April 23, 2017

Seeing, then Believing


Text: Acts 2:25: “For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.’”

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I speak in defense of my client Thomas. The prosecution has cast a number of aspersions against my client, none of which, I argue, amount to any charge worth leveling.

You have heard the prosecutor suggest that my client must be somewhat suspicious because he is a person who uses aliases. It has been said in your hearing that he is known by another name, this name Didymus. But I’ll bet you’ve had a nickname, at least once in your life. Did that make you a user of aliases? Did that make you suspicious?

His friends have always called him this nickname, even though no one seems to know who his twin is. Rather than see that as a reason for suspicion, I suggest that we should see that as a reason for pity. Somewhere Thomas, this good and loyal man, has a twin.  He has a deep sense of connection to someone, a person born with him, whom he has no contact with.

IMG_0425I put it to you that this is the very understandable reason why my client has great difficulty forming relationships of trust. From a very young age, he has heard from those closest to him that somewhere there was someone to whom he was deeply connected, and whom he has no direct knowledge of. He has been deeply shaped by these experiences, and so it is quite understandable that he is a man who seeks proof positive. His sense of trust has been deeply undermined by this early loss.

You have heard charges leveled against my client that he doubts the Resurrection of our Lord, even that he may not deserve the honor of being counted among the apostles. It is true that my client was not present when the Lord made his first appearance to the apostles after the events of that Easter Day. And it is true that when they told him what they had seen, the record indicates that he refused to accept what they were telling him until he had had the same experience.

But is this really evidence of doubting? After all, what if the situation were reversed? What if the Lord had appeared first only to Thomas, who then shared his experience with the others? Would they all simply have believed him at face value?

I put it to you that my client’s reaction is entirely understandable under the circumstances. First, as we’ve seen, he is a man whose life circumstances have made him seek the physical certainty of things that are dear to him.

Second, he must have felt left out of that first and most profound experience that the rest of the disciples had that moment in the room when Jesus appeared to them. After all, his loss, his confusion, his despair at the death of Jesus was just as deep for home as it had been for any of the rest of them.

Of course we can understand how hard it would be for him to have felt left out of an experience of reunion with his friend that the rest of them had without him. He is reacting to the disappintment of having been left out. For centuries my client has been criticized for his seeming lack of faith. I say that instead he should have been understood as a man only asking for what everyone else in the circle of the apostles had already received—that direct encounter with the risen Lord.

But I come now to what I think is the strongest possible defense for my client, which is that when he did indeed come face to face with Christ, when the risen Lord appeared again and my client was in the gathering, his response was immediate and profound.

Think again about that prayer with which we began our deliberations this morning: “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” In saying those words we claim that aspiration as our own. And yet my client actually lived out that aspiration. In the story of his life after this one moment he is remembered for, he went out and took the message of what he had seen and experienced to thousands of people, whole nations of believers.

So can we any longer bear the injustice of calling him “doubting” Thomas? Can we allow this good man to remain under the punishment of that unfair nickname?

Can we not instead see in his desire to share in the same experience of the living Christ that his fellow disciples had already had a man who simply wants fairness—who needs the same assurance of that profound, incredible fact of resurrection?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, be honest with yourselves for just a moment. Do you not long for the same thing? Do you not desire the same kind of assurance? Have you not held back some part of your full devotion to God because you needed proof of the living Christ?

Or have you perhaps had the same kind of experience that my client once had when you have seen dramatic evidence of the possibility of resurrection in the life of someone you know? Some evidence of true reconciliation, some example of the grace of renewed purpose or restored hope?

You will now retire to consider the case of my client. You will make your judgment, and you will decide whether, like countless generations of Christians before you, you will simply reduce my client to a dismissive epithet—“doubting Thomas”—until this very same Sunday next year.

But I ask you to remember that first fact we learn about him—that missing twin. I ask you consider his longing to share in the same experience of his closest friends, and his pain at being left out of something they shared—something we can all relate to. I ask you consider his simple desire for some kind of direct experience with the risen Christ—something I am sure you have felt as well.

And I ask you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to consider this troubling possibility: That you, that all of us, are in fact Thomas’s missing twin. That we are just like him in his longing for inclusion and assurance.

And if we are, then I ask you to consider as well the great possibility that comes with that new identity; that we, like our twin Thomas, will ourselves become the experience, the demonstration, the expression of the joy and hope of the resurrected Christ in the lives of others who seek that hope, and whom we do not know and cannot yet even imagine.

Let us once and for all acquit my client of this ancient injustice. Let us make him, not Doubting Thomas, but Brother Thomas. And as you consider his case again this year, let us give up our instinct for swift judgment, and in its place find a new willingness to see him in ourselves, and ourselves in him—as all good twins must do. Amen.

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