Has it ever struck you that when the risen Jesus first appeared to his followers they struggled to connect the risen Lord with the Jesus they had known and with whom they had shared so much. The context of Jesus’ presence with his disciples had changed, as we saw with Mary Magdalene last week, and to truly recognise Him required a whole new vision and a new depth of understanding on their part.
Almost every book of the New Testament refers to the resurrection, so central is this to our faith. But the body in which the risen Christ appeared was free of time and space, not restricted by such human barriers as closed doors. Yet Jesus was not a ghost or a disembodied spirit – His disciples were able to touch Him and he could join His friends at meals, as He had done in the past.
If we look at the Easter appearances in the Gospels, we see Jesus taking time and trouble to reveal himself to each of his followers, helping each to make that leap of faith to believe in the risen life, and speaking to each person according to their condition and need.
So, as we heard last Sunday, He calls Mary by name in the garden and tells her not to cling to Him. He asks Simon Peter to affirm his love for Him and then tells him to feed His sheep. In today's Gospel reading, Thomas is invited to put his hands into the wounds of His Lord and not to doubt, but to believe. I wonder what Thomas would have made of Professor Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion? Perhaps he would suggest that we read another book too. There is one by Philip Blair called God’s Credentials and it’s an arresting title, because credentials are what you must produce to show that you are who you claim to be. The Divine credentials are the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s credentials are, as Thomas discovers, the very wounds of Christ.
Thomas was no coward. If you recall, he was the disciple who, when Jesus determined to go to Bethany, just 2 miles from Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus, was ready to go with Jesus even though he realized that it was so dangerous that they could all get killed. Neither was he afraid to express his doubt. He longed for the certainty that the other disciples who had seen the risen Jesus shared, but he stayed with them, listening to and absorbing their experiences, but still sceptical, until he sees and touches for himself. So Jesus invites him to put his finger in the nail holes, and his hand into the wounded side. ‘My Lord and my God,’ he says. Here, almost at the end of St. John’s Gospel, is the declaration that Jesus is God. Jesus is not just a good man – He is a man, but He is also God. There are many (including us) who have not seen Jesus, but we are blessed by our belief in Him.
Honest doubt is not the enemy of faith, as Thomas found. Certainty is the enemy of faith, because it expects an answer to every question in life. Professor Richard Dawkins speaks for a growing number of atheists and secularists in our society when he calls God a ‘delusion’ because He cannot prove His existence for certain scientifically. Faith, by its very nature, exists where there is no absolute certainty. There is firm evidence to support Christian belief, but still at the heart of faith is mystery. However, at the heart of faith is also truth, resurrection truth, and each of us, with God’s help, can come to recognise that truth in our own way. The Easter season invites us to embrace the truth and to consider what it means to live the ‘Risen Life’.
When the disciples did eventually recognise the truth of the resurrection, they rejoiced. They were filled with joy. That doesn’t mean that life was easy for them from thereon in, or that their days were filled with happiness. Far from it. Ahead of them lay suffering and persecution. I remember when I first started ordination training, a Methodist chaplain saying to us that our calling would bring us joy, but that it wouldn’t necessarily make us happy! The joy which our Lord gives comes from His presence with us, not from our own circumstances. In fact, it gives us the capacity to endure, whatever our circumstances, and it lasts throughout our lives and into eternity, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, happy or sad.
The disciples were changed when they came to recognise the risen Lord and were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. They struggled to understand the meaning of His Messiahship throughout His life on earth, but when they recognised the risen Jesus, they experienced Divine power bringing the Kingdom to birth. With faith comes experience of the risen life. It changed them from the fearful, confused men who ran away when Jesus was arrested, so that, in our reading from Acts, we hear that 'With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.' They had been transformed by grace to live the risen life. So may it be with us.