The resurrection is hard to believe. It is so hard, ten disciples cannot convince the one, or us – though we reportedly have a record of eye-witness testimony. But who cannot sympathize with Thomas? Granted, the idea of life after death is fascinating. It fascinated back then. It fascinates today even if our expression of that tends to come out in zombies and vampires (sparkly or otherwise). Even leaving off the idea of immortality for the moment, who would not want to know for certain that death is not the final answer? I am quite sure Thomas wanted to believe, but how could he?
People don’t want to see people die, especially those dear to them. Why? Because once they do the people know they will never see them again. Not ever. That is our experience in this world.
When was the last time you went to a funeral service or a graveside service? In case you never realized it, let me be blunt. These services are for the living, not the dead. We are the ones who need to be comforted. We are the ones who need reassurance. Now confronted with the idea of our own inevitable, approaching death, we need to know that our loved on is in a “far, far better place,” as Dickens put it. We need to know that someday we may join them there – that death is not the final answer. But it is very hard to believe.
I have known many Biblical scholars, ministers and bishops, highly educated theologians who have just as hard a time believing as Thomas or you or I. A number of them , in the last fifty years or so, have rejected the whole idea of the actual, physical resurrection. They have “spiritualized” the resurrection and say it is something the disciples “felt” or believed in their minds and hearts, or even something the disciples made up just to keep things going. (To which I ask, what did they want to keep going? Hiding in a room for fear of the Jews? Their poverty and homelessness? Peter’s fear for his own life which was so great he denied even knowing Jesus three times? Don’t be absurd)
But the “spiritualization” of the resurrection has taken root in many corners of the faith. After all, people die all the time and they never come back. That is our experience. That is what we know. That is what Thomas knew and to believe otherwise meant he would have to change everything he thought he knew about life, the universe and everything!
There was Lazarus, but that was an aberration. The disciples were not present when Lazarus died and was buried. I have no doubt Thomas thought like most people thought, that Lazarus was not really dead. That somehow Jesus called a man out of the grave that just needed a few good days of rest and sleep to get well. But, now, Jesus. They were there. They examined things. The Romans made sure of things – that people who were crucified were truly dead before they came down. (The Romans had a lot of practice at this). And Thomas knew that Jesus was really and truly dead, and dead for three days.
Suddenly, the ten others claimed to have seen him, actually, physically seen him and talked with him. How could Thomas believe them? “You are mad, the lot of you,” he might have said. Let me say, if the resurrection was a spiritual thing that the disciples felt in their minds and hearts, Thomas sure didn’t get it. Imagine his surprise, then, when Jesus actually, physically came to see him.
“Here. Touch here. Put your hand here. It really is me, alive. I was dead and now I am alive.”
Thomas had the right response: “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus added a note for us. “Blessed are those who believe though they have not seen.”
So here we have the telling of an eye-witness And you can check Luke, who researched his gospel with many eye-witnesses, and Matthew, who presumably was there, and Paul who saw him on the road to Damascus – and it was the last thing he saw for a while.
And you might say: “So you are telling me I have to believe in an actual, physical resurrection? Why, I would have to change everything I have always believed to be true about life, the universe and everything! Why, to believe that, the only way he could have actually been raised from the dead… Why, he would have to be God!”
And I might respond: “And so? Your point is?”