There are those who will always need in some way to touch the wounds of the Risen Christ in order to come to faith. They will demand some physical proof. Others will become aware of His presence and power in ways that transcend the senses.
Faith in the resurrection of Jesus was slow in coming, even for His closest friends and followers. There were the special, fleeting moments when they saw Him again, heard Him speak, even ate fish with Him on the shore. But then there was the demand of Thomas for proof; there was His invitation to touch His wounds; but, most importantly, there was His challenge to believe without seeing: "Blest are they who have not seen and have believed."
Today's resurrection appearance is one of those stories recounted to us to help us come to a deeper faith in the Risen Lord. It begins with a single word: "Shalom" – a word of peace to a dispersed and frightened band of disciples. A word that changed their lives.
The profound change that took place, both in the individual believers and the community itself, didn't start with instructions from a textbook of lessons learned in a classroom. What came first for those earliest Christians and what still comes first for us, is a faith built on a relationship with the Risen Christ. All of the resurrection stories remind us that Christ returned to give us his abiding, guiding and strengthening Spirit - and that has made all the difference.
The impact of Easter, in the early Church, and hopefully again in our time, is for believers to gather, to be together to contemplate the mystery of the Lord's resurrection and let it touch minds and hearts. This special sense of Community is very tangible in the apostolic church. We read about common living, sharing of goods, and a great concern that none of the believers should be left alone or in need. The Gospel incident with Thomas also highlights this same sense of community. The Disciples gathered together, partly in fear and wonder, and partly because they needed each other's support. When Jesus appeared to them, He offered them His gift of peace, and urged them to make mutual forgiveness the very first sign of their faith in the resurrection.
Today’s Gospel tells us that Thomas was not with the others when Jesus first came to them after the Resurrection. The fact that the surviving members of the Twelve seem to have been paralyzed into inaction and are hiding together in a locked room makes us wonder where Thomas actually was. But we can be sure that he must have felt totally alone; not even the fellowship of his companions can bring him comfort.
A week later he is with them and not only does he refuse to believe what they tell him, but he issues an ultimatum: indirectly aimed at Jesus. Maybe he wanted Jesus to know how angry he was and how empty he was feeling; perhaps he was hurting so much that he just couldn't bring himself to believe that Jesus would dare return to the group in his absence.
In any event, the apostles are now together again, behind locked doors, again hiding in fear - not exactly a sign of hospitality or of a readiness to rush out spread the good news of the Resurrection. Jesus is suddenly among them and once again offers them His Peace - a peace that will finally break through their fears, bring reconciliation and make love possible again.
Immediately He turns to Thomas and gently challenges him to follow through with his ultimatum: "Put your finger here - reach out and touch my side - do not doubt, but believe." But for Thomas there is no longer a need for that. He drops to his knees and makes the simplest and yet most profound act of faith recorded in the whole of the New Testament: "My Lord and My God!"
Faith must go beyond just seeing and touching with our physical senses. Thomas is a reminder today that our journey of faith includes doubt and brokenness. Thomas also reminds us that it was through his wounds, not in spite of them, that Jesus was identifiable to the disciples. It was through these same wounds that we receive our life. Our wounds – whatever they might be - do not set us apart from Jesus. Rather, they are signs of our union with him. And his wounds assure us that we will never be defeated by all that assails us.
When Jesus enters the locked room where his disciples are gathered in fear, he doesn't come in a blaze of glory and blinding light. He quietly comes with his wounds - the wounded savior comes to his wounded disciples. He says, "Shalom" and in the midst of their shattered lives and dissipated hopes, he gives peace beyond measure.
Graphic: 'The Incredulity of St.Thomas' by Caravaggio ca.1601, at the Neues Palais, Potsdam