John 20:19-31, "But he said to them, '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.'
Some of you may know about the Urban Legends website (http://www.snopes.com).
The creators of this site have taken it upon themselves to compile page after page of these things that you hear about around the water cooler, these rumors that get thrown around by email, those things you hear your coworkers repeat as, “I know someone who knows someone who saw this firsthand . . .”. That’s usually how they start.
On this page they have all those stories that you heard about growing up. Like the one about the time someone found a finger in their French fries at Wendy’s or a rat in the bottom of their bottle of Coke. These are usually outrageous stories, hard to believe . . . except that “someone knows someone who was there.”
I hate to say it but I am usually pretty skeptical about stories like these . . . about whether they happened or not. And when I get one of them about the child who needs those little flip-top things from Coca-Cola cans in order to be able to afford their cancer treatment, if I’m in a mood I go over to the Urban Legend’s website, look it up, see that it is not true, or that it is a hoax or joke or something and forward that on to the person who sent it to me.
Sometimes I wish people would check this stuff out before they send it out to “everyone they know” or talk about it with everyone they meet. I guess sometimes I’m somebody who has to make sure that a story is true; with some things I have a tough time just taking someone else’s word for it.
And in that way, I can understand Thomas, this one we call Doubting Thomas most of the time. Because I tend to be a doubter too.
Thomas had heard the story, the other disciples had told him how they had seen Jesus, how the Risen Christ had appeared to them in this very room. And even though he was the only one not there, he still would not take their word for it. “If I can’t put my hands in the wound on his side, if I cannot see the wounds in his hands and feet, I will not believe,” Thomas . . . that is . . . Doubting Thomas declared.
But I’m glad that Thomas doubted; I’m glad that we have a record of his doubting. I’m glad that it was written down.
There are some scholars who say that the reason that these stories were written down, these stories of the Risen Christ appearing after his death and resurrection, that the purpose of these stories is to help people believe. They have shown that there were other stories out there already . . . about how the disciples had stolen his body and just said that he was alive; but that Jesus really wasn’t.
And even the passage in Matthew that talks about the resurrection says as much; Matthew writes that the authorities put that large, heavy stone in front of the tomb to stop someone from stealing his body and saying he was raised just like Jesus said that he would.
But then the stone was rolled away . . . something that the disciples could not have done.
Scholars say that beyond telling the story of what happened, these stories have a function, a purpose. And the purpose of these stories is to help us believe that indeed Christ is risen, just like he said that he would, that Hell and death are no more. They are defeated.
And that sort of makes sense to me. Because these urban legends that I brought up earlier, even though many of them are not true, even so they also have a purpose.
All those stories about killers lurking in the woods who kill young couples who go parking in their cars, those stories are a warning of a sort . . . about what can happen if you go parking in the woods.
Those stories about . . . tell us that sometimes when we . . . that all of creation gets out of whack, out of sync, disrupted . . . and catastrophe can result. Just like those pictures that you would see of the smoke rising from the World Trade Center towers as they fell, people sent a picture around where it looked exactly like this evil face, the face of the devil was looking out from the rising smoke; passing that picture around reminds us of what a evil thing took place that day; how nothing but pure evil could perpetrate such a crime.
So maybe when we read these stories, we believe some of it. The stories get passed around enough, that we must believe, right? But in the end, I don’t think that it is just the facts of the story that we believe; the purpose of the story may be different than that.
You see Thomas was not simply looking for facts . . . the facts in the way that we think about fact . . . what is true and what is false. Our text is very explicit in that what Thomas needed to do in order to believe, Thomas needed touch what was real. He needed to touch something solid, not spirit, not feeling or emotion, but something you could touch and feel, something real.
And sometimes I think that’s what we all want too.
We live in a world where there isn’t much real left. We read so much fantasy, watch so much television, see so many advertisements where people create a need for us, or at least try to sell us something that will make us stronger, better and happier, that I think sometimes we forget what is real. Because what is real is not all the cars and houses; it is not in the end our jobs or our golf game. In the end what is real, what can be touched, is our relationships with those around us . . . and our relationship with God.
You see Thomas wanted to touch, to touch what was real. And we do too.
And when I think about touching what is real, I remember back, before we moved to Warner Robins. I remember taking care of my kids a couple of days a week. Crazy as I am I used to take them and our two dogs for a walk together.
There I would be with both children in the double-stroller, pushing them along with the dogs. It was quite a sight. And it was about the time that our daughter had gotten to where she wanted to get out of the stroller and walk like a big girl. So sometimes, if we are in a place where it was safe to do so, then that is what we would do. And even though I have the tendency to get in this mode of we’re here to walk, to get from point A to point B, my then two-year-old daughter didn't think that way.
She would walk up the curb and down the curb because it is fun to do that. She would put her feet in the grass and pushes them up and down. She would spot the weeds along the side of the road, weeds that have little flowers on them and she says, “fl-ow-uh fl-ow-uh”. And I say “Yes, that is a flower.”
And her toddling along then was real.
And the little toddler kisses are real. And even then I remember when at about the same time my son was learning to give kisses too. He would lean in to my wife and I, mouth wide open, slobbering all over us. And that slobber was real.
And you see, this is the truth: when we gather here in our congregations, when we talk on the porch outside, when we hug each other, ask how everyone is doing, when we worry about those who are not with us and when we sit on these pews today, that’s real too. When we circle around the Lord’s table, share that communion, take the bread and wine, we eat and drink something very real; not something that doesn’t appear to be bread at all, but real bread, sweet-tasting bread. You see, we are there again to touch what is real, touching what is real in a world where there isn’t much “real” left.
Thomas wanted to touch what was real too. He had to touch Jesus. Thomas, like the other disciples, had felt the reality of death. Death is most certainly real and it hurts us. The pain that we all experience in life is real too, the pain of broken families, of the brokenness in our lives. And when these things happen, we know that those things are real.
And Thomas knew that the pain and death of Jesus was real. He just had to touch Jesus again . . . to touch his side and his hands and his feet . . . to touch what was real . . . to know that resurrection was real too.