The word “incredible!” has been so badly over-used in our day that it now means little more than “surprising.” But the word’s true meaning—unbelievable—is on this day appropriate: an event that is so unexpected that the mind actually cannot believe it is true. Jesus is risen.
I remember when I was an early teenager and my grandfather died. My young eyes actually looked directly at his body out in the garden of their home. He had been gardening. That whole day and the day after I kept thinking secretly he would come back. A car would pull up to the house and a voice in me would say “It must be him; he is here after all!”
Anyone who has grieved knows how this is. Your mind keeps denying the loss. You have to correct yourself when you say “she is such a wonderful cook ... oh dear, I mean she ... was such a wonderful cook.” Tears come. The deep but of course false hope lingers, reluctant to give up its wishing and longing.
Doubting Thomas was no different. He had what he thought were false hopes—“Jesus just cannot be dead, not Jesus.” So, to correct his error, he erected a staunch wall against the resurrection story. It would hurt too much if he allowed hope to come back again and then watch it shatter like Humpty Dumpty. Have you ever noticed how people run away from what they most desire to be true?
“Jesus was actually here with us!” the Apostles tell Thomas. “The doors were all locked and he suddenly was standing right there! He talked to us!”
Thomas’s reaction? NO. NO. No way. Incredible. I cannot accept it. Better to deny what could not be possible.
He was like me imagining my grandfather walking through the door as he always did. So Thomas had to dam up this child’s way of imagining. His leader was dead, and nothing in this world could change it.
So Christ appeared and showed him. It was not only seeing Christ in person but actually touching the wounds in his hands and his side. Too much to believe, but suddenly impossible to disbelieve. Thomas gave in. His embarrassment revealed how much he had wanted this. How long would it take you or me to admit how wrong our doubts were?
We need to pray about the status of our own belief. Can we find within ourselves that we do need the Resurrection to be true? Can we locate the places where our doubts are lurking? How they are sabotaging us? Can we pray for the ability to believe, to trust, even if we have not seen and touched?
Blessed, joyful trust is what this Sunday is all about.
Forget the discomfort that the pews gave you and the kneelers, and the extreme length of the passion story, and the fact that you really could not hear the second reader because of the microphones, and so on. If nothing else, simply know that you and I are like Thomas. We so much want the Jesus story to be true that we turn our faces away from it, choosing distraction instead.
Yet the story is not “incredible!” at all. Jesus’ suffering and diminishment and death give way to the deeper reality of love. Yes, Death wins. But the quiet of love undercuts that win.