Have you ever listened to someone telling you an experience they had and you didn’t really believe them? They may be describing how someone was treating them or how a certain situation played out and as they are talking you are thinking to yourself, “they are simply exaggerating or they are imagining that that really happened.” I am reminded of the Dr. Seuss book, To Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street. The little boy is walking home and his dad always asks him what he saw on his way home. Marco says to himself, “But all that I’ve noticed, except my own feet, was a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street. That’s nothing to tell of, that won’t do, of course…. just a broken-down wagon that’s drawn by a horse. That can’t be my story. That’s only a start. I’ll say that a ZEBRA was pulling that cart! And that is a story that no one can beat, when I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.” As the book progresses Marco keeps building this horse and cart more and more in his imagination until finally there is an entire parade with an elephant, a big band, with the mayor and all the people in town are there with an airplane flying overhead dropping confetti.
There are people who think the resurrection of Jesus follows this same progression. And I suppose that is more or less what Thomas is thinking his friends have done in our gospel lesson today. Thomas thinks that the other 10 disciples don’t want Jesus to be dead and so they refuse to accept his death. They have persuaded themselves that he is still alive. And finally collectively they say they have all seen him even though it is all in their imagination just like Marco with his zebra and parade. Well, Thomas is not having any part of it. And he tells them so rather graphically! “Unless I put my fingers into his hands and my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thomas knows that dead people don’t get up and walk around. He reminds me of the story about the fellow who was a tourist in New York City. He hired a cab to take him to the Empire State Building which was some distance away. On their way he had a question and he reached up and tapped the cabby on his shoulder to ask him. But when he tapped him on the shoulder the cabby screamed, the cab swerved onto the sidewalk and they very narrowly missed hitting a couple of pedestrians. He hit a trash can and finally stopped the cab with two wheels on the curb and two wheels on the street. They sat there for a couple of moments shaking and their hearts thumping loudly. Then the cabby turned to his passenger and told him, “When you tapped me on the shoulder I almost jumped out of my skin!” The passenger with his eyes as big as dinner plates replied, “Man I didn’t think that just tapping your shoulder would scare you!” The cabby took a deep breath, and then said, “Well, I guess it’s not really your fault. You see this is my first day as a cab driver. But for the past twenty-five years I have driven a hearse.” Everybody knows that dead people don’t get up after they are dead. The cab driver knew this. Thomas knew this. That is why we love Thomas. He is like us. He is from the ‘show me’ state. And notice that when Jesus comes around one week later and Thomas is there that Jesus does not berate him. He does not put him down. Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here—see my hands? And reach out your hand and put in my side.” You want proof, Thomas? OK, here is proof. Here I am—standing, breathing, and speaking to you.
Well, now Thomas believes. Now he is convinced. All eleven disciples are convinced that Jesus is alive and risen from the dead. All eleven disciples are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. These men are so totally convinced that they are willing to now face opposition; they are willing to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord and suffer persecution. Within two years, James, the brother of John is beheaded because he will not back down from his claims that Jesus is alive and that Jesus is the Lord. Shortly after that Peter is imprisoned and it is expected that he too will die, but God miraculously frees him from the jail. Peter however was willing to die and eventually does die because he will not back away from his steadfast belief that Jesus is still alive. In fact, all the disciples but one die a violent death. Of these ten remaining disciples some are beaten to death, a couple are crucified, some are burned at a stake—if you can think of a horrible way to die probably it happened to at least one of them. Why? Why would they go to their deaths like this? All they had to do was to say that Jesus was not alive; all they had to say was that Jesus was not Lord. And remember, it was these same fellows who on that fateful Thursday evening that we now know as Maundy Thursday, it was that evening that they all turned tail and ran for their lives. These same fellows we see in our gospel readings are hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They are afraid of being arrested and killed like Jesus was. What happened? What changed these men?
They changed because they became convinced that Jesus was alive. And, you see, if Jesus IS alive that changes everything. You see if Jesus is alive then he is the way the truth and the life and no comes to God except through him. If Jesus is alive then we can have forgiveness of sins through faith in him and in his name. If Jesus is alive then we can know God because God has shown himself and what He is like through Jesus. If Jesus is alive then we can become reborn; we can become a new creation; we can become actual children of God himself! If Jesus is alive we can be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. All of these things become true, if in fact, Jesus is alive. The disciples were convinced that Jesus was alive and they were changed and as a result of their lives and witness their entire world was affected and the reverberations of their witness still are shaking and shaping this world today.
The question for us today is Jesus dead or alive? What do we think? Are we convinced that Jesus is alive? Are we convinced like the disciples were convinced? Most of us believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive and because of that we have the promise of life in heaven and that is where we stop. But you see that is only part of the resurrection story. It is a good part but there is more! We need to realize that because Jesus is alive that means that all that he said is true! He is the way to God; he is what God is like and we can know God through knowing him. And because he is alive we can know him and experience his presence in our lives even today! We can talk to him, if he is alive and he can communicate back to us, if he is alive. If like Thomas and the other disciples we actually believe Jesus is alive then our lives can make an impact on the world around us just as theirs did.
What do you and I really believe? May God help us to be convinced like Thomas and be transformed by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen