us this day. May our hearts echo the words of Thomas – My Lord and my God. Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995