Reading: John 20:19-31
For the disciples, the Resurrection became real to them when they saw the resurrected Jesus. As you might remember, the first people to see the resurrected Jesus were the women. Every one of the disciples heard about the resurrection second hand before they saw Jesus. Considering this, I think that it is unfair of us to focus on the doubts of Thomas; his reaction to the news that Jesus rose from the dead was not unique. Luke’s gospel tells us that the other 10 disciples considered the Resurrection to be nonsense, and did not believe it when the women told them.
Many of us notice that Jesus scolded Thomas for not believing; and to be fair, he was the last of the 11 to believe, just as he was the last of the 11 to see. Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds, which is the very thing Thomas said he would need to do in order to believe. We really notice when Jesus tells Thomas that those who believe without seeing are the ones who will be truly blessed — and as much as we think of this as Jesus scolding Thomas, he really is no different than the others, who did not believe the women.
Remember, Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter denied Jesus to the woman who opened the gate, some unspecified person, and a man who said: “Didn’t I see you at the garden when we arrested him?” — John mentions that this guy who thought he saw Peter there was a relative of the guy who got his ear cut off, so when he asked “Didn’t I see you there?” surely he was thinking — “I recognize you, I saw you cut off my cousin’s ear.”
The disciples scattered, only the women and John were left when Jesus was put to death. A week or so before Passover, Thomas may have said to the disciples, “Lets go die with Jesus,” but at this moment, nobody was truly ready to follow Jesus to the cross. As much as we pick on Thomas and Peter, nobody believed, and few followed Jesus to the end.
Personally, I believe that the exchange between Thomas and Jesus is the climax of John’s gospel. I said before that I believed that John decided that the other gospel accounts needed supplemented, because some people where confused about who Jesus was. The specific confusion I believe he was addressing was a belief that spiritual is good, and physical is bad. This belief went on to suggest that if Jesus were good and divine, he could not have a human body; therefore, Jesus wasn’t a man but an apparition; They also believed since he was not physical, he could not be crucified — the nails couldn’t hold Him.
When Jesus tells Thomas, touch my wounds — it is clear that the wounds were made, it was also clear that the Resurrected Jesus was very much physically there. Jesus spent another six weeks with them, ate with them, and taught them. For these six weeks, the reality of Easter was there to see, and to touch. Christ was risen just as he said. John goes out of his way to make sure everybody can see that Jesus really was crucified, and that his Resurrection was substantial.
I know one of the first questions we ask when we hear about ancient argument is what difference does it make? The difference it made is the difference of whether or not Jesus was able to save us. Think about what is implied if we say: “Spiritual good, physical bad.” While it is an open debate how spiritual we are — it is obvious that we are very physical. We have no concept of being without bodies; our sense of identity includes what we are physically.
For Christians the life of Christ is, at the very least, an assurance that our physical life has the potential to be good — and, while this is good for a motivational speech; it is not the core of Christianity. The one teaching that Christianity stands or falls on is that of the Resurrection. One reason that the Resurrection is important to us is that we have a belief that God is in some very real way present in our lives. We don’t simply follow Jesus, but in some way God is with us as we live out our lives. Jesus’ work in the lives of the disciples did not end on Friday — and, it still has not ended.
Christians believe that Jesus came to save us — we have a bit of a problem with this if we are fundamentally beyond hope of salvation. While Christians have argued about some of the details of salvation; there is substantial agreement that we can be saved, that salvation is supposed to somehow include our life on Earth in our physical bodies, and that to quote the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
One thing that Christians have always looked forward to is the promise that we are also on the path to resurrection. Jesus promised his disciples that he went to prepare a place for them; There are hints about this place that is to come, but the best any of us have are guesses. We look forward, because we believe that as long as we follow the way Jesus leads, we will end up in the place where he goes, and that He has made us welcome in this place. Resurrection is the hope of Christianity — and today this hope becomes flesh — flesh that can be examined and touched. Easter is the day that our hope is realized, and we proclaim our faith with Thomas, that Christ is our Lord and our God.