Christianity, which at 2.1 billion members remains the world’s largest religion, has at the center of its faith the following, as spelled out in the Gospel according to St. John:
“But Thomas, one of the 12 called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
“The other disciples therefore said unto him: ‘We have seen the Lord!’
“But he said unto them:
“‘Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe!’
“And after eight days, again his disciples were within and Thomas with them: Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst of them and said: ‘Peace be unto you.’
“Then saith he to Thomas:
“‘Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.’
“And Thomas answered and said unto him:
“‘My Lord and my God!’”
To the world’s Christians, Easter, or the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, should be the greatest day of the year.
Without it, there would be no Christmas – because Christmas would be nothing more than the birth of a light that failed, another great teacher and social reformer who tried and lost – with a gospel really nothing more than a one-act tragedy.
Thomas had apparently been in the crowd on Calvary and had seen Him die. This was particularly shattering to Thomas, because he had been the only one who disputed his friends’ warning to Jesus, when they learned of his setting his face upon Jerusalem: that is, deciding to go and bear witness there, where so many prophets had been martyred.
But Thomas spoke up against these disciples’ warnings by saying:
“Let us go to Jerusalem, that we may die with Him.”
It is one thing to have courage in the training camp and quite another to manifest it in combat. Like all others, Thomas ran away at the first sign of real danger – when the Sanhedrin’s troops arrived, with Judas, to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
But Thomas did go to Calvary. And he did not completely sever his connection with the church, which, in great fear and shock, had gone into hiding.
There, in the hiding, where Thomas was with his fellow apostles, Jesus came again.
Thomas was confronted by the risen Christ – who ordered him to do exactly what he had demanded in his challenge: Examine the wounds.
To realize that God is never limited.
To realize that the idea, “It just couldn’t happen,” is hardly scientific.
Thomas obeys the Lord’s directions, examines the wounds and then enunciates the one unequivocal statement of Jesus’ divinity in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!”
Years later: Another scene in Sumatra. This is where Thomas the Agnostic – who became St. Thomas the Apostle – traveled further than any of the 12 in obeying his Lord’s command: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.”
In this scene, Thomas is paying the ultimate price, in the ultimate sermon – the last full measure of devotion.
He is bearing witness with his life – to proclaim a truth which he had both seen and examined with his hands.
Thomas, in this scene, is being tied to a stake in order to become a live target for Hindu archers.
He knows fear and encounters it, standing alone in the presence of his powerful and hateful enemies, who enjoy the spectacle of one of these hated Christians being trussed up for the slaughter.
Perhaps he has, in the tremendous hardships, discouragement and persecution of the mission field, suffered relapses of the old doubts.
Perhaps Thomas knows the same anxiety as his Master on the cross, in wondering whether the church, to which he has given so much of his life, will shatter and scatter as the 12 did in Gethsemane. Are they sufficiently trained and steadfast enough to carry on the work?
Then, as he sees them making ready to execute him, he begins, by reflex, to say his last words: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. … Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”
Thomas finds, as so many others have found, that in this exhilarating environment of courageous prayer, his fears of pain and death are quite suddenly diminished. He feels a reservoir of strength and courage, which he never quite realized that he had until the very moment of his joining the Noble Army of Martyrs, whose blood is still the seed of the church.
For at this moment, Thomas is preparing to provide the world with the ultimate indication of the truth of the Resurrection: his laying down his life.
In this last conscious moment, he is inestimably strengthened by this, and by the remembrance years before and thousands of miles away when he examined the wounds and looked up into the eyes of “My Lord and my God!”
That experience had sent him thousands of miles across this earth. It is the remembrance that convinces him that he is now about to go home. This faith, which came to the one-time Doubting Thomas, can come to anyone.
Its eternal availability is at the center of the joy and eternal triumph of Easter.