Thomas’s Doubt, Jesus’s Love
Every single year, on the Sunday after Easter, the Gospel reading is ALWAYS this story about Thomas. So preachers end up studying this story every year. The last time I preached on this Gospel passage, I came out swinging in defense of Thomas, who really does get a bad wrap for asking for the same thing everyone else got. And I’ll go to the grave reminding everyone that Jesus responded to Thomas’s doubt with compassion and love, so why should we do any different? Doubting Thomas… what a nickname! Rude. We don’t call Peter “Denying Peter” after all. Thomas doesn’t deserve this nickname; he was one of the first who was ready to die beside Christ when Jesus, despite the wrath of his enemies, wanted to risk a return to Judea after Lazarus’s death. Thomas is a true believer!
All things considered, I find it both frustrating and refreshing that the very next Sunday after Easter, the Gospel passage focused on the idea of doubt. It’s fitting in some ways– the Easter story features the most unbelievable of miracles– resurrection! Life after death. Now this week, the Gospel features Thomas refusing to believe that the resurrection happened unless he can see Jesus himself, which earned him his unfortunate nickname. It’s a little irritating, right? We just celebrated the joy of the resurrection! I don’t want to be preaching and studying about doubt ALREADY. Let’s not shove Jesus back into the tomb quite yet, okay? Easter is a mountain top spiritual experience, and I don’t want to come down off the mountaintop just yet— I just got used to saying Alleluia again! I don’t want to talk about doubt.
But I’m going to. Working as a hospital chaplain gets me well acquainted with doubt– both my own and that of others. For many people, losing someone tragically or becoming sick is a faith crisis– how could God let this happen? It’s a question I get asked a lot. Luckily, I don’t think most people expect me to have the answer. But, sometimes we really let God have it at the hospital because feeling anger is okay and a normal part of grieving. In the same way, doubt is a normal part of faith. Feeling uncertain means you are thinking deeply, engaging your faith in a very meaningful way, and that’s not only okay, it’s wonderful. Times of doubt came and went for many of the great saints and church mothers and fathers; we are no different. So remember: experiencing times of doubt does not make you a bad person. We Episcopalians believe in the three-legged stool of faith: scripture, tradition, and REASON. We don’t check our brains at the door, and the brain isn’t always ready to believe in resurrection.
In fact, I think I’d be just like Thomas, who wanted to see and hear and touch Christ before he could believe. What Thomas heard from Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John, his friends and fellow disciples was nothing short of ridiculous, especially coming from the women who stayed at Jesus’s side to see his last terrible moments of life, who witnessed the moment of his death. How could they who saw all this claim that Jesus was alive after they’d watched him die before their very eyes?
Thomas’s doubt in this sense is logical, even instinctive. Any of us might be a little skeptical if someone claimed to have seen someone they knew to be dead appearing and disappearing, walking and talking.
But I have to credit one of my clergy peers, Pastor Sarah TevisTownes, for leading me to wonder if Thomas’s doubt was based in something other than logic or instinct. What if his doubt was born out of love? What if the thing Thomas found most unbelievable was not that Jesus could rise from the dead, but that Jesus would rise from the dead and appear to Mary Magdalene and all the other disciples…. but not him? What if Thomas wasn’t doubting the reality of the resurrection but doubting that Jesus, his teacher, his friend, would leave him out? “Jesus appeared to all of you but not me? But he loved me, and I loved him! The teacher I considered following into death would certainly never abandon me.”
When we look at it this way, Thomas’s doubt becomes something holy and precious. His faith in Jesus’s love for him, in Jesus’s sense of fairness and trust, led Thomas to believe that it was nothing short of impossible that Jesus would not love him enough to be with him too.
The gospel writer says a whole week passed after the time Jesus appeared to all of the disciples in that locked room. A whole week for Thomas to wrestle with this! I can imagine him reminding himself each night… surely, Jesus won’t forget me. Or…. surely they are all wrong, all lying, because the person I knew Jesus to be would never be so cruel. And maybe a niggling doubt… an insidious voice in Thomas’s head, whispering, “He didn’t love you.”
This is why the story of Jesus appearing to Thomas is one of the most moving moments in the entire New Testament. In appearing to the whole group when Thomas was with him, Jesus proved everything Thomas believed about him– not only that Jesus was miraculously alive, not only that Jesus was everything Thomas believed him to be, (“My Lord and my God!” )… no, in appearing in this group specifically so Jesus could give Thomas what he needed, Jesus proves his love for Thomas, his disciple, his friend.
It’s an intimate moment, really. “Thomas, my beloved friend, here, touch my hands where the nails were. Put your hand on my side, where the spear pierced me. See the marks, feel that I am real! Stop doubting and believe.”
What I hear Jesus saying to Thomas in this moment is, “Stop doubting my love for you, and believe.”
What a lesson all of us can learn from Thomas’s doubt and Jesus’s love.
After all, isn’t it easy to wonder if God truly loves us when terrible things happen? Isn’t it so simple to have a little doubt, to wonder how could a loving and compassionate God let this pandemic happen, let the war in Ukraine happen, let any kind of violence, sickness, or disaster happen?
And this, this is what Jesus is alluding to when he speaks to Thomas. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
I hear Jesus saying, “Thomas, you believe I love you because I appeared before you, proven my love to you. Blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet still believe that I love them.”
Beloved friends, this is the good news! Blessed are they who believe in Christ’s love for them and for all people, even when they haven’t seen me, heard me, touched me like Thomas has. When you find yourself thinking, “How could a God who loves me, who loves the world, allow this”, know that the doubt you feel in that moment, however agonizing, is holy and precious. Your doubt says, “God would never be so cruel. God is not to blame for this because God is Love and God loves all.” Your holy doubt is actually proof of your belief in that love! And you cling to that belief in Christ’s love for you, just like Thomas did. And one day, you will, we ALL will see the proof of that love before our very eyes.
May it be so.
 See Pastor Sarah’s excellent video on Thomas here: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/video/7088355698412653870?is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1&lang=en