April 8, 2018 – The Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31 – Doubting Thomas
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
For everyone who attends church regularly, today’s reading should be very familiar. Each year on the Sunday after Easter we read the account in John’s Gospel of the risen Christ appearing to his disciples, first when Thomas was not present and again a week later when he was. The story of “doubting Thomas” and his conversion to faith. Jesus showed his disciples the wounds of his crucifixion so that they would know absolutely that it was Jesus standing before them. Proof, given to them in mercy, while they were disheartened and afraid, the hoped for Messiah killed, their Master gone, their way ahead unclear.
Flora Slosson Wuellner, a retired United Church of Christ minister and the author of many books about spiritual renewal and wholeness – a writer I quoted in one of my Daily Words for Lent – sees a deeper meaning in Christ showing his wounds to his disciples. This is what she sees: “I believe the wounds were the sure sign that the eternal God through Jesus has never and will never ignore, negate, minimize, or transcend the significance of human woundedness. The risen Jesus is not so swallowed up in glory that he is beyond our reach, beyond our cries. He is among us, carrying wounds, even in a body of light. His every word and act shining forth the meaning and heart of God means that God’s heart carries our wounds” (page 75, “Feed my Shepherds”). And so, we can be assured that whatever wounds we carry, whatever pain we bear, we have a companion in Jesus.
Perhaps the story of “Doubting Thomas” appeals to us because so many of us – perhaps all of us – have experienced doubt about the truth of the faith we profess. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christ appeared to us, to show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is alive, our Lord and Savior, that it’s all real and all true? Some Christians are given such visions and experiences, but most of us are among those Jesus describes as “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
We may not have had visions, but along the journey of faith we may have had moments of assurance, either in times of doubt or at other times. These are moments to treasure, to ponder in our hearts. They may be rather light-hearted assurances. As a deeply faithful friend of mine used to say, “I’m sure that God has quite a sense of humor.” I’ll share with you a couple of light-hearted experiences of mine.
For many years we lived in a rural area in Dutchess County, New York, about 80 miles north of New York City. I regularly took what I called “prayer walks,” long walks that I spent in prayer. There was a particular route I often walked because there was seldom any traffic and there was a place where I could stand just off the road in a field that faced into a wooded area. It was very pretty and very peaceful. I would stand in the field, eyes closed, my hands raised with palms facing upward and pray for as long as the Spirit moved me. One day I was startled because a bird landed on my hand. Then a few days later, my husband walked with me along the same route. He walked further along the road while I stood in the field to pray. This time, when I was deep in prayer, I heard loud breathing just behind me. I tried to concentrate on my prayer, but I was wondering what was breathing. Was it the Holy Spirit? If not, what on earth was it? I turned around and standing just behind me were three very large cows. Don happened to be walking back up the road toward me and witnessed the cows standing in a row, as close to the fence as they could get, their heads over the fence, just staring at me. I called this my “St. Francis period of prayer!” Something beyond the ordinary was going on!
It is one of the privileges of my priestly ministry to be with people at important times of their lives. Birth, baptism, marriage, and other joyous occasions. Also, at times of fear and loss, sorrow and grief, in the hospital when someone is injured or ill, and in the hours and days surrounding a person’s death.
I will never forget being with one woman while she was in the hospital and drawing close to death. I had prayed with her, anointed her with the oil of healing, and sat near her at the bedside, just the two of us. By this time she was unable to speak, but it was clear that she understood what I said and did. After a period of prayerful silence, she looked toward the foot of her bed and saw someone or something I could not see. What I did see was a look of radiant joy on her face, a look I hope I never forget. That night she went home to God. Something far beyond the ordinary was going on!
When we are blessed with assurances like these, when something beyond the ordinary breaks in on our day to day lives, we must treasure these moments in our memories and in our hearts. These times of assurance are like a well of faith, ready for us to draw upon when our faith is dry or our doubts trouble us. What better season than Easter season to turn our attention to all the ways God has stood among us as the risen Christ stood among his disciples, showing us what we needed to see, telling us what we needed to hear, blessing us in countless ways, assuring us that all will be well.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.