The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
He Keeps Showing Up
Where was he? Everyone else was there in the room, but he was gone and while he was gone, he missed it. Now, in Matt's defense he had never attended an Easter Vigil before; he did not know about the sudden transition from the dark anticipation of the Vigil into the first dramatic Easter acclamation. And so it was just after the baptism when he left; it seemed like the perfect time to slip out, under the cover of darkness – just for a couple of minutes. But in that brief period of time a lot happened.
When Matt returned to the nave it was no longer dark in the church. The lights were on, the candles were out, bells were ringing, the congregation was joyfully singing the Gloria. He told me after the service, “I stepped out to go to the bathroom and when I came back in, everything was different. I missed Jesus coming back!”
Where was he? Everyone else was there in the room, but he was gone and while he was gone, he missed it. The ten other disciples – the ones remaining after Judas left the group – were locked up – afraid that their associations might do them in as well. But Thomas was out; he wasn't there.
And his absence is notable. Not only did a lot happen while he was gone, it is a surprise that he was gone to begin with. To recap: Jesus, their leader, was killed on Friday. None of his disciples, except the mysterious disciple whom Jesus loved, were with Jesus at the cross. They were afraid; they were in hiding. Their leader was crucified – opposed by political leaders, religious authorities, local crowds; they probably suspected that his fate would soon be theirs as well. And so they locked themselves away. But on the third day of their retreat, Thomas is missing.
It's curious. And John does nothing to clear this mystery up for us. Maybe Thomas was the only brave one of the eleven; maybe he did not feel the need to hide. Maybe he laughed in the face of danger. It was Thomas who earlier in the Gospel of John boldly challenged the other disciples to follow Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus, saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with Jesus.” Or it could have been something less heroic. A couple of pastors who put together a weekly pod-cast on the Sunday scriptures joked that after three days holed up together, the disciples were probably just really hungry; Thomas drew the short straw and missed Jesus because he was out fetching some pizzas. Whatever the reason, Thomas was not with the other disciples, Jesus came back, and he missed it.
When Thomas returns to the locked room – after he completes the secret knock and says the code word and the disciples let him re-enter the hideout – they tell him what happened: while you were out, Jesus showed up. Yes, the one who was killed a couple of days ago. Yes, we all saw him. Also we talked to him. No, really. This is not a cruel prank.
I think it would be a little hard to believe. This passage is often framed as the “Doubting Thomas” passage in John's Gospel. But it should be noted that Thomas does not doubt Jesus; he does doubt these other guys though, the other disciples. Their story is, I think we can all agree, a bit difficult to believe. And Thomas knew these guys pretty well; maybe he had good reason to doubt their story.
For what it’s worth, Thomas is certainly not alone in his doubt. See earlier in this chapter of John's Gospel, actually in the verses we heard last week, on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene tells the group of disciples the same thing they later tell Thomas: I have seen the Lord. And yet, they still lock themselves in a room – afraid of what might happen next. Despite Mary's testimony, they seem not to believe until Jesus shows up in that room. Thomas is no different from his colleagues – except for one thing: he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or rather he was not in the right place at the right time.
No one in John's resurrection story gets it until they see Jesus – not Mary, not the ten disciples, not Thomas. No one gets it until they see Jesus.
And so Jesus keeps showing up. Thomas misses Jesus – at first. But Jesus keeps showing up. The disciples abandoned Jesus in his hour of need – abandoned him to death upon the cross – but Jesus keeps showing up. The Risen Jesus keeps showing up. Jesus is persistent; Jesus is relentless. He just keeps showing up.
The Jesus story did not end with the cross. That is why we celebrated last week. But the Jesus story does not end with the resurrection either. Jesus keeps showing up. Easter keeps happening and happening and happening. And the Jesus story does not end with Thomas in today’s Gospel; in fact, it does not end in the Bible. It does not end at all. Jesus keeps showing up – in friends and in strangers, in the bread and in the wine, in our hearts. Jesus keeps showing up.
The final thing Jesus says to Thomas is: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And that is where most of us are. We are here believing without the benefit of sight. Unlike Thomas, unlike the other disciples, we have not seen but yet we have come to believe, come to believe because in one fashion or another Jesus keeps showing up in our lives – in ways mysterious, inexplicable, unexpected, but true, undeniably true.
This is the heart of the Easter Gospel, the heart of our witness still today: Jesus is alive – he is risen! – and he keeps showing up.