“So That You May Come to Believe”
John 20: 19–31

April 11, 2021

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.

**** ****

One week ago, the celebration of Easter and the news of resurrection inspired billions across the world. Today, on the heels of the festal shouts of Alleluia, we read John’s account of that Easter night.

The last two sentences of this reading capture my attention. John explains that while he had many stories and wonders to share about Jesus, he chose the particular ones he did for a single, all-important reason: “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.” This includes today’s story about doubt right after the resurrection. This, it seems, was essential to help us “come to believe.” Odd, isn’t it?

The setting for this story is Easter evening when Jesus appears to his disciples. All but Thomas is present. Later, when Thomas learns of this, he refuses to believe it is true unless he sees Jesus for himself.

You know the labels. Thomas the doubter. He was the holdout, the cynic. In Sunday School I remember being taught not to be like him. His reluctance to accept the news of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance, his insistence on physical proof, his late adoption of the joyous belief of his peers — these were held up as spiritual flaws. As signs of stubbornness, or of a weak faith.

But weakness is not what I see in Thomas. I see a person who desired a living encounter with Jesus. A man who wouldn’t settle for someone else’s experience of resurrection, yet stuck around in the hope of having his own. A man who dared to confess uncertainty in the midst of those who were certain. A man who recognized his Lord in scars, not wonders.

According to John’s Gospel, Thomas had to wait in suspense and uncertainty for a whole week after his friends first told him they had seen Jesus. Do you wonder what that felt like for Thomas? Did he fear that he had missed the memo, missed the boat, missed the glory? That he was destined only ever to know God secondhand?

What strikes me most about Thomas’s story is not that he doubted, but that he did so publicly, without shame or guilt, and that his faith community allowed him to do so. This is a person with strong character. This is a tolerant, patient faith community! And what I love about Jesus’s response is that he met Thomas right where he was, freely offering him the testimony of his own scars and pain. After such an encounter, I can only imagine the tenderness and urgency with which Thomas was able to repeat Christ’s words to other doubters: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Because isn’t this all of us, on the Sunday after Easter? Don’t we all wrestle with hidden doubts, unspoken fears? Don’t we all wonder sometimes if the miracle of resurrection will hold in our lives?

Thomas’s story reminds me that resurrection is challenging. It was hard from the get-go, and it is still hard now. Hard to understand, to internalize, and to apply to our lives — especially when our lives are marked by pain, loss, uncertainty, and death. If nothing else, Thomas reassures me that faith doesn’t have to be straightforward; the business of embracing the resurrection, of living it out, sharing it with the world, is tough. It is okay to waver, to take our time and hope for more.

Remember at the start the assertion that John’s desire for his readers was that they would come to believe — to consent to the process, the path. The implication is that belief is not instantaneous. No transformations in our lives that hold come suddenly. The changes that matter most always come sideways and in fits and starts, often without conscious understanding or effort. Anyone who has battled an addiction, or stuck it out in a challenging relationship, or lived with a chronic illness, will testify that genuine conversion is lifelong. Maybe this is why the earliest Christians referred to their new faith as “The Way.” A “way” is not a destination. It is a road to walk. It is an invitation to journey.

On this first Sunday after all the hoopla, we read John’s account of an encounter between doubts and scars to help us come to belief, and this year — maybe more than ever — I cherish his choice. Why? Because this is territory we recognize after the past fourteen months of Covid, social isolation, viral fear, economic uncertainty, racial and political violence and strife. Though we are a resurrection people, we are also a people in pain. The world around us is still wounded, and the scars we are carrying from this past year will likely last a long time.

So. If you are finding the joy of Easter difficult to access right now, rest in the fact that Thomas took his time. Sit on the amazing truth that Jesus allowed him to do so. Hang onto the fact that Jesus opened a way for Thomas through the marks of his own suffering and trauma, sharing his scarred body so that Thomas could find his way to wholeness. Consider the impact and the attractiveness of a faith community that holds space for the wary and the skeptical. Contemplate the wonderful story of a determined doubter who gradually found his way to faith, who came to see the Wounded One as Lord and God in his own time.

The story that comes after Easter morning is one of scars and doubts as well as Jesus’ openness to Thomas’ needs and questions. This is a tremendous gift. Ponder it. “So that you may come to believe.”

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.