St. Thomas, or, as we more commonly know him, doubting Thomas, gets a pretty bad rap sometimes. But don’t be too hard on him. At least Thomas had an excuse for his doubt. He didn’t have all of the advantages we have – 2000 years of tradition, a billion fellow believers, the Scriptures, the sacraments, the example of the saints. All Thomas had was the witness of ten terrified, grieving fugitives and the burning memory of Christ’s arrest and crucifixion. Why should he believe? His doubt seems perfectly reasonable to me.
But, what’s our excuse? We Christians who live today have all of those advantages, and more, and yet we still falter, we hesitate, we doubt. Like Thomas, we place conditions and limits on our faith in the testimony of the Apostles. “I will believe if . . .” “I do believe but . . .” “I believe everything except . . .” What we really mean is that we believe what we’ve received from other sources – the media, politicians, celebrities, popular opinion - and in the areas where the testimony of the Apostles agrees with these other sources, we accept that testimony as a positive affirmation of what we otherwise believe – a sort of divine pat on the back for being so with-it. But where the testimony of the Apostles differs from these other sources? Well, the Apostles must clearly be wrong.
But what if it is the Apostles who are right, and the worldview offered by these other sources is wrong? What if, like Thomas discovered, Christ is truly risen? That’s really the question, isn’t it? The one on which everything else depends. Because if we believe the Apostles about something as fantastical as the resurrection, why would we doubt them about more mundane matters? If Jesus truly rose, as the Apostles testified, then he is who he said he is, the Son of God, and everything he did and said was true. And if everything Jesus did and said was true, then his commissioning of the Apostles, his outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them, and his promise that the Spirit would lead them to all truth, is true. And if that is true, then the promised Spirit, passed down from the Apostles through the Church they founded, continues to lead us into all truth today. And where does that leave the popular opinions that contradict the testimony of those Apostles and the Church they founded? What’s our excuse for doubt then?
I’m assuming that most of us here today believe in the resurrection; why else would we be here? But I’m willing to bet that most of us, if we’re honest, probably subscribe to some form of the conditional faith represented by Thomas. Like Thomas, most of us hedge our bets and limit our belief in the testimony of the Apostles and the Church. While we believe in Christ’s resurrection, we have a hard time fully embracing all that it means, because, like Thomas, we have a hard time accepting the cross that makes that resurrection possible.
Today’s Gospel makes clear that there can be no resurrection without the cross, no rising without dying – not for Jesus, and not for us. I have often wondered why the risen Christ appears in the Gospel still bearing the marks of his crucifixion. Certainly if God can raise Jesus from the dead, he can heal his flesh wounds. The marks must remain because God chooses for them to remain - a perpetual sign that the cross and the resurrection are forever inseparable. Only by joining Thomas as he touches Christ’s wounds, putting our finger into the nail marks and our hand into Christ’s side, can we too understand the necessary relationship of Christ’s dying and rising. Only by sharing in the death of Christ can we share his resurrection.
This doesn’t mean that we as Christians should go around looking for suffering and the cross. But if we truly believe in the resurrection, that Jesus is the Christ, and live our lives in that faith, “loving the children of God and keeping his commandments” as we hear in our second reading, then the cross will come to us. We see this very vividly in the religious persecution faced by Christians in Africa and the Middle East today. We see it in the political persecution of Christians in China and North Korea. We even see it in our own country, less starkly but no less real - Christians losing their jobs and livelihoods due to hate campaigns or being fined and ordered by judges into “sensitivity training” for having the wrong ideas - Christian organizations being forced to either compromise their faith by materially supporting evil or to shut their doors - priests being threatened with incarceration for refusing to violate the seal of the confessional. Christians everywhere today face the unavoidable challenge of the cross.
When, not if, but when, you face this challenge - to embrace the cross or to refuse it - return to that all-important question – what if the Apostles are right and these other sources, who hate Christians so much, are wrong? What if Jesus is truly risen? Ask yourself that question today as you approach the crucified and risen Lord in the Eucharist. As he breaks into our upper room this week after Easter, touch his wounds and ask yourself what this means for your life. And as you eat his pierced body and drink the saving blood that flows from his side, embrace the cross and be reborn with a new, unconditional faith.