Lessons for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A: Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Poor Thomas! Or should I say doubting Thomas for, indeed, that is the name we hear most often.
I saw a cartoon this week that features Thomas, hands on hips, saying, “it’s just not fair, it’s not like people go around saying Denying Peter.”
It’s a dreadful mislabeling of the man, if you ask me. Thomas only wants what everyone else has already received – a glimpse of Jesus resurrected. In fact, the word doubt doesn’t appear in the story if you go back to the original text. The NRSV renders the text “do not doubt but believe” But Jesus doesn’t say to not doubt, he says “do not be unbelieving.”
Doubt, after all, is an element of faith not a sign of unbelief and I don’t think Jesus need have worried about Thomas being an unbeliever. Because if Thomas were an unbeliever, Thomas would have been off living his life. He wouldn’t have been sitting up there with the rest of the disciples hoping Jesus might show up again. No, indeed, Thomas was because he believed …because this was the place where Jesus had last been seen. He’s up there waiting, wanting to see evidence of this amazing thing that has taken place. This isn’t the action of an unbeliever. No, this is someone still engaged with the push and pull of his faith who is willing to struggle and wait and watch and hope.
Thomas means the Twin. As a dear friend likes to conclude when he preaches this text, “And, he is you twin if you want him.” I know he is the twin of many of us here because so many of you have told me that you have struggles and questions and doubts. He’s a twin that folks would be blessed to have. I would be more than happy to write him into my family tree. Rather than trying to diminish him as so many have with the “Doubting” moniker, might I suggest today that Tomas has perhaps the most robust faith of any of the disciples – save, maybe, Mary Magdalene. He doesn’t grandstand like Peter, “Watch me walk on water!” “Jesus, you will never wash my feet.” “I’ll just jump in the water even though we are close to shore.” And he doesn’t jockey for position like James and John who elbow each other out of the way to see who might sit at Jesus’ right hand.
Consider the places we meet Thomas in the gospel of John. We see him in the story of Lazarus, in chapter 11 – the story about the man whom Jesus loved and who is ill and later dies. Lazarus’ sisters have called for Jesus, who is game to go to Judea; but, the disciples say, “No, Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, that’s the last place we want to be.” But Thomas, notably, does not join the chorus of people eager to save Jesus’ skin and their own. Instead, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
And we meet Thomas again a few chapters later, in chapter 14, when Jesus is teaching about God’s house with its many rooms. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?… And you know the way to the place where I am going.” And Thomas answers, “How can we know the way?” Now we might ding Thomas for interrupting what might be one the most eloquent discourses of Jesus except that his question is vital if you care about following Jesus. You don’t ask the question unless you intend to go where Jesus wants you to go.
That’s Thomas in chapters 11 and 14 and then we have chapter 20 to round out our character sketch.
We just heard that when Jesus appeared for the first time post-resurrection, Thomas was off somewhere. Sometimes I think that Thomas should be the patron saint of the day-late and the dollar-short. Everyone else go to see Jesus while Thomas was off buying Cheetos and Mountain Dew at the 7-Eleven. But that’s not right either. Where is Thomas? What is doing while Jesus appears the first time? Well, it seems obvious. Doesn’t it? He not on a beer run! He looking for Jesus. Mary Magdalene said, “He is risen”, so Thomas is going find him. He is certainly not going to cower behind a locked door, quivering with the other disciples for fear of the religious authorities. He’s the one brave enough to be on the outside. Let’s start calling him courageous Thomas instead of doubting Thomas.
In the years to come, after Jesus is no longer with them, the disciples will go on to spread the good news and found churches. And Thomas has a special distinction, he’s the only one of the disciples to have ventured beyond the Roman Empire to spread Christianity. The tradition tells us that he founded churches in southern India, for heaven’s sake. Thomas is a man of movement. Let’s go to Judea even if it means our death. I don’t know the way Jesus but I want to know so tell me. I’m not going to sit in the upper room with the door bolted. If Jesus is alive I’m going to go find him and aim not going to be afraid. That search, that movement takes him all the way to India, further than any other disciple was willing to go.
Before he was a US Senator. Cory booker was mayor of Newark, NJ. Several years ago, he was coming home one night and he saw his neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. A woman standing nearby screamed that her daughter was still inside the house and so, without thinking, Cory Booker ran into the house. He and members of his security detail saved the woman and several others who were inside. Cory Booker threw the woman over his shoulder, like a sack of potatoes, and ran through the flames, suffering smoke inhalation and some second degree burns but otherwise okay. Now, as often happens on the internet, people decided to have some fun with this and inflate this government bureaucrat into a butt kicking hero. A twitter feed sprang up when it happened called the “Cory Booker Stories” – a 21st century version of tall tales. “When batman needs help,” one read, “he turns on the Cory Booker signal.” Another: “When Chuck Norris gets nightmares, Cory Booker turns on the light and brings him warm milk until he calms down.” And yet another: “Smoke is treated for Cory Booker exposure.” Those are kind of fun, right?
But what struck me most – what caused me to sit up and take notice of the story was an interview that Booker gave the next day. During the interview, Booker said that the decision to go into the burning house was a Come-to-Jesus moment. Booker probably means Come-to-Jesus as a moment of decision. That’s how we normally think of Come-to-Jesus moments. But think about what that phrase means literally. Come-to-Jesus! Booker went toward a person in grave danger and called it a Come-to-Jesus moment. I hear strains of Matthew 25. I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirty and you gave me a drink. I was perishing in a burning building and you dove in and saved me. That which you did to the most vulnerable and imperiled you did unto me. Thomas, our disciple with the robust faith, would approve. He was a Come-to-Jesus kind of person.
Our first lesson assigned for today is from the book of Acts. All week I was wondering how do I connect Thomas to this little snippet about Peter (it’s from chapter 2). It starts, “Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them.” How in the world am I to make a connection and then it hit me – through a simple question at our Wednesday morning bible study. “What would make Peter, a fisherman, just get up and start talking in front of such a large crowd?” It’s a good question. Peter was a simple fisherman, not accustomed to public roles.
So why does he suddenly get up and proclaim God’s salvation. I will attest that I think it is because Peter has experienced in the resurrected Christ and in that experience he has come to know even more intimately the love of God. And it is a story that he is now empowered and compelled to tell. It’s the narrative arc of the Acts of the Apostles – telling the story of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of Stephen’s courage in the face of death…of Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch…of Paul’s conversion and mission….of a community which shared everything in common….and of Peter’s sermon.
It’s the story of an alternate vision of what life might be with God in Jesus Christ. And it takes a robust faith to lift it up. And if Thomas is our twin then maybe we have no choice but to lift up the same vision.