“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” John 20:29
Saint John tells of the Risen Jesus appearing to his disciples on successive Sunday evenings, appearances that we might think about with four verbs: to appear, to ask, to assure and to accept.
To appear is what the resurrection is about. Jesus does not just live on in the memories of the disciples, he does not just live on in their hearts and minds: Jesus lives as a real person. Saint John Chapter 20 describes the first of the two appearances in precise detail. Verse 19 tells us, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” It is not telling of the story that brings great credit to the disciples. Peter and John have been to the garden in the morning and found the tomb empty and John tells us that he himself has seen and believed, but what was believed is unclear, for here are the disciples hiding away in fear.
Jesus understands them, knows how they feel. Jesus realizes that his appearance might cause consternation and alarm, for when he appears he does so quietly. The appearance of Jesus brings God’s peace into that place, Saint John says, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.'” Jesus understands that after that initial shock, the disciples would have numerous questions, so in Verse 20, we read, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” It is when the appearance has been confirmed by the physical evidence that we are told, “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
Jesus’ presence brings God’s peace, in Verse 21 “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.'” God’s peace comes with the appearance of the risen Lord and God’s peace is essential to the work that lies ahead, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” says Jesus to his friends.
If God’s peace is the mark of Jesus’ presence, then when we meet for worship, there should be a sense of God’s peace. Jesus might not appear to us in the way he did to his disciples
To appear; the second verb is “to ask”. Asking questions is reasonable, if our faith cannot be questioned, then it is not a faith in Jesus, who never avoided questions during his ministry. The story of Thomas is one with which we are familiar; Thomas has been disparaged in the centuries since as “Doubting Thomas”, but what he does is ask questions that all of us would have wanted to ask. In Verse 25, the disciples say, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas responds by declaring that he has questions that need to be answered. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
To ask: what questions would we have asked if we had been there? What questions do we ask today? Are there questions we think still need to be answered?
Jesus does not think Thomas is unreasonable, for a week later he appears again in order to assure Thomas and the disciples. Verse 26 is interesting, “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” A week after the resurrection, a week after the first meeting with the risen Lord, the disciples are still a frightened group of men; they are still people in need of assurance. The risen Jesus comes and stands among them and greets them as he had done twice the previous week, “Peace be with you”. Peace is the mark of Jesus’ presence, peace is his word of assurance to his friends.
Jesus reassures the disciples and then he assures Thomas that he really is alive, in Verse 27 Jesus says, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas is not rebuked for asking questions, instead Jesus responds directly to the questions Thomas wishes to ask. Jesus recognizes, though, that such opportunities will not exist for much longer, and he encourages Thomas to move forward, “do not doubt but believe”. Doubt has been a step in the growth of Thomas’ faith, now it is time to move up from that step to the next one.
It is a challenging encounter, when we read of the meeting of the risen Lord with Jesus, what do we think? “Do not doubt, but believe”, is a challenge to us and where might we look for assurance? Sometimes it is in going through the moments of greatest doubt that we come out even stronger in what we believe; sometimes for us to be assured, requires that we go through times when we ask deep questions.
To appear, to ask, to assure: the fourth verb is “to accept”. Thomas accepts the Good News. In Verse 28, he says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Yet Jesus realizes that there will be countless people who will never have the opportunity that Thomas had, countless people who will have to accept the Good News without the evidence that Thomas saw. Jesus says to Thomas in Verse 29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
We are challenged to be among those who Jesus calls “blessed”, those who have not seen yet have come to believe. Saint John writes his account of the Good News with us in mind, with us who must just accept. In Verse 31, John says he has written what he has, “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” We have to accept, or reject, the Good News on the basis of what we have heard and on the basis of a sense of God being with us.
Jesus might not appear to us, but we might sense his presence. Jesus might not answer the questions we ask in the way he answered Thomas, but we should still ask those questions. Jesus might not assure us, in the way in which he assured the disciples, but his assurance is still with us. The question we must answer for ourselves is do we accept? Can we be like Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God!”