A few years ago as I was driving the car, I heard part of an ABC interview with a former Jesuit priest who is now into Zen Buddhism. I didn't hear the beginning or the end of the interview - so I haven't a clue who he was! He was talking about meditation and the release of hidden powers and doing the impossible. He made a very deceptive comparison between his Jesuit training and his interest in Zen. Christianity isn't basically about human mental powers (or about wishful thinking), but about divine power, about the involvement of God in human history, about what God has done and is doing.
The disciples weren't wishful thinkers. They didn't expect (and were totally unprepared for) the resurrection of Jesus. Their initial reaction to the women's report was disbelief. When Peter and John ran to the tomb they confirmed the first part of the story - that the tomb was empty and the body gone. Remember the account in Luke about the two who journeyed to Emmaus? "Some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see" (Lk. 24.2224). Him they did not see! We've heard their reports, but we're not jumping to conclusions.
Then on the evening of that day, "with the doors locked for fear of the Jews" (Jn 20.19), Jesus stood among them. Luke tells us, "they were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost" (Lk. 24.37). What would our reaction have been? Their reaction was quite normal - they had seen their friend and master die violently and now - but it just can't be - him!
But - words of reassurance - "Peace be with you!" (Jn 20.19) Then, as Luke records them - words of confirmation - "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!" (Lk. 24.3839b).
"He showed them his hands and side" (Jn 20.20) - this is the confirmation of his identity, the confirmation that this isn't a ghost, that this was really part of history, that the one they were now seeing was the same one who had been taken to the place of crucifixion, whom they had seen nailed to the cross, whose side had been pierced to confirm that he was dead.
In a strange way it was the evidence that he had suffered and died that became the evidence that this really was Jesus and that he was alive!
Some years ago the papers carried the bizarre story about a man who had himself crucified. He had wanted to experience what Jesus went through, but said it hadn't made him feel very saintly! We don't - and can't - go through Jesus' experience of death. And we don't have to! Remember his words of triumph from the cross, "It is finished!" (19.30) But the Jesus who died is alive!
Now Thomas wasn't with them when Jesus came, and when the others were telling their experience, he wanted concrete evidence too. He wanted to be absolutely sure. Seeing wasn't enough - "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it" (v. 25). Luke records that Jesus had invited the other disciples to "touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Lk. 24.39b). Luke then goes on to describe that they "still did not believe it because of joy and amazement" and needed Jesus to eat a piece of fish before them to convince them that he really was alive (vv. 4143).
Disbelief, joy, amazement - too good to be true - this can't be true!
Thomas wasn't there, so we shouldn't blame him for his refusal to accept their news lightly. In fact, I'm glad of the evidence of the caution with which Thomas and the others came to faith. There aren't any action replays of history for us to check up on what happened. [Perhaps in heaven there may be action replays. If so there are a few things I would like to know about.] No action replays now, so the records that have come down to us are vitally important. And the record of their slowness to believe is important as part of the evidence that Jesus is alive.
But important too is the faith of Thomas when he was confronted by the evidence - "My Lord and my God!" (v. 28) The resurrection of Jesus answered any final questions he might have had. Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi was fine - "You are the Christ the Son of the living God!" That was easy to say and they had all basically been in agreement with that.
But Thomas's affirmation goes beyond that. It makes it clear that Jesus is not just Son of God in some general sense that might also be applied to other mortals, but that he is God the Son in an absolute sense. It makes it clear that when Jesus said, "I and the Father are one," he meant more than that he agreed with the Father, as some JW's once suggested to me. He was in fact closely identifying him with the Jehovah God of the Old Testament! The hearers of Jesus at that point had understood him well and taken up stones to throw at him because they believed him to be guilty of blasphemy (10.30-33). Now Thomas puts it into a statement that indicates that the disciples unambiguously recognised and accepted that Jesus was God the Son.
"My Lord and my God" speaks not just of status but of relationship and commitment. It's like the Creed - which doesn't say, "God is the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Jesus Christ is his only Son our Lord...", but "I believe in God..." Jesus, you are my Lord - I will obey you - you are my God - my whole understanding of reality and experience focus on you.
Then comes the word for us - "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (20.29).
That's a word for us. We live totally post-resurrection and post-ascension. In some churches the Good Friday/Easter period is a kind of re-enactment each year, not just of the stories of the crucifixion and resurrection, but also of the mood of the disciples. But we think of the crucifixion in the light of the resurrection. We can't contemplate one without the other. We can't understand one without the other. We read the Good Friday story as those who know the next bit of the story already, as those who already believe, as those who have already come to affirm, "My Lord and my God!"
Or do we? And that's the call and challenge of this Bible passage - the call to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that we may have life in his name. He came for us. Trust him - and live it out!