We’ve all heard of “Doubting Thomas.” Doubting. Won’t believe it until he sees it. Somehow it’s become an emblem of shame. Are you doubting? Why can’t you just believe. Blessed are those who don’t have to see but are able to believe.
Now let’s step back a minute. Exactly who are these people who don’t have to see. In the gospel of John, for we are now in the Johanine universe—a place of mystical signs, of beloved disciples, of “I AM” statements, of living water, of doubting Thomas—in the gospel of John, there are very few who don’t see and yet believe.
Mary goes to the tomb on Easter morning, and finds the tomb empty. Her first thought is not belief. She thinks someone has stolen Jesus’ body and runs back home to get Peter and the beloved disciple.
Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb and see only empty graveclothes—the beloved disciple believes without seeing (notice this)--but Peter is puzzled. The Bible says, “for as of yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
Mary, back at the tomb for a second time that morning gets to see and touch Jesus (who she mistakes at first for the gardener) before she can say “I have seen the Lord.”
The other disciples, who have heard the stories of Peter and the beloved disciple, and the witness of Mary that she has seen and heard and touched the Lord, they don’t seem to be liberated by this news. They don’t believe without seeing because they are gathered in secret, with the doors locked, in an upper room, for fear of those people in power who are now hunting anyone who had connection to the criminal Jesus.
Notice that no one (with the exception of the beloved disciple—the one whose name is on the gospel telling the story) has believed without seeing. And it continues this way, because as they are gathered, in fear, in secret, all together (with one big exception)—Jesus shows up. He offers them peace; he shows them his hands and his side. And “then,” THEN the Bible says, “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
So almost no one had anything to boast about. But true to human nature, they must have been ribbing Thomas because he wasn’t there. “We saw him Thomas. Yes, we did. Saw his hands with the marks, saw his pierced side. Where were you anyway? You don’t believe us? Why can’t you just believe?”
And Thomas is documented saying, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands … unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails … unless I put my hand into his side … I will not believe.” And, when Jesus shows up a second time, that is exactly what Jesus invites him to do, so that he might not doubt but believe.
How is it that Thomas became the Doubter-in-chief. Yes he had the misfortune or the mistake of not being there on that first night. But he was only doing what everyone else had done. Not knowing what to believe until faced with it, hearing and seeing and touching the Risen One.
Tsk, tsk, we say. Don’t be like Thomas. Don’t doubt, ever. Be Blessed. You don’t need to see. You don’t need to hear. You don’t need to touch. Hmmmmmm. Me thinks that we have skewed the story!
What if we stopped calling Thomas—Doubting Thomas, as if doubt clung to him like an evil smell, as if he was sprayed by that skunk, doubt, that everyone else had avoided? What if Thomas just became Thomas again? And everyone: Mary, and Peter, and all the other disciples, would be talked about as having doubts as well. Maybe we could be more honest about how we approach the good news—wherever we fall on the doubt to belief spectrum. Maybe we could ask for what we need. Maybe we too could be blessed by having Jesus show up and offer balm to our souls. That is what the Rev. Maren Tirabassi inspired me to think as I have lived with her poem “Tom-me, God.”
Now poetry is a dangerous thing to try to include in a sermon—I find that poetry is something that one has to savor—like a fine glass of wine, or really dark chocolate, or a hot bath. You can’t rush it. And I have to admit that it took me several readings, and a little time with google to fully appreciate this poem.
It is called “Tom-me, God.” Tom as in short for Thomas. I get that now. But I was puzzled at first. What is this Tom-me? I looked it up thinking maybe it was an indigenous word, or a slang expression, or … and when I got to the baby word section that said “Tom” was, of course, the shortened form of Thomas—the lightbulb went off. Oooooooo. Tom-me. Do for me what you did for Thomas. I need to see. I need to hear. I need to touch. And my needs are ok.
With that introduction, please hear, “Tom-me, God” by Maren Tirabassi.
Invite my hands to your side
pierced with the sorrow of the world,
pierced with the despair of your children,
pierced with grief
and suffering and injustice.
Touch me, and let me touch you –
my hands hole and holy to be your hands,
my feet hole and holy to walk your way.
I thank you for my unbelief
every time a child is in pain,
and I ask you to shake my belief
when it grows complacent --
which was never wanted
not on the mountain, not in the temple.
I need to be the one healed by spit and mud,
not by centurion-approved remote control.
I offer you myself,
like some long-lost twin of your disciple --
tattooed with my doubts,
and dressed in the ragged courage
of a touch-hungry faith,
for I love and live among a people
desperate for clinging.
Maren C. Tirabassi
As we are quarantined away from each other, locked away in our own fears, the message of Jesus to Thomas takes on added meaning. “I am here for you, Jesus says. I am here to be seen and heard and touched.” You only have to do one thing. Reach out your hand. Lift up your voice. Join in the plaintive, stirring, familiar song (#834)
“Precious Lord, take my hand; lead me on, help me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light; take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
When my way grows drear, precious Lord, linger near; when my life is almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall; take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”