Have you ever doubted God? Have you ever wondered where God is in a particular situation? Doubt is a common reality of our human nature. We all experience it though most of us are uncomfortable admitting it. Back in the Seventies, when things seemed simple or I was just too young and too self-involved to know the difference, one of my favorite television shows was the sitcom “Get Smart.” If you remember, the hero of the show was a guy named Maxwell Smart who just happened to be a bumbling spy with a mission to fight the ongoing Cold War. He worked for a CIA clone organization called “Control”, which was dedicated to defeating the powers of evil as embodied in the sinister organization “KAOS”.
There was an ongoing verbal gag running throughout the show. It went something like this. Smart would try to intimidate the enemy with a too-good-to-be-true array of bluster and threats, the kind of threats, which stated “help was on the way.” He would say things like this: “You better drop that gun because this yacht happens to be surrounded by the Seventh Fleet … Would you believe the Sixth Fleet? … How about a school of angry flounder?” Another might go like this. “At this very minute, 25 Control agents are converging on this building. Would you believe two squad cars and a motorcycle cop? How about a vicious street cleaner and a toothless police dog?” I loved the show…still do.
Well, our sense of humor might be more sophisticated today than it was 30 years ago, but our sense of uncertainty and moments of doubt are still very much a part of who we are and how we believe. Doubting is pretty human and not really a cause to name one, a sinner. In John’s gospel reading this morning, Thomas has been named one who doubts. We attach his name to any who might doubt calling a person of suspect belief, a doubting Thomas. That doesn’t seem quite fair. After all, Thomas was just being honest. He was just saying what others around him might be feeling but not comfortable verbalizing. He just wanted proof…. “Show me” kind of proof.
The other disciples might have been astonished by Thomas’ bold need to have proof of Christ’s identity or they might have been grateful. One among them had boldly asked what all of them wanted to know. Was this Jesus Christ? And, if so, how had Christ accomplished what no one on earth could accomplish, life after death…a bodily presence with the evidence of his dying still imprinted in the palms of his hands, the mark in his side.
Though it was a bold challenge, Christ didn’t seem to take offense at Thomas’ doubt. Instead, he addressed it. He took it seriously and he gave Thomas the opportunity to satisfy his reservations by offering him an opportunity to do what Thomas said he needed to do to believe … touch the wounds. So Christ said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Touch is important. We need to be touched physically, emotionally and spiritually to be fully human. And there is proof of our human need to be held and loved. Most of us know about the evidence uncovered many years ago when it was noted that babies and children in orphanages or nurseries responded best when held and touched. Babies receiving a fair amount of touch thrived, gained weight, and were generally happier while those who were not touched lost weight, cried and sometimes died. More recently, the healing art of massage is being incorporated in the daily life of many … the elderly in nursing homes, office workers at their work places, as well as babies in hospital settings. Touch helps to alleviate stress, relieve loneliness, and promote healing. But it does more than that. It connects people. And we do need to be connected.
Touch between two people has the power to re-member them, as in, helping the two to reconnect human to human. And as we re-member, we sense the way in which God envisioned his creation to be … in union with one another, at one with one another. It is for this reason that Jesus offered his body to Thomas to be touched so that Thomas could be re-membered with his brothers and sisters. Reconnected, not set apart by his doubt. He would no longer be outside the experience of the Resurrection. He would be at one with Christ’s followers again. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” In other words, be at-one-ment, atonement with me and one another, members of the one body which is mine.
It was a powerful moment and one, which would lend courage and hope to the now, newly set apart from the world disciples. They would be called upon to work together to bring the kind of changes needed to institute a faith in the divinity of God made man. It would be a difficult road and we are still traveling on that road, still trying to share our connection with the lost and the least.
Christ knew our need to be touched because he shared it. And with his very being, his body he opened the way for us to stay open to each other. There is no doubt that touch is primal … we need to touch. But there is also the reality that touch can be ambiguous. Like anything good and human, touch can heal but it also can hurt. Difficult as it is, we must work at discerning one kind of touch from another teaching our children how to know the difference. But to make every touch suspect, to deny our need to be touched fearing that touch itself is not good, threatens our very humanity and keeps us outside the human community. It keeps us apart when God aches to calls us closer together. That’s the wonder of Christ’s gift of life. Christ is God’s eternal hand upon us, the touch that gives us life. Christ is God’s at-one-ment, a re-membering of all the parts of the body called into community with each other.
Christ comes to his disciples wishing them peace, reminding them by his very presence of the sacrifice he made for them and for us. This gift of love is permanently burned into their sight. They see Christ’s hands, his side opened and they remember, they remember the gift and why the cross had to be. Because there was no other way to teach love than to be love, broken and shared. Such love continues through us to a world in pain. We can reach out and touch the brokenness we see in one another, reach out offering God’s healing in the lives of our brothers and sisters. To be human, we need each other. We need what the other can offer us. We need to be connected by the love that God gives us and calls us to share, one body in the one being of Christ. Then peace is possible, first within us and then and only then, in the world around us. Amen.