But Thomas said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
and put my finger in the mark of the nails
and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
(from John 20:25)
‘Unless I see the mark…” These words of Thomas have haunted believers throughout the centuries as we wrestle with what it means to be a people who believe in the resurrection. Thomas is bold in his doubting. He is clear about what he needs to believe. Thomas needs to see the mark of the nails. He needs to see the wound in Jesus’ side. Not even the witness and words of his closest friends were enough for Thomas to believe that Jesus had in fact been resurrected. He knows their hearts; he hears their words; he feels their energy – and yet he is unable to believe. In many ways, Thomas’ words foreshadow a challenge for believers today. What do we need to see to believe? What mark is enough for us to affirm our faith in the resurrected Christ 2,000 years later?
As I consider the violence and fear surrounding the days of those first gathered followers of Jesus, I can relate to Thomas’ doubts. After all, a “mark” of his time was framed by an unsettling reality. The leaders of the religious institution of their time were concerned and not happy with these “Jesus followers” – as they were viewed as a threat to the way they understood their faith and their God. Their concerns were so real that they colluded with the secular government of their time and executed Jesus.
The truth is, the “marks” of our time are not so different. The violence around us can be overwhelming – from the shootings in the streets of our city to the senseless acts of terrorism around the world. The bombings that left hundreds dead in Sri Lanka is a recent reminder of this reality. Like many of you, I am deeply disturbed by how religious beliefs are often used as weapons of hate – disregarding the common dignity all humanity shares. These are some “marks” of our times – “marks” colored with despair and death, fear and desperation. I imagine Thomas, struggling with the “marks” of his time as he gathered with his brothers and sisters, concerned for what would happen to them now that their leader was crucified.
But if we can see beyond these “marks” that threaten our very lives, there are other marks that indeed point us to the hope of the resurrected Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit breathed upon those gathered continues to be the same breath of heaven that allows us to see with hope what is physically not before us. It allows us to see with the eyes of faith – to recognize God in places and spaces that can be unexpected.
As we engage this season of Eastertide for the next 40 days leading us to Pentecost, I invite us to consider the “marks” of the resurrected Christ around us. I invite us to consider the words of Thomas, “unless I see the mark,” and reflect on what “marks” we need to see in order to believe. Is the “mark” of the resurrected Christ experienced in the embrace of another? In the celebration of a life well-lived? In the birth of a new life? Is the “mark” of the resurrected Christ experienced in the sounds of music? In the bursting forth of new life of Spring colors? Is the “mark” of the resurrected Christ experienced in those standing with the oppressed? In the feeding of the hungry? The clothing of the naked? Is the “mark” of the resurrected Christ in the whispers of prayer? Friends, these are the “marks” of a God who continues to break through the brokenness and darkness compelling us toward new life. These are the “marks” of a people who more than 2,000 years later are able to see the risen Christ in the ordinary comings and goings of life.
Friends, may we receive the same breath Jesus breathed on to those first disciples, allowing it to shape our witness with conviction and encouragement. May we boldly claim the “marks” of resurrection life around us; for they are there – pointing to the One whose initial marks are the reason for the possibility of new life for each of us today.