I spend a lot of time on the Internet. It’s wonderful. I love it. I have friends across the world that I have never met. I have learnt so much about so many things.
But there is a lot about the Internet that is downright bizarre. My favourite is the countless websites that offer psychological profiling and use it to tell you things about yourself. Important things. Like “What breed of dog are you? What Disney character are you? What Winnie-the-Pooh character are you? What mid-twentieth century Anglican theologian are you?”
If you’re interested, I’m a Great Dane, I’m Hercules, I’m Rabbit, and I’m Archbishop Michael Ramsey. No, I’m not convinced either.
Well, yesterday I came across a new one: which of Jesus’ disciples are you? I gave it a go, hoping that I’d be S. Thomas. Sadly, it appears I am S. Jude, although the description did say “You’re the kind of person that everyone aspires to be.”
As I say, I’m not sure about the accuracy.
As I say, I hoped I’d be S. Thomas so as to co-ordinate with this morning’s gospel, but also because S. Thomas is great. We only get brief portraits of any of the disciples: Peter is a leader, but is always getting things wrong; James and John are close to Jesus, but are hot-headed and prone to arguing.
Thomas is one of the most vibrant characters. After the death of Lazarus, when Jesus is going into danger, Thomas says “Let us go also, that we might die with him.” At that moment when Jesus says “I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am there you may also be”, Thomas says “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?”
He’s impetuous, quick to react. He speaks before he thinks. He’s loyal and brave.
And this is his starring appearance, although it’s not created the best legacy for him. Today, when this reading has been read for many centuries, has often been known as “Doubting Thomas Sunday”.
Jesus appears to ten of the disciples. Judas, of course, is dead, but Thomas is for whatever reason not there. We don’t know why. Jesus appears to the ten and they are overjoyed, but when they tell Thomas, he doesn’t believe them.
I can’t say I can blame him. Who among us would have believed them? Thomas knew quite well that Jesus had died: the idea that he could be alive again was, quite literally, unbelievable. It was too good to be true.
I can’t blame him for doubting, because I would doubt.
The great theologian J. R. R. Tolkien wrote this in The Lord of the Rings: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. . . because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?”
I can’t blame Thomas for doubting, because I would doubt. How could the world go back to the way it was?
And then Jesus appears to the disciples again. And this time Thomas is there. And this time Jesus picks him out, calls him over. He says “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.’
Do not doubt, but believe.
Now, Thomas gets called Doubting Thomas, but it’s a bit unfair. We can be very, very grateful to him. First, because he doubted. Is there anyone in this church who has never felt doubt or uncertainty? Is there anyone here who has never found the good news of Christ too good to believe? A friend of mine from Twitter (@PrayingAnglican) described him as “Thomas of the incredibly normal reaction”.
Of course we doubt. Of course we do. Thank God that Thomas does too. He can reassure us that doubt is not the end of the world. We can doubt. Even when it is hard to believe, Christ still loves us and will still come to us, be present to us, and give us his peace.
Thanks be for that.
And there’s a second thing to be thankful for. This interaction between Thomas and Jesus tells us something important.
Jesus is resurrected. He does not appear as a ghost or, heaven help us, as a zombie. He’s a real, physical person, and Thomas can touch him. He’s real. It’s not a phantom: Jesus is real. Thomas touches him.
By the grace of God, so will we, when at the end of our lives we meet him face to face. We too will be raised from the dead. Not just souls escaping from the prison that is the body and flying off to Heaven. That’s Plato, not Christianity. At the end of all things, our bodies will be raised and dwell forever in the presence of God. Our bodies matter. They are us and we will not be separated from them.
And Thomas puts his hands in the wounds. They too are real.
When Jesus rose from the dead, it didn’t undo the old evil. The wounds don’t go away. Resurrection doesn’t undo the bad things that happen in the past. The evils of the past don’t stop existing. It’s not a case of ‘Oh, that stuff doesn’t matter any more.’ Of course it matters. The wounds are still in Jesus’ hands and side, and the pains of our past still hurt us.
Again, Tolkien: ‘[Evil] cannot be wholly cured, nor made as if it had not been.’ But resurrection means there is a future. The wounds and the pain are not the last thing.
There is a future and it is glorious.