The Lord is my strength and my song, *and he has become my salvation. (Psalm 118:14)
As a young woman was commuting to work one morning, crossing the Metro platform she noticed a man on his knees on the ground holding a bloody tissue to his nose. Noticing others were standing around him, she continued her pace. But then on further reflection she turned back, reached in her bag, and offered a fresh handful of tissues to him.
As she knelt there she noticed more details—a lot of blood on the ground, a man in a Metro uniform on his cell phone calling for help, a mother with a young girl about four years old who seemed anxious as she looked from the man to the blood, two other women standing near and watching. As she continued handing the man tissue, a young man stopped and offered a suggestion to slow the bleeding. Another man helped the man off his knees and into a seated position against a wall. And another retrieved a shoe that the man had lost and helped put it back on his foot. It was amazing how each person was doing one simple thing that all added up to this man being surrounded by care and getting the help he needed. Simple acts of compassionate presence.
When the man began to gain his composure, the young woman asked him what had happened. “I was crossing the platform to the escalator and I tripped over A KID,” he spit out — as if the child were at fault for being only three feet tall and below his line of sight as he rushed for the escalator, as if the child had placed herself in his way and was the one responsible for this situation.
It then became apparent that the young girl standing with her mother was the child in question. She did not seem hurt, only worried about the man with the bloody nose. Suddenly holding tight to her mother’s hand, she approached the man. With the man still seated on the ground, the two were at eye level with each other. Looking straight at him, she gently and quietly said, “I’m sorry.” And he gently replied, “I’m sorry.” And then the child reached her arms out to touch the man’s shoulders and leaning in, she kissed him on the forehead.
All those gathered around, gasped. What had been witnessed was pure, uninhibited love.
In our reading today from John’s Gospel, the disciples have gathered in fear behind locked doors. What had been done to Jesus was something that they feared might be their fate unless they were very careful. And this is where risen Jesus steps in to the room and stands among them, offering them his peace, showing them his wounds, and breathing the Spirit of God upon them. John tells us that the disciples rejoiced at the sight of their Lord.
But one of the disciples was not present. Thomas missed this opportunity to see Jesus. He would not accept the witness of the others. He demanded the chance to see for himself that this man was the one who had been crucified. John tells us that Jesus comes back a week later. This time Thomas is with the other disciples. Jesus again enters through a closed door, shares his peace, and then immediately offers Thomas the chance to see and touch his scarred hands and pierced side. Thomas responds by proclaiming his complete devotion to “my Lord and my God.”
The Gospel for today teaches us many things, but three I believe you can hold in mind:
First, never miss an opportunity to gather with other disciples—Jesus comes and stands in the midst of them.
Second, even when we are filled with doubts and have trouble believing, Jesus loves us and comes to us and shows us the way to truth and life.
Third, that rather than disdain Thomas as the perennial “doubter” we should be thankful for him in that he shows us to ask for what we need. For each of us want to experience the presence of Jesus.
Too often we Christians can seem to have gotten the idea that the way to God is by believing words, following certain creeds, holding to specific doctrines, following liturgical purity. And while beauty, and form and practice add immensely to our experience of worship and sacred time and place, what we most desire is an experience of Jesus. Jesus who envelopes us in love. Jesus who stands with us in times of joy and trial. Jesus who will never leave us abandoned. Jesus who leads us in the way of abundant life.
This is what Thomas most longed for–and being the one who in John’s Gospel is likely to ask for what he needs—he tells his community that he must see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and reach into his pierced side. Thomas longs to experience Jesus. And Jesus being the one who never leaves us without comfort—comes to Thomas and gives him the opportunity to touch and believe.
Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God!” is the only time that Jesus is called God in the four Gospels. But Thomas sees Jesus not only as the world’s great God incarnate, he has experienced Jesus as his Lord and his God the one who cares enough for Thomas to meet him specifically at his most needy point. Jesus does not chastise or marginalize Thomas for his unbelief, but rather goes to where he needs Jesus most and answers that request with pure uninhibited love.
We who stand far away from the details of this story, long for an experience of the risen Christ. We long for an experience of Jesus that will give us peace. We long for an experience of Jesus that will guide us. We long for an experience of Jesus that will inform our lives in the world.
Jesus says to Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen me.” And then he turns and speaks to all of us as the hearers of John’s Gospel, “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We, who are not witnesses to the crucifixion, the empty tomb, or the risen and scarred body, seek an experience of Jesus. And Jesus does not abandon us. Jesus comes to us today in our time of most need, just as he did with Thomas. Jesus comes to us in as many ways as there are people who seek him. Jesus comes to us in the still quiet places in our lives and in the midst of glorious and joy filled worship. Jesus shows us the way to God through the kindness of friends, in the faithfulness of loved ones, through the example of those who are willing to give their lives and their love away, in the presence of wonder that often surfaces in our daily lives. Jesus appears again and again to unlock doors between life and death, between fear and hope.
We experience Jesus’ presence through the words of scripture, the beauty of sacred music, in the deep presence of prayer. But we are also a fleshy faith. We are invited to experience Jesus each week as we share God’s peace with each other, as we ask for and receive the healing touch of people in our community. And each week we are invited to participate in real food and real drink as we gather at the table of thanksgiving—that is what Eucharist means– where we are invited to take into our bodies that that helps us experience Jesus’ live giving love for us all.
We come together as the resurrected body of Christ in the world to experience God, who helps us become together what we could never be alone. Jesus comes to where we are, offering us the peace of God, breathing on us and then sending us out into the world to be embodied hope for others.
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry invites us to experience the risen Christ as we pray for brothers and sisters in the world, “where there is much burden and little hope.” Every week in the season of Easter we can learn about and then pray for places in our Anglican Communion experiencing violence and civil strife. The Rev. William J. Barber who founded Moral Mondays in the state of North Carolina calls us to experience the risen Christ as he, the Rev. James Forbes, Jr., and Sister Simone Campbell begin a tour across our country speaking up for love, justice, and compassion to be placed at the center of our public life. The risen Christ can be experienced through the work of Catholic and Protestant churches in Italy who are bringing refugees from Lebanon and Morocco to Europe, helping them avoid the often deadly sea journeys. These organizations are paying for travel expenses, visas, and resettlement costs aimed at helping the most vulnerable.
“I just need to be with you Jesus. To touch you, feel you, see you, hear you, taste you. One more time. I need to feel that abiding place again, I need to feel the way, again. One more time.” It seems you found the way, Thomas, but really, you knew it all along. The way was not a roadmap, or a set of doctrines. The way was being in the presence Jesus who in that moment you saw as your Lord and God.
The truth of Easter is that we are blessed with a God who cannot be stopped by locked doors of grief, fear, hopelessness, or death. God knows our need for his presence and so continues to come to us blessing us, giving us unexpected pure uninhibited love, filling us with hope and then sending us into a world in need of the abundant life that can only come from God. The Good News of the gospel is that Jesus is always near. May we who seek his presence, be filled with the peace of Christ.