The Sunday after Easter is often called “Doubting Thomas Sunday”, so named because we typically read the story of Thomas appearing to Jesus in our worship services. Thomas initially does not believe reports that Jesus had risen from the dead, and continues to doubt even when seeing Jesus for himself.
We can only imagine why Thomas did not believe what his friends had told him. Perhaps, the boys had played jokes and pranks on each other like this before and he wasn’t going to fall for something so outlandish. Maybe Thomas was in such a state of mourning that such news was impossible to accept, his heart too broken to risk being broken again. Or, Thomas could simply have been a realist, believing that dead meant what it always meant – dead as a Dickensian doornail.
Whatever the reason, and perhaps it doesn’t matter, Thomas is presented as someone who needs more assurance than what could be given to him even through the witness of 10 of his closest friends.
But I think there is more to Thomas than what appears to us to be someone of weak faith. Thomas needs to see and touch for himself. He needs to put his hands into and fully experience the wounds of Jesus to believe in the power of the Resurrection.
The traditional rendering of this story for modern audiences has been one where Thomas is presented as someone whose faith was weak and beset with doubt. He could only believe what he perceived with his own senses. While I certainly agree that the power of faith is in believing in a greater truth or greater possibility, beyond our own ability to sense or explain, there is something about this passage that bothers me, when we single out Thomas as someone with a weak faith to be regarded as a negative role model. One consequence of this rendering of Thomas’ witness is that modern Christians who seek proof, must have weaker faith than those whose faith appears to be unshaken.
I have learned to see Thomas differently, not as someone who just doubted, but as someone who witnesses to an active faith, constantly formed by experience – experience in living through the woundedness of the world. Thomas faith was strengthened and affirmed, not simply by hearing the Good News of the Resurrection, but by seeing, touching and feeling the wounds of Christ. When Thomas confessed “My Lord and My God”, he was confessing to a God who came into the world, suffered the wounds of life, and was executed due to the endemic injustices in power structures of his day. Thomas felt the wounds of Christ, and his faith was much more than an intellectual assent to the Resurrection.
In many ways, Thomas was the first “Theologian of the Cross”, someone who saw suffering as a way to strengthen faith, and not deny it.
Devotions for the week of April 3, 2016
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.