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  • Rev. Dan Gates

Put your hand in my side: Resurrection Encounters with Jesus

John 20:24-29

A painting by Caravaggio titled: 'The Incredulity of Saint Thomas'

When I was younger, trying to understand why I still went to church, I often found myself longing for something real. That’s how I’d put it anyway. I was asking God for something like a visible, feelable, undeniable, experience of presence. I wanted to see something, to hear something, that would put to rest all the wrestling, and give me something I could hold onto when I didn’t feel like going to church. I wanted what Thomas wanted: to reach out my hand and put it into the side of Jesus. Maybe you have known that in your own journey, a desire to have some proof, some visible sign of God’s reality, a moment when suddenly, like Moses, you see the bush is on fire. We long to see, to touch, to make contact with the divine. But often that isn’t given to us.

In today’s reading, we meet Jesus coming to speak with Thomas. The others had been there the week before when Jesus showed up, but Thomas was absent. Listening to their stories of their experiences with Jesus made Thomas want this encounter for himself. He wasn’t sure if he believed their testimony; he wanted to know that Jesus had been risen from the dead, he just needed to see it for himself. Thomas has been called ‘Doubting Thomas’. He has been seen as a sceptic, a questioner. This story is often read as Jesus having to come and fix Thomas. But I don’t think that’s how we should understand it. Although our translations use the word ‘doubt’ that’s probably not the best way of putting it. Jesus doesn’t really say to Thomas ‘stop doubting’; rather, he says ‘stop unbelieving’, and start believing in me. And that opens so much more room for what a genuine relationship involves. I think Thomas is a witness for us of the journey of belief and faith. It is not a bad thing to ask for an encounter with God like this. But there is a sense that to grow in our faith means becoming comfortable with a delicate balance between seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing.

A stack of blue boxes, the size of which gets smaller the higher it goes, toppling over to the left, about to collapse

I think we've all been through periods of uncertainty, moments in our lives where our foundations are tested. It can be all kinds of things: the ill health of a loved one, the loss of a job, uncomfortable questions about the God of the Bible, or just waking up on the wrong side of the bed! We might begin to ask if we can continue to believe. For some, this is enough to walk away from their faith. For others, though, it can become an experience of growth, an opportunity to discover that having come through the desert, they have been brought to a lush green valley. Along the way, we have been invited to believe despite what we see. But then, sometimes, we are indeed given a glimpse of God that changes everything.

So back to Thomas. He wanted more than he had. He longed to believe what he was being told but he needed to see Jesus. And on that day, he received what he longed for. Jesus invites Thomas to come close, to reach out and touch him. And in a moment, Thomas found his faith reignited. We can’t expect such a thing to happen to us today, perhaps. But there are other moments given to us which help us on our journey. I’ve had a few over the years. They are often very personal, things that if someone was next to you at the time they might not even notice happening. But they are like catching a glimpse of Jesus in the midst of a storm, enough to reignite your faith and keep you on the path. A warming of your heart, the kind word at just the right moment, a verse that just won’t leave your mind, a sensation of being held: all kinds of things might be a seeing like Thomas saw: an invitation to trust, to believe, to keep on going.

A man standing on a rock by the ocean, at night, looking up into the night sky at the stars, holding a torch to see them.

I think we can put ourselves in the right place for this kind of seeing. When a random bird lands on your washing line, what will you see? When the rain makes patterns on your window, what will you see? When you smell fresh cut grass, or when you’re out with a friend and the world seems alive, or when work is making you feel energised, or when you’re in love with someone, do you see? Those moments in life are available to us if we choose to see. I’m not suggesting our whole life can be lived as one mystical experience after another. But I am asking you to consider that in your everyday life, there are places where God comes to you, like Jesus to Thomas, and invites you to see. Maybe this week you might find yourself like Thomas wondering if this is all real, asking deep questions about your faith. Perhaps the invitation will come to you too: put your hand in my side, reach out and take hold of God who offers you a moment of encounter, and believe!

So what was it that Thomas saw that day? On the surface it’s obvious: look at the wounds on Jesus’ body and believe that he is the one who hung on the cross and yet now lives. But what else might Thomas have seen? I wonder if Thomas needed to see that the wounding isn’t the end of the story. He might have been tempted to believe that all the rubbish things about life, all the pains we go through, all the unanswered questions, are there forever. But here comes Jesus, the wounded and killed one who is now breathing and eating and talking with them. Seeing him alive is a witness to a whole new reality that is being born. And everything Jesus does in this story is a sign of a wonderfully different world coming into being. How does he get into this room? We’re told that the door was shut, but somehow here is Jesus standing among them. There’s something very familiar about Jesus, but also something strangely new. He is alive, he still has his wounds, but he has been transformed. A new quality of life is at work in his body that is different from anything they had witnessed before. He is living in a new dimension, a new reality. And he has come to Thomas in the middle of this old reality to give him courage and hope: this is the not the end of your story. There is more to come. You might not see it all now; you might find yourself in a dark cloud, barely able to see a way out. But believe in me, trust in me, and your whole world will start to be transformed.

Two line drawn hands, painted in an expressionistic way, reaching out to each other, touching the tips of their index finger, in the classical style of Michelangelo.

So friends, put your hand into Jesus’ side. Look for those opportunities to see God in your life, even if everything is telling you to walk away. Watch and wait and look for God to show up unannounced and give you a glimpse of something vibrantly new. If you are in the storm today, know that the Risen Christ is on the boat with you. And his wounds speak of a God who can bring life from death, order from chaos, and hope from despair. Hold onto him, put your hand in his side, and believe that your story is not yet finished. And may you discover resurrection life coming to meet you wherever you are this week. May it open new possibilities before you and give you hope and joy and peace. Amen.

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