The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Reach Out and Touch Faith—A Sermon on Thomas' Own, Personal Jesus

Acts 5:27-32
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

My friend Emily preached a sermon this week about Thomas, like everyone did who follows the Revised Common Lectionary. She said the usual things that we say about Thomas: he’s not there with the other disciples, he doubts that Jesus has risen, he demands to touch Jesus’ wounds, he gets the opportunity to do so, he believes, he proclaims. What a story, right?

I just love our friend Thomas, who was not convinced that his Savior was risen. His friends, the other disciples, are calling and responding—Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!—just as we have done…and yet Thomas is unsure. He has heard from people he trusts that this is the truth—Jesus the Christ is risen today! Hallelujah!

But Thomas thinks for a moment and says, “I don’t know, y’all. You saw him? I wish I could see him. I’d like to touch his wounds and hear his voice—as you have done—so that I may say, without a doubt, that he is risen.”

And that’s not really too much to ask, is it? The other disciples have seen and touched and heard, shouldn’t Thomas be afforded the same? The reason I brought up Emily’s sermon, is because of what she noticed about Thomas’ uncertainty. Emily is convinced that our friend Thomas was blind. “Thomas,” Emily says, “is [often] called the twin [in scripture]—perhaps because he is usually accompanied by someone to help him navigate busy, bustling streets.” Thomas has navigated the world with someone always by his side. Perhaps, sometimes, it was Jesus who guided him around corners and through crowds. But now, with Jesus gone, and his friends locked in the upper room, terrified, Thomas is, suddenly, out in the world alone.

Just a week earlier, Thomas had stood by and listened, helpless, like the rest of the disciples, as the empire crucified Jesus. Murdered this man who was his teacher, his friend, his Lord. We talk a lot about the trauma of crucifixion for the ones being crucified, certainly, but what about the witnesses? What about the trauma suffered by the disciples and their mothers? It is unlikely that in one week’s time Thomas has forgotten the sound of the nails being hammered into the flesh and wood, or the jeers of the crowd there, witnessing the same horrific scene, but mocking the life and death of Jesus. Thomas and his friends will not easily forget. Trauma like that will haunt their waking and their sleeping for a while yet.

And a week is no time to have grieved the loss of Jesus, either. Thomas may very well still be coming to terms with the idea that all of it even happened. Weren’t they just traveling the Palestinian countryside together, the whole community, a few weeks ago? Weren’t they just riding haphazardly on donkeys in to Jerusalem? Wasn’t Jesus just here?

Everything has been ruined. The man who was supposed to bring about the kingdom of God has been wrenched from their grasp. They’ve been thrown into darkness.

With all this rattling around in his mind, what does it feel like to hear the other disciples proclaim that Jesus is risen from the dead? “‘We have seen the Lord!’ they teasingly announce to the one whose eyes do not see, the one who was not there, the one who faced his own fear outside their safely locked room.”

Thomas has been told that Jesus is not dead—Jesus is alive! He was here! But Thomas is sure that, last week, they told him Jesus had died. Was that real? Did that happen? Was it not Jesus whose face he’d cradled in a final goodbye? Was it not Jesus nailed to the cross, after all? Was this all some kind of trick? Or, what if the disciples are mistaken? What if it is an impostor claiming to be their Lord? Thomas needs to touch this man who claims to be the risen Christ and touch those wounds. This is important. Thomas does not ask that Jesus perform a miracle. Thomas does not ask that Jesus break bread with them. Thomas wants to touch the wounds—Thomas wants to know that the resurrected Jesus continues to be the crucified Jesus. That all of it was real. That Thomas did witness his friend die, and that that friend who really did die is really now raised.

And as he has always done, Jesus appears at just the right time. Jesus knows what Thomas needs. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And so, in touching the familiar hands of his friend, Thomas recognizes the resurrected Jesus—the one whose torture and death he had witnessed just two weeks before. It was true, what his friends had said! He is risen! Thomas recognized him, exclaiming “My Lord and My God!”

Now, I don’t know if Emily is right about Thomas’ eyesight. But she’s right about his faith. Thomas’ understanding of Jesus, of the power of God, of the movement of the Spirit, was not based on his ability to see and interpret and rationalize. Thomas knew that the Christian life was about reaching out a hand, experiencing human brokenness, and believing in that connection.

It’s okay if you’re not convinced that Jesus was dead and is now alive. You didn’t see it happen. A good way, I think—and Thomas would probably agree—to investigate, is to reach out. Look around, as you are able, and see the human brokenness all around us. Reach out. Take a risk. Make a connection with someone you’re unsure about. Open your scared, vulnerable self, so that someone might reach out to you. 

We are not eyewitnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But we are, daily, reaching out and touching the wounds of the world. And the healing that is happening in Christian communities where people are not afraid, that’s where I’m convinced. That out of death, we are surprised by life. That out of sorrow, we are surprised by joy. That out of fear, we are surprised by courage.

We are the body of Christ. Broken and made whole.

Dying, he destroyed our death. Rising, he restored our life. The Lord Jesus comes in glory. Amen.

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