Last week I posted the first half of a sermon on “Doubting Thomas.” This is the second half!
I noticed something else, too, when reflecting on this passage—something I hadn’t really thought much about before.
I noticed that there’s a whole week in between when Jesus appears to the first group of disciples (without Thomas, in the locked room) and when Jesus appears again to that same group of disciples (this time including Thomas). The English translation says “a week later”; the Greek literally reads, “after eight days.”
Jesus could have come back and shown himself to Thomas any time. Any time at all.
He could have appeared to Thomas wherever Thomas was hanging out that night, while the rest of the disciples were together. I don’t know what Thomas was doing that evening. But Jesus did. He could have gone and found him.
Or Jesus could have appeared to Thomas anytime during that week. But he didn’t.
For some reason, he waited eight days. And for Thomas, those were likely eight lonnng days.
Eight long days of hearing his friends insist that they saw Jesus, but not quite knowing whether to believe it. Were his friends trying to pull one over on him, like saying gullible is written on the ceiling when it isn’t? If it was a joke, Thomas may have thought, it wasn’t a very funny one.
Or maybe his friends were imagining things—a sort of collective hallucination born out of the extreme stress of losing a dear friend and then fearing for their own lives at the hands of the same authorities who hated Jesus enough to want him dead.
Maybe these were eight long days, for Thomas, of wondering whether Jesus cared about him enough to show himself to him. Wondering whether he would have to just take his friends’ word for it in the end (or not), or if he would get to see Jesus for himself. Wondering where Jesus was, what Jesus was doing. Wondering if Jesus had really risen from the dead at all.
It might be easy to call Thomas a doubter. But his experience was legitimately different from that of his friends. They had gotten to see Jesus. Thomas had not. Thomas wanted that experience for himself.
I wonder how Thomas was formed in this time of waiting. How did that time change him?
I wonder this, because I wonder it about us, too. We often live in those eight long days, don’t we? I wrestle with Easter in that way.
Yes, Jesus was resurrected. Yes, there is the promise, in the end, of resurrection and eternal life for us as well.
But we live in the in between. We often live in those eight days between hearing testimony that Jesus rose and seeing him in a tangible way for ourselves.
How are we changed in the wait? And what do we do in the wait?
I don’t have all the answers to this—and even if I did, I don’t think I would lay them out as if they could be condensed into nice little bullet points, maybe something that spells out a cute little acronym. I don’t think wisdom is like that.
But I do want to offer one observation. Whatever else Thomas might have been doing in those eight long days, we know this: he kept spending time with his friends, his fellow disciples of Jesus.
I want to unpack this a bit. We might be tempted to gloss over it. But, to me, it feels like a big deal.
Thomas kept spending time with the community of disciples—even after they said “we have seen the Lord,” and Thomas wasn’t so sure. He didn’t let their certainty, when he felt none, tear apart the relationships they had built. He didn’t let them make him feel guilty about his doubts, or ashamed of them—or if he did feel some guilt or shame, he didn’t go hide by himself because of it.
He didn’t keep his real thoughts from them. He said exactly what he was thinking: Unless I see, unless I feel, unless I have evidence of this for myself in a way I can understand, I will not believe.
Thomas may have had his doubts. But he was honest. He didn’t pretend to believe because everyone else around him did. And he was self-aware; he articulated what he needed in order to believe.
And his friends, for their part—the other disciples—kept hanging out with Thomas, too. We don’t know from the text exactly how they responded to Thomas saying he wouldn’t believe until he, too, saw. But we know they kept all spending time together. We know this because we know they were all together eight days later, the next time Jesus appeared.
The other disciples didn’t shun Thomas because he didn’t believe the same things they did at that moment. They didn’t cast him out as an unbeliever. They didn’t feel threatened by him—or if they did feel threatened, they didn’t reject him because of it.
They accepted him. They accepted where he was at. Unbelief and all.
This is not to be taken lightly.
I think of a time, several years ago, at a church I used to be a part of, when I was asked if I might consider being part of the church prayer team. That meant being available right after church services to pray for anyone who would like some prayer.
I told the church leader who asked me, Thanks for asking, but I don’t know if that’s a good fit for me right now. To be honest, I haven’t been praying much in my personal life, so I don’t know if it quite feels right to be up front offering to pray for others at church.
The church leader didn’t miss a beat in replying, Ah, feeling a little convicted, are we?
I wasn’t, in fact, feeling convicted. I did feel sad, at times, that my prayer life wasn’t what it used to be. And I needed people I could process that with honestly. I needed people who would listen, and maybe ask some open-ended questions, and not judge.
Imagine if the church leader instead had said, I know how that feels. Everyone goes through times when their prayer life is struggling, or nonexistent, or just really different from how it was five or ten years ago. That’s okay. Let me know if you want to talk about that more. Or something like that. Something that opens up relationship. Something that opens up opportunities to know each other better. Something that doesn’t end with judgment.
That’s what I see in Thomas’ community: people willing to receive his honesty and not judge. And that’s what I see in Jesus, too, in this story. This openness, this non-judgmentalness.
After those eight long long days, when Jesus finally does show up when Thomas is there, there’s no judgment. He just identifies what Thomas said he needed, and he offers this to Thomas. Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
There’s no shame. No mocking. No “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” that you didn’t believe. There is compassion. There’s a desire for Thomas to believe.
We may find ourselves, in this season, at the beginning of those eight long days—or somewhere in the middle, unsure how long they will last.
We may find ourselves rejoicing, like the disciples did, at some way we have seen Jesus, some way we’ve seen God at work in our lives or in our communities.
Or we may find ourselves confused, like so many characters in these resurrection stories. We understand some things but feel totally lacking in understanding others. We may see Jesus but not know it yet, like Mary and the gardener, or the other disciples who were fishing and saw him on the shore.
We may feel disoriented because Jesus isn’t showing up in the same ways he used to for us.
It’s okay to be in any of these places. God does not judge us for being in any of these places.
Instead, God gently guides us in a process of learning to articulate what we need, and bringing these needs into community—not pulling back from faith community when things are hard or we don’t even know what we believe, but sharing honestly where we’re at and continuing in the relationships we’ve built over time.
God can hold us in all of these spaces, at all points in this journey. And, at their best, faith communities can hold us, too.
This is good news.
There is room for the believers, and room for the unbelievers.
There is room for the faith and room for the doubt. There is no shame in that doubt.
There is room for those who believe without seeing and room for those—and that’s most of us—who feel like we need to see something.
There is room for all of us. There is room, especially, for our honesty.
So, we can show up as we are, like Thomas did. And we can embrace those whose doubts might feel bigger, scarier, or different from our own. We can wait, together, in community, for Jesus to show up in the ways we need him to.
Peace to you this week,