My granddaughter saw a man at the Chinese restaurant Big Pine Key and thought it was me. Apparently he looked a bit like me. My daughter-in-law corrected her by showing her a picture of me. My daughter-in-law wasn't fooled for a second by this guy because she knows me. But we have all made similar misidentifications. We see a stranger from the back or from a distance and we think they are someone we know. The minute they turn around or we get closer we realize our mistake.
So we can dismiss any attempts to explain away the resurrection which say the disciples were mistaking someone else for Jesus or that someone was impersonating Jesus. They had lived and traveled with him for 3 years. In Luke we are told they thought he was a ghost, but they recognized who he was. Nor was this an hallucination. When I was in ICU I had hallucinations. They were thoroughly convincing—to me, but not to anyone else. So what are the odds that all the remaining disciples had the same hallucination of the risen Christ? And let's not forget Jesus' brother James, to whom Jesus also appeared according to Paul's account, written decades before the gospels. And why would they lie if Jesus hadn't conquered death but was just a decomposing corpse. What could they possibly gain? So why didn't Thomas, the disciple who wasn't with the others on Easter, believe it when all the others told him Jesus had risen?
I think he was discouraged, like the other disciples had been originally. He had invested a lot of his life and trust in Jesus and the crucifixion had so discredited the idea that Jesus was the Messiah that he didn't dare go down that path again. Not unless it was absolutely true. And that meant he didn't want to just see someone that looked like Jesus, he wanted proof that this was the same man who had died on the cross. He wanted to see the wounds. He wanted to touch the torn holes in the flesh. They couldn't be faked.
And when Thomas did see Jesus, still bearing the marks of his death, he knew that Christ had risen indeed. He also knew that Jesus had to be more than a mere man. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
Sometimes we experience a catastrophe so devastating that we lose our faith in a loving God. We, like Thomas, give up hope. We demand a lot of proof if we are ever going to believe in and trust God again. God understands that. But we have to do something that Thomas, to his credit, did. We have to go where the people who experience Jesus are. Thomas could have said to the other disciples, “Not only don't I believe he is back but I don't believe you. I don't believe you have experienced the risen Jesus. So goodbye and good riddance!”
But Thomas didn't do that. He went back to that room where the disciples met. He knew them to be good people even if he didn't believe everything they did. And there he encountered the risen Jesus and his own faith was resurrected.
Life is hard. No one knows that better than Jesus. And sometimes our faith can be so battered by life that it seems like the sensible thing is just to let it die. And so we walk away from the very things that can bring it back to life. When the flame of faith goes out we just drop the torch and decide it makes more sense to plunge ahead into the darkness, rather than to go back to where the source of the flame is and get it rekindled. And if you are looking for the God who is love, then you really ought to look among the people who follow the one who loved us enough to die for us and who commanded his followers to “love one another as I have loved you.” In fact this is such a stormy and windy world, we really ought to go to the source often to get our torches reignited--weekly at the very least. Because as Jesus said, “Where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt 18:20)