“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”
– John 20:24
I don’t know where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, but he wasn’t with the others. The disciples had all assembled, doors locked in fear of the religious leaders…and probably of Rome, too. Crucifixions were common, and often it wasn’t just the leader of a movement who went down. Rome would crucify thousands of people at a time to put down revolts. It’s no wonder they were hiding. It’s no wonder Thomas wasn’t around. We aren’t told where he was, but I can imagine.
Maybe Thomas went home. Head hung low in shame for abandoning the family and their livelihood a few years back to follow the young, upstart Rabbi from Nazareth. Others had dropped fishing nets and left tax booths, broken open priceless bottles of ointment just to sit at Jesus’ feet.
What had Thomas left behind?
Did he try going back to that place, to those people when it all fell apart with Jesus?
Maybe Thomas was hiding. We’re told that when Jesus was arrested that the disciples scattered. Maybe Thomas wandered out into the wilderness somewhere, ducking the Roman soldiers and the temple elites. Devastated. Alone. Terrified.
We aren’t told where Thomas was, but we know he wasn’t there when Mary brought the news of the unthinkable and unimaginable. We know he wasn’t there when Peter rushed to the tomb to see for himself. We know he wasn’t there on the first day of the week when Jesus appeared to the disciples assembled in the house.
He wasn’t there.
I’ve always looked down on Thomas a little bit. Why wouldn’t you be there? Why wouldn’t you trust your closest friends when they told you that the thing you couldn’t even hope for had happened? He was painted as some sort of bumbling idiot in Sunday school, “that doubting Thomas, don’t be like him. Trust the words of Jesus, He is risen! Risen indeed!”
I’m starting to understand Thomas.
I understand declining the invitation to sit in the dark house, doors locked, praying that they don’t come and arrest you too.
No, thanks. I’ll pass.
Where was Thomas?
I don’t know, but I probably would have been with him.
I’m the type of person who has contingency plans for my contingency plans. The crucifixion didn’t catch the disciples totally off-guard. You couldn’t say the things Jesus said, do the things Jesus did, bring together the people Jesus brought together and survive the empire. As the writing on the wall started to become clear, I probably would have made some sort of exit strategy. When Jesus gets arrested, where do I hide? Who do is safe to turn to for help? Who can I trust not to turn me over to the empire, too?
We all want to believe we would have stayed by Jesus’ side till the end, but I’m fairly certain I would have been right there with the rest of his followers fleeing the scene.
I paint myself as an idealist, but I’m really more of a cynic with an affinity for sunshine.
I understand why Thomas wasn’t there.
But then, Thomas also came back.
Maybe those who had stayed sent word to him.
Maybe Mary found him somewhere and talked to him.
Maybe there were murmurs spreading and he caught wind somehow.
Maybe they all knew where he was the whole time, and it just took him awhile to make his way back to the house.
He found his way back somehow.
And the news was unbelievable. Literally.
“Unless I see the wounds, unless I touch them myself, I won’t believe it.”
It’s not like resurrection was such an improbable reality for Thomas. He had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He had seen resurrection with his own eyes, embraced new life with his very arms. But this was closer to home. This loss was more costly. Lazarus was a friend, but he died from illness. Jesus was his teacher, his leader, and he was executed by the state.
Thomas had seen life spring up from death.
Was it worth the risk this time?
Hope is birthed from a vulnerable place, it costs us something. Thomas had already lost a lot. He had given up home, family and livelihood. He had already done the work of reimagining his life, of letting old dreams die, of dreaming something new. And now even the new dreams were dashed.
Are you seriously asking me to hope again?
I wasn’t ready for Easter this year.
For new life, new hope, resurrection.
I’m still sitting in the unknown of Holy Saturday. The tense, aching place between the shadow of a cross and the weight of the tomb.
We don’t talk about it often, but there’s grace for this space, too. For those of us who are stuck on Saturday. Our brother, Thomas, is familiar with the place in which we find ourselves.
We like to say “You’ve just got to have faith – even the size of a mustard seed!”
But what we neglect to say is that even mustard seeds must be covered in earth before they spring to life. Even mustard seeds must wonder as they come undone in the dark if anything good will come from their burial.
The last line is a theme for my life, and the key is more major than minor. But I’m always sharpening and flattening to make it the latter.