Imagine the scene in today’s gospel. It’s the evening of the first day of the week. The disciples were hiding out behind locked doors fearing for their lives. They couldn’t believe their eyes when Jesus stands among them. These are the men who betrayed, denied and abandoned Him when He most needed them. If it were us we probably would have torn a strip off them. But what does Jesus say, “Peace be with you.” All is forgiven. I understand you were afraid, you didn’t know what was happening, you were intimidated by the crowd, you buckled under. I understand. Peace be with you.
The main character in today’s gospel is Thomas the Doubter. He just would not believe Jesus was alive. He had been so shaken by the death of Jesus, so disillusioned by it all, Thomas was not about to be taken in by some story of Jesus being alive. So we have his famous demand, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
I think Thomas’ real problem was that he tried to cope with the humiliating death of Jesus alone. He didn’t stay with the others, he wanted to be alone. That decision robbed him of the support of his friends. He had no one to talk to, no one to listen to his hurt, his disappointment, and his fear of the future. He was alone. Thomas was with the community for the second visit of the risen Christ. Christ offers His wounds as a witness to the reality He was alive, not an illusion. We hear Thomas’ statement of faith, “My Lord and My God” And all is well.
There is a saying that, as humans, there are two things we can’t do alone; get married and be a Christian. I would add to that we can’t grieve alone. We need the presence and support of others in both the joys and sorrows of life.
It is within a community we find the example and the strength we need to be faithful to the faith. That’s why Sunday Mass is so important. We are here with others who share our faith; we are here with good people who share with us the struggles of life, with good people who share the joys of life. We see in those around us examples of years of marital love, we see in those around us examples of young love and new life, we see in those around us those burdened with the weakness of old age, chronic illness, we see in those around us the hopes, possibilities and vibrancy of youth, we see in those around us loneliness of those who mourn. In this Mass, at every Mass we are surrounded by all the possibilities of our human condition.
And it is from this community of good people, who at the same time are as we are, mistake making beings; we grow in our own Christian faith. As community we praise and thank God, as community we hear the word of God, as community we share the Bread of Life at the table of the Lord and it is from this community we go out to live this Mass beyond these walls. I want to share these quotes from two different Rabbis; their words apply to us Christians as much as they apply to the Jewish congregations to which they were addressed.
“The synagogue is where Jews are made, where the individual soul and the community are joined. It is the place where modernity and eternity cross-fertilize, where the seed of Jewish identity are sown. All other institutions in Jewish life are created by Jews. Only the synagogue creates Jews, child by child, family by family.”
“In congregational worship, regularly scheduled services on Saturday of Sunday, I have come to believe that the congregating is more important than the words we speak. Something miraculous happens when people come together seeking the presence of God. The miracle is that we so often find it. Somehow the whole becomes more important than the sum of its parts. A spirit is created in our midst which none of us has brought there. In fact each of us came looking for it because we did not have it when we were alone. But in coming together, we create the mood and the moment in which God is present.”
“We don’t go to church or synagogue at a stipulated time because God keeps office hours. We go because that is when we know there will be other people there, seeking the same kind of encounter we are seeking.”
After his experience of the Risen Christ, I think Thomas the Doubter would say to us, “Stick together, you need one another.”
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist we pray for ourselves and for each other that we not be like the Thomas who tried to cope with his grief and disappointment in isolation, but that we be the Thomas who finds his strength to live on surrounded by others who share with him their faith in the Christ who lives, love, heals and forgives in the community He has made His own.