Thomas is my favorite disciple, for he spoke for all of us in his insistence upon meeting the Lord Christ face to face.
told by Deborah
That first Resurrection evening, the disciples gathered together in the house where they met — with the doors locked, in fear of the Judeans. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. Seeing that it was the Lord, the disciples were overjoyed.
Jesus again said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Then he breathed on them as the Creator breathed life into the first human creature. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (which means Twin), one of the twelve, wasn’t there. Later, when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and touch them, and put my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
A week later the disciples were again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them.
Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out and put your hand in my side. Do not doubt — but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “You have faith because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus did many other signs that his disciples witnessed which are not written in this book. But these are included so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Two weeks ago I was in Cairo, Egypt. It was the Sunday of the deadly bombings in Sri Lanka targeting Christian worshipers; the terrible early reports were in, tourists were cautioned — and the Christian Quarter of the city was surrounded by military tactical units, the streets were cordoned off and blocked by armored personnel carriers and spike strips. While one or two police are always stationed outside the churches, their numbers were increased; four or five stood guard at every entrance, all armed with automatic weapons.
As we watched, a young woman walked down the street cradling an infant, her husband alongside, a toddler boy clinging to his hand; his eyes alighting for only an instant on the assembled soldiers and the tourists clustered behind them. They paused at the ornate iron gate of a walled garden surrounding the sanctuary, and exchanged a few words with one of the guards. A moment later the gate was opened for them and we glimpsed a smiling, lively group of children and adults within. They were not deterred by locked gates or blocked roads or death threats.
Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.
Coptic Christians follow the Orthodox calendar and thus were celebrating Palm Sunday — and they were, indeed, celebrating. In the face of clear and present danger, in the midst of a city in which they are a tiny, often-menaced, minority, they gathered together and rejoiced in the name of the Lord.
Jesus came and stood among them.
As those first disciples assembled in their meeting house, facing their fear together, Jesus was in their midst. His presence was palpable, solid, real. They could hear his voice, see his face, and reach out and touch the scars on his hands and the wound in his side. And they believed.
Jesus was with them — absolutely and truly, and yet there was something different about him. We know this because it was only after he had departed from them that the disciples bound for Emmaus realized who he was; it was only after showing them his hands and his side that the disciples “realized it was Jesus and rejoiced.” The same seems to be true for Thomas’ encounter with the Lord.
The Risen Lord was not a fantasy, but a power; divine energy made manifest, transferred from Above, bringing all that Jesus was and all that he had experienced into the present moment. He was as real as in his earlier incarnation — and more besides.
Because we were not there, we do not know for certain how he appeared to his disciples. Perhaps it was similar to the transfiguration: when Jesus’ face and his clothing were radiant, infused with a shimmering light that made it difficult to see clearly; a Presence so bright that it caused those around him to blink, to squint, to shield their eyes. Perhaps they were so dazzled by the experience of holiness that they couldn’t tell what (or who) it was they were seeing.
Or perhaps it was that the disciples saw more clearly: perhaps the Divine was revealed to them more profoundly, more perfectly in the Resurrected Christ than ever before. Perhaps it was disconcerting, confusing, and yet entrancing — the way colors can appear brighter; images sharper; music sweeter, deeper, embracing; reality more real — as it is in those (rare, holy) moments of heightened awareness associated with religious visions, insights, and extreme danger.
Perhaps it was that, in Christ, his followers received what is sometimes called “enlightenment:” a holy wisdom that touched their hearts and souls, imbuing them with courage, strength, and faith. Perhaps it was a greater knowing than mere reason or logic: a glimpse of eternity — and the Eternal: beyond time and space, beyond fear or violence; love and light and life.
Whatever the exact nature of his appearance, those who saw the Risen Lord were transformed from disciples into believers. They were now apostles — sent forth to convey the Good News of Jesus Christ. They no longer doubted, but believed: trusting in His words, and relying on Him as their Teacher and Lord, their Friend and Redeemer.
Those Coptic Christians do not doubt, but believe. For them there can be no half-way, superficial acceptance of the Gospel; they do not discount, dilute, or rationalize the Resurrection. Their faith is absolute. It has to be, that they are willing (and able) to endure prejudice, suspicion, hostility, and the daily risk of kidnapping, assaults, and death — for them and for their children. Christ victorious!
That young Egyptian family and the rest of their congregation are apostles whose witness to their faith — literally risking their lives to proclaim it — touched my heart, and pricked my conscience.
I saw the Risen Lord, embodied in His believers — in an expression of our faith utterly unlike “popular Christianity” as found in America. There, it is costly to be a Christian; they are marked out as different, set apart, discriminated against; their faith is viewed as a challenge — a threat, in fact — to the “way of the world” (it is illegal to possess an Arabic translation of the Bible).
Despite the risks and challenges, their supreme otherness also provides a kind of firewall against the temptation to be fashionable, “relevant,” or acceptable. They will not be conformed to the world, they will not support the status quo, for it is openly hostile, clearly opposed to all that they believe and all that they stand for.
Maybe there’s something to be said for those first disciples locking their doors to keep the forces of the status quo at a safe distance. The “Judeans” signified the supporters of the culture that the Christians were challenging; those who upheld the mandated beliefs and behavior, who did what was required in order to fit in and avoid trouble; whose motto was: “go along, to get along.”
For our part, perhaps we are too ready to open our doors (and our minds) to the ways of the world; too willing to accommodate, too anxious to be admired, to be acceptable, reasonable, and conforming. Perhaps we are too willing to go along, and to get along. “Don’t mind us, we’re no threat to your power or authority; we’re on your side, we believe what you believe, we affirm your choices, we approve your message.”
The difference between most expressions of our contemporary faith and the way of the world grows ever thinner: to some it is indistinguishable.We are as much followers of Constantine as of Christ. I have often heard it said that, since we appear to stand in such close agreement, “why bother with Jesus?” Why, indeed?
For the Christians in Cairo, the answer is clear. They “bother” with Jesus because He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. They go to the sanctuary to worship the Lord: to be with Him, to listen to His Words, to give thanks and praise to Him, to be encouraged, blessed, and uplifted by Him. They follow the Lord Christ as if their lives depend on Him, and Him alone. Because it does.
They trust in the Lord Christ because they know Him, believe in Him, and rely on Him — intimately and personally — in a way that we have ignored and abandoned.
Put not your trust in mortals. ~ Psalm 143
For our Egyptian sisters and brothers, the Gospel gives strength for the journey and the courage to face each new day; it uplifts their spirits and restores their souls. Their faith is not concerned with what they accomplish, but with how they live; that they may be courageous in the face of danger, strong in the face of suffering, and joyfully praising the Lord at all times, even as they “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” — for they know that Christ is with them.
Their church is not a meeting hall, but a soul sanctuary; a retreat from the world, a cool and comforting respite from the heat and noise of the city. It is a holy place where they can meet the Risen Lord face to face, free from distractions and demands to do anything other than be with Him.
May you find the place where you can meet the Lord face to face,
What distracts you from the Gospel? What makes the Message come alive?
When / where have you met Jesus, face to face?
After our return from Egypt I was privileged to communicate with a Coptic Christian woman from whom I learned more about their worship practices, the extreme dangers they face, and their amazing depth of faith.