Who is Thomas’ twin?

Second Sunday of Easter (Year A): John 20:19-31. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson, Texas.

Thomas was a twin. Are any of you a twin? I have friends who are identical twins and people — including me — confuse them all of the time. 

I would speak to Betsy thinking she was Virginia. Betsy would quickly correct me — “Oh, you think I’m Virginia” she’d say with a twinkle in her eye. It was always confusing, and a bit embarrassing because I did not see the person that I thought I had.

That experience causes me to wonder about Thomas in the Gospel of John. Thomas was called the Twin and he is my favorite disciple for several reasons. 

When others aren’t curious or courageous enough to ask, Thomas asks. In chapter 14 he says to Jesus: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”[1]

Thomas is also brave and committed to Jesus and his good news. In chapter 11, Jesus says: “Let us go to Judea again.” But the disciples caution him, saying: Hey, there are people there who want to stone you. To this, Thomas replies: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”[2]

Now fast-forward in the gospel to Easter morning, then Easter evening. This is where today’s gospel reading picks up.

Jesus appears to the disciples and stands among them. 

But where’s Thomas? He’s not there!

He missed it! He did not have the opportunity to see and hear and experience the risen Christ as the others did. 

Thomas doesn’t believe their account.

 I wonder how much Thomas’ experience as a twin figures in? Causing him to be skeptical of what they thought they saw. 

You thought you saw Jesus, but it couldn’t have been him. I am a twin and this happens to me all of the time. Whoever you saw, it couldn’t have been Jesus.

And then the famous line: “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.” 

While he was ready to die with Jesus in Jerusalem, he is not ready to accept his friends’ account that Christ is risen. 

And to be fair: He is simply asking to have the same opportunity they had.

For that, some call him “Doubting Thomas.” But it’s important to note that the author of John never calls him that. Sometimes a shaming spin is placed on this passage, as if Thomas were bad for doubting. But that’s just not the case, because that is not consistent with the witness of Jesus. And not consistent with John’s message of God’s love for the world. That love is for the whole created order … including our curious, scientific minds and our desire to know. 

What I find so moving and beautiful about this passage is that Christ honors Thomas. Honors his questions. Honors his doubts. And honors his desire to see and to know. 

Christ reveals himself to Thomas and says: “Peace be with you.” 

And then offers: See. Look. Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. I am here so that you may believe.

How does Thomas respond? Does he perform an inspection of Jesus’ body as some artworks depict? No. He does not. Instead, Thomas responds with the first proclamation of Christ’s divinity: “My Lord and My God!”

Artwork created by an artist, not a biblical scholar. In Gospel of John, Thomas responds to Jesus’ appearance by saying, “My Lord and my God!” Notre Dame, Paris, 2013.

To which Jesus replies: “Have you believed because you have seen me?” And then the following words are (indirectly) directed straight at us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

So, I still wonder about that twin. Thomas’ twin. Thomas is in the gospel, but where is his twin?

Could it be that you and I are his twin? 

I certainly hope so! 

Because the path to mature faith includes doubts and questions along the way. And the good news is that Christ comes to us, and honors us with his presence as he did with Thomas.

He reveals himself to us principally in the breaking of the bread, but also in an infinite number of other ways … including in the faces of one another. 

See. Look. I am with you, Christ says.

There are so many ways this has happened, and is happening, and can and will happen into the future, that if they were all written down, “I suppose that” — as the last line of the Gospel of John reads — “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”[3]

If we weren’t living through a pandemic, this is the part of the sermon in which I’d say: and when you come to the altar rail for holy communion, reach out and receive the Body of Christ.

But we are living in a pandemic. And this year we will be Thomas’ twin in that we don’t have the opportunity to receive the real presence of Christ at the Eucharist. 

Instead it is an opportunity to think of this time-period as the week that passed before Thomas encountered the Risen Christ.

It is an opportunity:

To wonder about the mystery of the sacrament in its absence.

To think about what it means to you, how it nourishes you, and nourishes us as a community. How you might want to invite others to it.

To receive the good news that in the sacrament and in infinite ways, Christ comes to you and honors you …  all of you. Including your questions and your desire to know the full reality of the Resurrection.

Just as he did with our twin, Thomas.

He invites us this very hour: See. Look. That you may believe.

+++


[1] John 14:5.

[2] John 11:16.

[3] John 21:25b.

Clark-Soles, Jaime. Reading John for Dear Life: A Spiritual Walk with the Fourth Gospel. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.

Schneiders, Sandra M. Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: The Crossroads Publishing Company, 1999, 2003.

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