- Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32
- Psalm 118:14-29
- The Revelation of John 1:4-8
- John 20:19-31
Easter continues this Sunday (and every Sunday), but today we hear the two appearances of the Risen Lord before the disciples. On the evening of Easter day, the frightened disciples are gathered behind locked doors. Jesus had been brought before Pilate on a charge of sedition, and his followers had reason to think that they might be accused as well, because of their association with him.
In John’s account, Peter had already found the Lord’s tomb empty, and Mary Magdalene had told the disciples that she had seen Jesus alive. But none of them had given credence to a bodily resurrection, and they were not ready to believe Mary’s report.
As the passage begins, it is late on the day of the Resurrection. The Risen Christ is no longer restricted by the physical limitations that others know. Thus he simply appears within the locked room and greets the disciples with the words, “Peace be with you” (20:19). He shows them the wounds on his hands and side, and as he repeats the phrase again, the disciples rejoice as they recognize him.
“Peace be with you.” Shalom. These are words of greeting, but in this case they are also words of forgiveness. All of those gathered are the same who had abandoned Jesus on the cross. In Jesus’ words and action, we see the pattern of forgiveness and reconciliation that is necessary for a community of faith.
One week later, the disciples again are gathered. Already they are observing the first day of the week as a celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. This time Thomas, who had been absent the week before, is present. When told of the Lord’s previous appearance, Thomas had stated the need to see for himself the physical proof of the wounds of Jesus. When Jesus appears among them again, he offers to Thomas the proof he demanded. But it is no longer needed, as Thomas recognizes Jesus with the words, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28)
The story of “Doubting Thomas” has been depicted in many works of art throughout the ages. Perhaps the most famous is Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St. Thomas. This painting entirely focuses attention on the drama and close encounter between Jesus and Thomas. In an excruciatingly realistic interpretation of his determination to satisfy his skepticism, Thomas raises his brows and peers with almost squinted eyes into the open wound in Jesus’ side. In the painting, strong natural light illuminates his face which heightens the drama. Jesus, pulls back his garment to expose his chest and guides Thomas’ hand as he inserts his finger into the wound. The gaze of two other followers is utterly fixed on the action.
There is another painting by a contemporary artist, Michael Smither, Doubting Thomas. It is a large mural, in which there is a contrast between light and deep shadow, suggesting anxiety as well as intimacy in a room of figures crowded together. In addition to the disciples, there are women, children and pets present. Different than Caravaggio’s play with darkness and light, there are contrasting colors of clothing and sharp angles caused by the movement of the figures. It is an atmosphere of excitement and electricity. Lit only by three candles, this scene also focuses on Thomas and Jesus. The wounds of crucifixion are apparent as is the pierced side of Jesus as he responds to the doubt of Thomas. Thomas is awestruck and appears on the verge of exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” The others in the scene also participate in the observation. Looking at this painting we are confronted both with the possibility of doubt and the opportunity to enter vicariously into the peace that Jesus brought to the gathered crowd.
In past ages, and perhaps for us today, Thomas has become a figure with whom members of the church community can identify with. We desire some form of proof before we’re willing to invest our faith. And Jesus is ready to be present for us to see and touch. For us today, we can touch and we can taste each time we gather at the Lord’s table.
As we continue through these Great Fifty Days of Easter we will receive more glimpses of God’s coming reign when Christ’s work of reconciliation is fully realized. The Revelation to John shares this declaration, “I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come . . .” (Revelation 1:8).
- Imagine the scene as the disciples are gathered together on the evening of the Resurrection (John 20:19-23). What do you think the atmosphere in the room might have been before and after Jesus appeared?
- Which of the above paintings capture the story of Thomas with Jesus in your imagination?
- What do you think compelled Thomas to proclaim Jesus as Lord? How do you know that Jesus is Lord? How do you resolve your own doubts on difficult issues of faith?
- What is the example that Thomas sets for us today?
- How does your community of faith help you to grow in maturity and live out your life in Christ more fully?