Let’s situate today’s gospel. John tells us it was the evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples gathered together fearful and bewildered. They locked the doors for fear of the authorities. They did away with Jesus, would they be next in line. But they faced their fears together, supporting one another, praying with one another, knowing they were not alone. And it was into this community of fear Jesus came with his greeting of peace, breathing His gift of the Holy Spirit on them and propelling them out into the word to preach the good news of God’s love for all of us.
Thomas was not with them. He made the decision to deal with his grief, his shame alone. He didn’t want to be with the others, he isolated himself from the very people who needed him and who could have helped him deal with his grief and his shame.
Thomas had been so shaken by what happened to Jesus on Friday – he couldn’t fathom how things had come crashing down around Jesus and his followers. He was there for the wonderful reception the people gave Jesus as He came to Jerusalem for the Passover. Like the others he could just sense the energy of it all. Now it is over. Thomas, to his shame, took off when they came to arrest Jesus – from a safe distance he saw Jesus dragged through the streets to the place where they executed common criminals. From a safe distance he saw Jesus die – and with that Thomas’s hope that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel died.
With all this so fresh in his mind Thomas was not about to trust the stories told him by his friends, that they had seen the Lord. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Thomas was afraid to believe such an awesome story. Because he decided to deal with his deep grief isolated from Peter and the other, Thomas missed Jesus; he missed Jesus’ gift of peace and His gift of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel, we hear Jesus offering His wounded hands and side to Thomas inviting him into faith and we have Thomas’s words of love and faith – ‘my Lord and my God.’
This gospel of John puts before us a very basic truth.
God relates to us in community and as community. There’s the saying, ‘there are two things in life you cannot do alone, get married and be a Christian.’ The Mass we celebrate, the sacraments we receive are all celebrations of a faith community. We are all in this together.
One time my father was complaining about all the changes in the church, especially at Mass. He said,’ they’re standing and their singing, they’re sitting and they’re singing you’d think we were Baptists. I can’t go to Mass and say my rosary in peace.’ He wouldn’t buy it when I tried to explain, you don’t go to Mass to say your rosary in peace, you go to Mass to celebrate the Mass with those around you, to participate.
Like Thomas we may try to cope with our grief, confusions and disappointment privately. The truth of the matter is when our faith is tried and tested we need the community of faith to see us through. It helps us to know that we live and pray in a community with other struggling, hurting and searching men and women. We need them and they need us, that’s why we pray for those whose pains are known to themselves alone because we want them to know they are not alone, they are family.
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist as a people of faith, a faith that may not be all that strong at times, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we be blessed with a sense of belonging in this parish community and know that we are in the prayers of all here present as each of us faces those times in our lives when we face whatever it is that makes us wonder, ‘where is God.’