The Holy Gospel according to John, the 20th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
19 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 Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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." 26 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." 27 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." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 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." 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
When I worked as a hospital social worker, I had to dictate reports every day. There were transcriptionists who worked in the evenings and at night. They were each assigned to transcribe the reports of specific people. I had been there a couple of years when the woman who usually transcribed my dictation took a day job at another hospital.
I had never met her, or even spoken with her on the phone, but one day, I called that hospital where she worked to make a referral, and she acted like we were old friends. She said, “I feel like I know you because I listened to your voice every night.”
There are many different ways we recognize someone we know, including hearing, seeing, and touching. When we are first born, we can detect light and motion, but we don’t really focus on faces or objects until we are about a month old. So, the first way we recognize someone we know is through their voice.
Our hearing is fully developed very early. Once we are born, the sounds of the outside world are loud and clear for us. That’s why mothers and fathers often talk and even read books and sing to their babies before they are born. That way the baby will recognize their voices easily after they are born.
Even if the parents don’t make a deliberate effort to talk to the baby, their voices are the ones the child has heard the most. Their voices will be the ones the child will learn and recognize first.
The most common way we think of recognizing someone is by sight. We recognize people because we know what they look like.
Don’t you just hate it when you see someone, and you know you should know their name, but you just can’t remember it? That happens to me all the time. I have terrible facial recognition software. I completely understand that on the day of resurrection, Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener.
Sometimes, we can recognize someone because we have seen their picture. A congregation I served many years ago had pictures of all the members on bulletin boards around the fellowship hall where we had coffee after worship. They were in alphabetical order by family name just like we have downstairs. It was great for me because I could just wander around the room to find the names of the people I had been talking to.
Teachers will tell you that some of us are auditory learners and we remember things best when we hear them. Some of us are visual learners. We remember things best when we see them.
Some people are tactile learners. They learn and remember best when they can touch things. Of course, all of us learn best with a combination of these methods.
I wonder if the Apostle Thomas was a tactile learner. He needed to touch Jesus to know for sure. He did not believe at first, so he did not recognize him.
We would all like to think that our faith will come more easily for us than it did for Thomas. We would like to think that when we are surrounded by fear and doubt, that Jesus will walk on through the locked door. And we will instantly recognize him. And we will be completely reassured. And our fear will disappear. And we will be filled with joy.
This is how we may assume that faith should work. We all have our doubts and questions and fears. But then, God shows up, and all those things fall away, and we are filled with joy and wonder and praise, and of course, unshakeable faith.
That’s how we think faith should be. And maybe it is for some people. But maybe we feel bad because that isn’t how it is for us. We feel bad because we can have a hard time recognizing Jesus in the things that happen in our lives and in the world.
But we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.
Let’s look at the story of the resurrection from the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb. She saw the linen wrappings. She even saw Jesus. But Mary thought he was the gardener. She didn’t recognize Jesus until he said her name.
Peter and another disciple saw the empty tomb. John tells us they believed, but they didn’t really understand what had happened yet.
That evening, Jesus came into the locked room where the disciples were hiding. He spoke to them and he showed them his hands and side. They heard and they saw, and maybe even touched him, then they believed.
Thomas wasn’t with the others that evening. So, he didn’t believe them. He had not heard the voice for himself. He had not seen for himself. He had not touched Jesus himself.
The next Sunday evening, a week after Easter, Thomas was with the others in that locked room. Think about that. The other disciples had seen the Lord. They knew he was risen from the dead. How strong could their faith be if they were still locking themselves up in fear a week later? No wonder Thomas didn’t believe them.
We are much more like Thomas and the other disciples than we would like to admit. There are plenty of things that keep us locked up in our room. The list of things to be afraid of can depend on your political leanings and which cable news channel you listen to.
You could be afraid of different racial or religious groups. You could be afraid of the overbearing rich, or the grasping poor. You could be afraid of politically correctness or of gun owners. No matter what you believe, the politicians and the news media are telling you to be very afraid of lots of people and things.
It is very understandable, and very tempting, to lock ourselves up in a room, tell ourselves that we can’t believe or trust anyone anymore, and wait until it all goes away. And it can be very hard to see Jesus in any of it.
We were not eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, so, how do we recognize Jesus?
Some of us are auditory learners. We can hear the witness of the scriptures. We can read and study the Word, and like Mary, we can hear Jesus call our name. We hear the hymns of the faith and the proclamation of the gospel and we know that Jesus is with us.
Others of us are visual learners. We need to see faith in action. We need to see Christians act like they believe in the resurrection. We need to see them come out of their locked rooms and show the love of Jesus to everyone. We need to see the hungry being fed. We need to see the poor being cared for.
Others of us are like Thomas. Just hearing and seeing are not enough. We need to touch Jesus for ourselves. We need to feel the love of Jesus in the warm embrace of someone who loves us. We need to be able to feel Jesus in our hearts.
One of the things that Thomas teaches us is that being around other believers will help us recognize Jesus. Keeping away from the community of faith makes it harder for us to know him.
This is one of the reasons we come to worship. This is one of the reasons we bring our children here. We want them to be able to recognize Jesus. And it is hard to recognize someone you don’t know or see very often.
Recognizing Jesus is really a gift of grace. By my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. Neither could Thomas, and neither can you.
God, our Holy Spirit, uses the gospel to call us by name, gather us together, and enlighten us, so that we, too, can recognize Jesus.
Today, we respond as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!”
Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!