Scripture: John 20:19-29 (NRSV)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the mark 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.'
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'
I don't know about you, but the story of Thomas really resonates with me. My favorite Star Trek character was always Mr. Spock. I dreamed of growing up to be a scientist, doing my part to expand frontiers of knowledge. I was, and still am, a skeptic.
As a child in a conservative denomination, my questioning tended to get me into trouble. I was the kid in Sunday school who would ask, "How did the kangaroos travel from Australia so that they could even get on Noah's ark?" or "Where did Cain and Abel's wives come from?" Eventually, these questions and their adult equivalents led me to leave my old denomination for a home in the United Church of Christ. As a questioner, I love Thomas, and I've always thought that he got a bum rap, being permanently labeled as "doubting."
It seems to me that Thomas' story is more notable for what doesn't happen in it than for what does. Thomas doubts, but no one rejects him. Nobody tells him, "If you won't go along with what we say, then you can't be part of our club." Instead, the Disciples make room for Thomas' questioning, allowing him to be with them until he can experience Christ's living presence for himself.
As a hospital chaplain, I regularly encounter people who were raised in church but drifted away, unable to go along with the group, unquestioningly believing what they had been taught in the churches of their childhood. Others tell of being turned away by churches or clergy whose judgment made them feel unwelcome.
Many of my patients who could not find the presence of the resurrected Christ in the church find it in the wilderness of their illness. It is my privilege to journey with them during this holy and terrifying time, when they finally see the risen Christ in the attentive care of a nurse, in the gentle touch of a grandchild, in the refuge of scriptures dimly remembered and prayers long neglected. For them, the living body of Christ _ wounds and all _ is present at last.
God of faith and God of doubt, be with me now, soothing my spirit and satisfying my mind. Help me to have peace while I seek answers to life's questions. Grant me peace when I journey in those places where knowledge cannot be my guide and grant me grace when I am tempted to judge those who do not believe as I do. Amen.
Paul E. Bryant-Smith
Director of Spiritual Care at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, NY. He also serves as pastor of the King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury, CT.