There are experiences in life that shatter people, leaving them unable to cope.
Most of us, at one time or another, have had these kinds of experiences. Somehow a trauma has occurred, either physically or emotionally, and we’ve been left depressed, unable to take an active part in life for a while. Or we’ve suffered the overwhelming loss of a person that we love. And in each case, these life-shattering experiences leave us with a lack of self-confidence. Sometimes we lose faith in the existence of goodness. Sometimes—even—we believe that we have lost all hope for happiness or fulfillment again.
For the disciples—and most especially for Thomas—the arrest, crucifixion and death of Jesus was that kind of experience. And so was the resurrection in a peculiar kind of way.
Our lesson, from John—the classic doubting Thomas story—tells us that the living through these traumatic experiences didn’t result in spiritual or physical immobilization—rather, there was the beginning of a profound experience of rebirth.
Rebirth—the emergence of new life—is usually preceded by changes in the way we live. Like Thomas, our lives are made up of desires, attachments, goals, expectations about life and other people—even fears, opinions and what we view as a challenge to our reputations. In a sense, none of us is free from these concerns in our lives. Like Thomas, when our concerns become so important that they limit our growth, there is always a great sound of breakage in the air and cries that we are not being understood. And it is precisely at these moments that we are capable of new life—of being reborn. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my fingers in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” –fear, insecurity, self-centeredness: “Thomas, put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side…” “My Lord and my God”—Thomas finds himself being born anew—he sees change and growth in his life.
If we look at all of Jesus’ disciples, we realize that they never grasped the prophecies regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. They missed all of thewarnings and comments that Jesus made to these friends. Jesus’ warnings to his followers didn’t come to them as cosmic statements that would lead on to his death and resurrection. To them it was the death of the person whom they loved the most—and this death brought with it the death of their own dearest and fondest dreams.
When the death of Jesus did come—all of the disciples fled. They not only parted from their friend, but they had their faces rubbed in the knowledge that they were not the kind of people they were supposed to be. They were not strong, or brave, or virtuous. They were cowardly and selfish.
And what about the resurrection? That was shattering, too. When the followers of Jesus realized that this carpenter they had come to love was God’s living revelation of eternal life? You remember how Peter said of Jesus “you are the Christ..the son of the Living God.” Remember those words. Remember how proud Peter was to say these words? The truth is that those followers had, all along, really believed in death. Thomas certainly thought this way—Jesus is dead—I don’t have to believe in anything or anyone.
Well, along comes the resurrection—it shattered the disciples. It ought to shatter us. It shatters so many things—attachments, goals, expectations, possessions—but most of all it shatters the core and the most fundamental belief of all worldly beliefs—it shattered death. Death is what comprises our basic core belief—it’s the way we cling to the world. Death is what says “I believe in death everlasting. I take what I can and hang on to it as long as possible.”
In the days following Jesus’ resurrection and the several appearances he made to his followers, Thomas and the other disciples began to change—to grow—to become the men and women that they thought they never could become. The trauma of discovering who they were not played a great part in pushing them along the way of who they could become.
An essential learning for Thomas was that apart from Jesus there was no real life. Apart from Jesus there is no Christian faith for us. Apart from Jesus—for his dedicated and committed disciples—there isn’t much reason for being.
Most of us don’t have any experiences like Thomas had, but it’s clear that being made new—that is, understanding a very particular and life giving relationship to Jesus—means an experience that changes our heart and brings new life to our lives.
The death and resurrection of Jesus was paralleled in the lives of his disciples, and this continues to us as disciples in our day. With each resurrection for us—each moving ever closer to Jesus—there is the revelation that the things we have parted from are not always the things that we need in order to live life fully and gracefully.
Like Thomas, it’s important for us to be grasped by the shattering Easter revelation. We, too, are urged to transcend the daily message of fear. Gone is the calculating hardness of heart. Gone is the old way of outward forms and inner fears. God is the old way of trying to reach God by piling up and heaping up our own accomplishments.
Is Jesus’ tomb empty? Indeed it is. Because Jesus is here—with us in this place. He comes to us in the form of so many experiences that cause us to see him and to grow into him.
Why do we seek the living among the dead? Why live as if Jesus were still in the grave?
“Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”