“Resurrection: Too Good Not to Be True”Katerina K. Whitley Acts 2:14a, 22-32; John 20:19-31. Year A: Second Sunday of Easter
Let’s imagine Thomas this morning and try to understand him. He was known as the Twin, so I have wondered about the sibling who shared his birth. Was it possible that for Thomas nothing was completely real or acceptable unless he shared it with his twin?
What happened to him or her? Did Thomas feel incomplete without his other half? We would understand him better if we knew about his twin, but such psychological musings were not even considered in the context of the first century.
We know so little about him, but it is enough to draw a remarkable picture. He has been known in tradition as the Doubting Thomas, but we do know something else significant about him, something I consider much more important than his declaration of doubt.
He was a man of deep devotion and undoubted courage.
Remember the discussion surrounding Jesus’ decision to go visit the sisters of Lazarus after their brother’s death? The other disciples are trying to keep Jesus from going to Bethany, near Jerusalem, knowing that there they sought to arrest and kill him. “The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are going there again?’” But Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, toward his death.
On that occasion, it was Thomas who declared, without hesitation, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Now, this is a statement of utter devotion, a loyalty and a love that surpass the fear of death. I am stunned by this declaration. If Jesus has the courage to face death, then let’s die with him, Thomas says and the others, perhaps afraid of being thought cowards, follow behind Jesus. Death does come, but only to their teacher and beloved rabbi.
So, after the horrible three days of the arrest, crucifixion, and burial, the disciples are hiding because they are afraid to be known as Jesus’ followers and because Jesus had forbidden them from dying with him. Jesus needs them alive and strong so that they can carry his message of love to the world. He appears to them to take away their fear.
The first group who saw him after his death must have been delirious with joy. They couldn’t stop talking about it to those of Jesus’ friends who had not yet experienced the joy first-hand.
One of the absent disciples was Thomas. He hears the good news from his friends, but his hurt at Jesus’ death is so great that he cannot take the reversal without question. After all, he had declared his willingness to share in Jesus’ death. He had let his friend down. His sorrow is so great that the thought of Jesus’ return from the dead is just too good to be true. He cannot endure any more disappointment. If it is not true, his heart can’t take it.
Better not believe in joy so the sorrow doesn’t kill him. So he makes the very human declaration: “Unless I see the marks 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.”
This is a very emotional response. It is a very human response and for that I am very grateful. As I am grateful that the same gospel writer included Peter’s denial. It gives me hope that, despite all our weaknesses, our denials, and our doubts, we are still loved and we are forgiven. I have the greatest respect for people who go through doubt and emerge whole; those who believe blindly, without examining their faith, are in danger of remaining crippled spiritually.
When Jesus appears to all of the disciples on this particular first day of the week, he offers Thomas the opportunity to touch his wounds. Thomas must have been shattered.
He doesn’t make any effort to touch the wounds, despite his previous declaration. He knows who it is who stands before him. And he, like Peter in an earlier date, falls on his knees and proclaims his recognition: the one who stands before him is not just the Jesus he had known, but he is “My Lord and my God!”
He makes the leap from Jesus to Christ, from Jesus of Nazareth to the Godhead. In the same manner months before, when Jesus had asked his disciples, “And who do you say that I am?” Peter had replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:15-17)
These two epiphanies come from the two men who had denied and doubted their beloved teacher. For our benefit, the gospel writer adds the comforting words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” For that includes all of us who have come to the same recognition through the many ages that have passed since that glorious morning of his appearance to the disciples and to Thomas.
These appearances of Jesus removed all fear from the disciples. In our age, when courage is sacrificed to the love of money and of power, I bow before the reality of the resurrected Lord. For no one else could have filled the fearful disciples with such courage.
We see the fearful Peter, the one who had denied him, we see him, now filled with courage, standing before the many who have flocked to Jerusalem for the Passover. He speaks with the inspiration given to him when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit in him, the Holy Spirit that speaks through him as he gives his first great sermon.
This sermon is grounded on the resurrection. Peter declares that “God raised Jesus up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” With the eloquence of a scholar he makes the connection between Jesus and their ancestor David, between his own conviction and the prophetic words of the psalmist. “He was not abandoned to Hades, not did his flesh experience corruption.”
Without the truth of the resurrection there would have been no Paul the Apostle and probably no Christianity.
It was the resurrection that propelled the disciples to move out of Jerusalem, to travel the known world of the Mediterranean, to bring the good news to all nations as they knew them.
It was the resurrection that removed the limitations of time and space that were part of the human life of the human Jesus of Nazareth. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Advocate has no limitations.
In the resurrection, the finite had to become infinite in order for all to be redeemed by the love of the Eternal Christ of God.
As C. S. Lewis memorably said, “This story is too good NOT to be true!”
About the writer:
Katerina Whitley has spent her life examining the question “And who do you say that I am?” She has done so in her five biblically based books published by Morehouse, and in her novel of the first century, A New Love, published by Material Media. A retreat leader and lecturer, Katerina, a native of Thessaloniki, Greece, lives and writes in Boone, North Carolina. firstname.lastname@example.org and www.katerinawhitley.net
Scripture and Music:
Acts 2:14, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
The Day of Resurrection
Hail the day That Sees Him Rise
Thine Be the Glory
Breathe on Me, Breathe of God
Love Divine, all Loves Excelling
Jesus the Very Thought of Thee
Thomas: After Seeing the Wounds (Weiland)
Christ Sends the Spirit (Richard Proulx)
Sing Out My Soul (Hayes)
Thine Be the Glory (Handel)
So Send I You
Fill My Cup, Lord
But Thou Didst Not Leave His Soul in Hell (from Messiah)