The first Sunday after Easter (which is actually called the Second Sunday of Easter), we usually get the story of the disciple we call "Doubting Thomas", who doubted that Jesus had come back to life. In this sermon, I explore why Thomas might have wanted some fleshly proof of Jesus' resurrection, as we likely all would. What would you do if you heard that a loved one had come back to life? What would you want to do with that person?
“Intuitive, Recognizer, Fleshy, Scientist Thomas”
Sermon, Year A, Easter 2, April 27, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 20:19-31
Thomas touched Jesus. He touched Jesus! Touched the risen Jesus. The risen Jesus that mysteriously appeared in the room that they had locked themselves in. An extraordinary moment, I should think. Imagine being Thomas. You’ve watched your friend die. Watched him be crucified. You were there, or at least heard, about putting Jesus’ body into the tomb. Then you hgear from your friends a few days later that they have seen him. That he has risen! He’s been resurrected, and come back to life. You hear the news that he is now alive!
Then you get a chance to see him. To know that what you have heard is true. And you have a chance to touch him. To touch Jesus. Fleshy, incarnate, human Jesus. Imagine touching someone that you thought is dead. Someone that you know is dead.
There are times I have wished I could touch my parents again. Get a hug from my mom, taste her rhubarb pie again. To have a handshake from my dad again. I don’t know if there is an equivalent for women, but for males, many of us have that experience with our dads of shaking their hands many times over the years while growing up but there comes that one handshake that you can tell, you can feel, that dad is not shaking hands with a boy any more but shaking hands with a fellow man. I had that experience, and I would like to experience it again.
We are a fleshly people. We live in bodies. We are embodied. We touch one another. Hold hands while passing the peace. Hugging. We communicate through fleshly interaction. We can even communicate thoughts, ideas, hopes, and prayers that words themselves cannot express. The hand on the shoulder. The pat on the back. The handshake. The hug. Communicating things that words alone cannot do, or do as well.
Though even words, speech, is also a fleshy touchy kind of act. It’s a physical act. I speak and set the air in motion. The air moves toward you, touches your eardrum and sets it in motion. It then creates patterns in your brain that communicate my thoughts into your head. It is a physical act, speaking. This is probably why noise polution is so psychologically damaging, because it is forced touch. It is like being poked repeatedly by something you can’t stop or shut out. You can’t stop sound from coming in.
We are fleshy, touchy people. You may remember the old telephone ad: “Reach out and touch someone.” Touch them by phone.
To touch again a loved one. A friend who has moved away. The baby sitter we remember but haven’t seen since we were baby sat. Someone from your past, like a teacher or a mentor. Or a mother or father, wife or husband or lover, who has died. Who is no longer around to touch. But we don’t get to touch them again. Not if they have died.
Not if they have died. We don’t get to touch them again. But that desire is there. I have seen over the years of doing and being at funerals, many times a spouse giving a last kiss, touch of the forehead or hair or holding hands, that one last time before the undertaker closes the casket before the funeral. To touch one last time. One last touch before the tomb is sealed. To put body to body.
After my dad died, I remember talking to mom a few months later catching up with her, asking how she was doing. We got to talking about her times of grief and pain and what the daily routines were like. And she said that of all the ways that she missed my dad, of all the moments of pain that came up throughout the day of missing dad and realizing he’s not there, she said the most painful moment of every day was getting into bed alone. That, for her, was the hardest part of dad being dad. To not have someone else in the bed. The rest of the day felt more normal, but at bedtime it really came home to her that there was no body there.
So I am not going to blame Thomas here for wanting to touch Jesus. I’m not going to blame Thomas or call him names.
Because we all know that we do not get to touch again those who have died. And Thomas wants to touch his friend who has died who had come back. Of course he wants to touch him! I think we all would want to touch those that we were sure were dead. I would want to hold again my parents, relatives, friends who have died if they came back. Absolutely. Partly just to make sure they’re real, that I’m not hallucinating, but mostly to feel their flesh against my flesh again.
Doubting Thomas? Not at all. I think that’s an awful name to saddle him with through all these years. Doubting Thomas? I think we all would have been Doubting Insert Your Name Here.
We are fleshy beings. Thomas wants to touch. Even our sacraments are physical. The bread and the wine of Communion. Bread is physical. You can touch it. Break it. Hear it breaking. Taste it. Feel the texture. The wine makes sound as it pours. It has taste. The feel of the liquid in your mouth. It has a temperature, a feel. Baptism’s water is wet, touchable, it flows, it has a sound to it, a color, a smell, a shape.
So of course Thomas wants to touch and have some fleshly proof. That’s just goo science, too. To be a little skeptical. To say, “Well, let me test it with my senses. I don’t want to believe it just because you said it. I want to touch it, see it, feel it.” Maybe we could call him Scientific Thomas. “Let me embrace him one more time!” Friend Thomas. Thomas who says, “My Lord and my God.” Recognizer Thomas! He knows who Jesus is. The other disciples don’t make that connection between Jesus their friend, Jesus their Lord, Jesus the flesh, and Jesus the God. Thomas, though, makes the connection of them all being one. Intuitive Thomas! Good Thomas! Insightful Thomas! Faith Proclaiming Thomas!
Thank God for Thomas and for all the Thomases who ask that question, “Why should I believe you just because you say it is so?” Who want to trust with their senses as well. With their flesh. All those Thomases who by asking lead us to even greater truths, or more extraordinary truths, by refusing to settle for easy answers. Or settle for simple questions. Or to accept unexplored, unquestioned claims. Inquisitive Thomas!
John’s Gospel begins, the very first words of his Gospel, with “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Then a few verses later it says, “And the Word of God became flesh and lived among us.” That’s the beginning of the Gospel. And what we read today is the ending of the Gospel. Though there is actually some more after this, this story is the real ending of the Gospel. The words we read today, these words of Thomas, tie the Gospel together. The opening words are confirmed by Thomas, who refused to live by faith and not by sight. Thomas, who wanted to live by both faith and sight, and by demanding both he has the insight to roll away the stone on those first words of this Gospel and see their fulfillment in the resurrected Jesus as he says, “My Lord AND my God.”
“You are my Lord,” he says, “I see you are also my God. You are God made flesh dwelling among us.”
Incarnate, human, fleshy. Intimate, present, touchable God.