“Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with [the other disciples] when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he 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.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:24-28)
In the Gospel reading for this Second Sunday of Easter, Thomas needs to see what Mary saw at the empty tomb. He needs to see what the other disciples saw in the locked house where they met. He, too, needs to see the Lord for himself to believe that Jesus has in fact been raised from the dead. But Thomas needs even more than seeing. He needs to touch Jesus’ wounds. He needs to know that the risen Lord is the same as his Lord who was crucified. And in a grace-filled response, Jesus gives him exactly what he needs to believe. He invites Thomas to experience the resurrection by touching the wounds in his hands and side.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus invited people to believe in him through touch. He healed a man with leprosy as he touched him. He took the hand of a young girl who had died and brought her back to life. He put mud on a blind man’s eyes restoring his sight. And when a woman simply touched the hem of his robe, she was healed of an affliction she had suffered from for 12 years.
There is a healing power that comes with touch. In fact we know that newborn babies need such touch for normal development. It’s how they feel safe, cared for and comforted. It’s how they learn to trust, enabling them to form attachments and closeness to their parents, and relationships with others. As they continue to grow, it also helps them to be able to handle stress in their lives.
But what happens when touch is prohibited, as it is now during this pandemic? When recent tornadoes in the south destroyed some people’s homes, there could be no comforting hugs or embrace of survivors. Church volunteers were told not to hold hands with people as they prayed for them behind masks. As the director for the Southern Baptist disaster relief ministry said, “It’s agonizing. Jesus touched people all through his ministry. We can’t now.”
One of the saddest impacts of the corona virus is that many people are now dying alone. Family members aren’t able to be at their bedside to give comfort in the last days or hours of someone’s life. Parting words are communicated through FaceTime at best, or maybe just a text at the least.
However there are ways we are now finding to “touch” each others lives even when we can’t do so by physical contact. By online worship services that continue to proclaim God’s word of promise and hope. By music, such as Andrea Bocelli’s stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” in his performance from Italy on Easter Sunday. By people who are donating part or all of their government stimulus check to those with greater needs than themselves. In these and other creative ways we are touching others with the grace we have experienced for ourselves through the risen Lord.
Recently my best friend lost her younger brother following his 11-year struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. It broke my heart that her family couldn’t be with loved ones to mourn their loss and to celebrate his life, having to wait until it is safe to gather again. Besides offering my comfort to her over the phone and by sending a sympathy card, I realized there was something else I could do to let her know she was not alone. One of our high school classmates posts obituaries on Facebook when someone in our graduating class or their family member has died. But since my friend is not on facebook she was unable to see all of the expressions of sympathy for her in the comments. And so I took screen shots of all the condolences offered, sending them to her in a text. It brought tears to her eyes knowing she was being remembered by so many people, most of whom she hadn’t seen for years, yet who still cared for her. Even in these times when we can’t be together, God’s healing touch can still flow through us.
One of the things I’ve always loved about this story of Thomas is that in the end he doesn’t actually need to touch Jesus physically. For once Jesus breathes the Spirit upon him, giving him the gift of peace just like the others received, Thomas has all he needs to proclaim his bold resurrection faith, “My Lord and my God!”
So we, too, are given faith to believe in the God whom we cannot see or touch, trusting in the risen Christ who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Holy God, we have been touched by your grace through the life, death and resurrection of our risen Lord. May the healing power of your grace and peace flow freely through us. Amen.