There are different ways people deal with grief. Normally we have a time of viewing. Before the funeral people come together for support, and prayers. It can be a time for renewing old acquaintances, there is a saying among families ‘the only time we see one another is at wakes and weddings.’ A family needs such support from others in their time of grief. Unfortunately after the funeral people go their separate ways and the widow or widower or the family is often left to their own devices.
Among Jewish people there is a quick burial, within 24 hours, and then the family sits Shiva. Family and friends come to support those who are grieving. A Shiva could last up to seven days. Usually everyone brings something to eat. They support the grieving family and are with them after the burial.
Some people will have what they call a ‘celebration of life’ sometime later on. Maybe they need some time to adjust to the death of someone they’ve loved or maybe they are avoiding the whole thing.
I think that Thomas was just as shattered as the other disciples were, but he tried to deal with the shock and brutality of Jesus’s death all by himself. He isolated himself from the company of the others and missed their experience of seeing the Risen Christ. When the others told him of what they saw and heard he wouldn’t believe them. He had to see and touch. When Jesus came the next time Thomas was back in the community. All he could say in answer to Jesus’ invitation – put your finger here and see my hands, put your hand into my side – do not doubt but believe – was the stammer, ‘my lord and my God.’
One of the lessons we can take from this gospel is that we need the presence and support of our community of faith. We need one another to share our joys and to see us through the dark days that are part and parcel of all our lives.
There are scripture scholars who say that this story of the ‘doubting Thomas’ “was made up by the apostle John.” Tradition maintains that John was the last of the Apostles to die. John was the last living person who saw and ate with the Risen Christ. So John created the doubting Thomas as a model for those who would never see the risen Christ and yet still believe the truth of those who did. More blessed are those who have not seen and still believe.
The disciples had to come to faith in the risen Lord when they saw him; so those who have not seen him can still have the blessedness of faith through believing the testimony of the first witnesses.
There can be times in our lives, times of great sorrow, times when we are faced with an illness that can lead only to death, times when we know that life is unfair, unjust, there can be times when depression takes over our lives, times when we allow ourselves to forget the blessings with which our lives have been blessed. Spiritual writers call these times the dark night of the soul. It is during such times as these that the words of John can ring true for us – blessed are those who have not seen and despite all evidence to the contrary still believe – still trust the truth that they are loved, forgiven and healed by Christ who died and rose from the dead. The apostle John would say, “truly worthy of esteem are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It is in these times we need the support and understanding of others.
We all know good people, friends and family members who have, for whatever reason, distanced themselves from the church. They tell us they are religious or spiritual but they don’t see the church as necessary. As I said, these are good people. They are there when we need them, they do good works, they help the poor, and they even go to far off lands and work with the poor. As someone said of such people, “these honest agnostics use their goodness and God given strengths and talents to help their brothers and sisters in their struggles for justice and fairness.” He writes, “God does not ask us to have a faith that is certain, but a service that is sure.”
We have the assurance that, should we faithfully help carry others through the rough spots of their lives, without first thinking of ourselves, we will one day find ourselves before the person of Christ who will gently say to us: “See for yourself, that I am real, and not a ghost. Blessed are those who have not seen but believe. For whatever you did for one of these the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did to me.”