Thomas usually gets a bad rap in the first Easter story (John 20:24-29). “Doubting Thomas,” we call him, as if his absence on resurrection evening or the doubts he expressed a week later put him on the fringe of the little band of disciples. All of them scattered in the critical moment. Did Thomas run farther than the others? Was he feeling more disconnected? Was he slower to have a change of heart and return?
One of the things we know about Thomas is that he was stubbornly skeptical. “I won’t believe it,” he said of the resurrection, “unless I see it with my own eyes, touch it with my own hands” (v. 25). The other disciples were skeptical, too, dismissing news of the resurrection as an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11) before they actually encountered the risen Christ. But Thomas must have wanted to see, wanted to believe. He did come back, after all.
And we come back, Easter after Easter, wanting to believe. Most of us are a lot like Thomas, I think. We don’t want to settle for someone else’s stories about having encountered the risen Christ. We want a personal, original encounter. We want to see for ourselves. So we join the larger-than-usual crowd to hear the stories and sing the hymns. An hour later we rise from the pew, stretch our legs, and walk back into the ordinary life we’ve known. Within a couple of weeks we do with Easter what we did with Christmas. We box it up and put it back on the shelf for next year.
Before the second Sunday was over, Thomas did see and believe, and Jesus remarked how blessed are those who haven’t seen and believe anyway (John 20:29). And someone wrote down a lot of other signs so that others who hadn’t seen would also believe and have life (vv. 30-31).
The signs keep being written. “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection,” Martin Luther wrote, “not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.” Shakespeare wrote of finding in nature, “tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” (As You Like It, II, i, 563-64). And all around us there are other signs of the triumph of life over death. Here are only a few examples.
▪ In this pandemic, the decrease in vehicular traffic has resulted in a cleansing of the atmosphere. Nature regenerates, and we can see farther and breathe better through cleaner air.
▪ Less junk food and fast food means our diet is healthier. Our bodies regenerate, and we are healthier.
▪ Living in smaller, slower circles reveals simple blessings close at hand, often overlooked when we cover more ground more quickly. We learn to see more clearly what has real value.
▪ An anonymous donor in Earlham, Iowa, responded to the pandemic by sending $150 in gift cards, worth $82,000, to every home in town.
▪ Restaurant owners in Washington, D.C., turned their restaurant kitchens into community kitchens to serve their neighbors, so far serving more than 10,000 meals to the most vulnerable and hardest hit.
▪ A ninety-year-old woman in Belgium with covid-19 died after giving up her respirator so someone younger could use it.
▪ Thousands of front-line, essential workers – healthcare workers, social workers, sanitation workers, package delivery workers, grocery store workers, mail carriers, and all who support them – are risking their health and their lives to keep the rest of us healthy and alive.
▪ Orchestras, choirs, and other musicians are finding creative ways of spreading their music to raise people’s spirits.
▪ People are staying at home, isolating themselves voluntarily to serve the well-being of others.
▪ Phil McNamara, who has lived in Buffalo for only four years, with his employer shut down, his school closed, and most of his family back in Ireland, started Buffalo Resilience, organizing volunteers to make personal protective equipment for healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.
▪ A breast cancer survivor, told she would never have children again, is nearing the full term of another pregnancy.
▪ Teachers and parents all over town are home-schooling children.
▪ People like you and me are venturing out to donate blood.
The list goes on and on. The triumph of life over death is playing out all around us, and to see it we have only to look. Open your eyes and look. The resurrection song fills the air. Open the ear of your heart and listen.
“Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.”
(Carl B. Garve, “Now the Green Blade Rises”)
Where do you see signs that life is triumphing over death?