Imagine the scene with Thomas as if it were taking place today:
You are carrying a tray of coffees in white paper cups, some with stirrers in them to mark the ones with cream and sugar. The door is hard to open while fumbling with the key and balancing the tray, but you manage to do it. You enter the little hotel meeting room that had served as a banquet room for Passover, and expect to find things more or less as they were when you left them: Peter pacing the room, back and forth, James sitting and quietly talking with Didymus, Andrew dozing in the corner. But instead, the room is full of commotion and excitement. You put down the tray of coffee on the glass side table. Peter runs up to you and says, “He is here! He is back!” You don’t know what he means. “Who?” Peter answers, “Jesus! We saw him. you just missed him.” That is not possible. They see the confusion on your face. Andrew says reassuringly, “It’s him. It looks like him. Well. not like him, exactly. It’s hard to explain. But it’s definitely him. He asked about you.”
You are not sure what to think. Everyone is smiling, energetic. You walk out of the room, down the staircase, out of the hotel, and into the sunshine. The sun is so bright, it almost blinds you. It’s the kind of day where, if anything different had happened last week, you’d delight in the sun, the breeze, the sounds of the birds, but the sunshine now just seems to be blinding. Across the street is a figure and it is hard to make out. It reminds you of Jesus. You both hope it is him, and also fear that it might be, because unlike John, you did not stay under the cross with Jesus’ mother. Unlike Peter, you didn’t stick around to see what would happen at the trial. You just fled and hid. What will Jesus think? He approaches.
It’s hard to say what is going through Thomas’ mind when Jesus appears, but we can well imagine that his feelings are complicated: doubt, hope, love, fear, confusion, or wonder, maybe a mix of some or all of these. Thomas and his friends are emerging from a situation that seemed to be all trauma and loss. Jesus is resurrected, yet it takes time for them to understand what the Resurrection means: an empty tomb, folded up linens, a gardener who is more than a gardener, a voice that is a naming and a call, for Mary. Mary is told not to hold onto Jesus. Thomas is invited to touch.
In this passage, Thomas is invited to three things: to touch, to see, and to believe. Yes, there is a contrast set up between seeing and believing, the gospel author John’s way of articulating to a generation that has not met the resurrected Jesus first hand that belief without sight can be even more valuable than first hand witness, because it is more trusting. Yet for Thomas the situation is both/and. Thomas is invited not only to see but also to touch. Thomas is invited not only to touch, but also to believe. Jesus invites Thomas into intimacy, the intimacy not only of the traumatic events that all the disciples suffered along with Jesus, in their own way—no matter what their different reactions to trauma were. Jesus invites Thomas into the even greater intimacy of healing, of engaging and touching healed scars.
Many of us may have real physical scars. I have one from when I fell while climbing a tree when I was about 12, a long jagged scar on my leg that was stitched together by a rather inept medical intern doing his first stitches. I don’t really like anyone to touch the scar, not even my spouse; I don’t mind that I have one, but it is fundamentally mine.
Jesus invites Thomas to touch his scar not just on his leg but on his torso, a place where he would have to draw aside his garments to make his scars visible. There’s an incredible love in Jesus’ willingness to uncover and to show the scars, because he’s inviting Thomas not only to see both the trauma and the healing in Jesus, but also to re-experience the trauma and the potential healing that is there for Thomas’s own scars. Whenever we encounter someone else’s trauma or pain, how we meet it resonates with our own life experience and history. Just as the disciples all reacted differently to Jesus’ crucifixion, so too do we when we meet suffering, death, or even Resurrection. There is no one right way to meet it, but Jesus invites us into three key things: the intimacy that is in touch, the discovery that is in sight, and the love that is in trust.
Jesus invites Thomas into the intimacy of touch: of knowing and being known in our suffering and in our healing, and the intimacy that this always involves. He invites him to really see: to see that Jesus is present even though he did not see it was Jesus there before. Thomas’ eyes will be opened to see the Resurrection when he sees that Jesus really is Jesus. Jesus also invites Thomas to have faith, to trust. To encounter the living Christ is to trust where we are fearful or doubtful, to place the power in Christ rather than in ourselves.
Each one of us can also ask ourselves: where do we run away from intimacy of both death and life, and flee into the upper room where things feel safer and more in our own control? Where do we need to look differently outside of ourselves, in order to see the Resurrection at work, instead of only seeing death and destruction? Where do we need to trust instead of have fear or doubt? For there we will find the Resurrected Christ.