Thomas is absent when Jesus comes and stands in the midst of the apostles in the locked room and shows them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoice. However, the returning Thomas is having none of it: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
As a lockdown project, I read Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Sua Vita. Newman is, of course, the temperamental opposite to Thomas, cautious, sensitive and precise to the point of preciousness. But like Thomas, he looked for proofs, in his case in the miracles of the Old Testament, or in the liquifying blood of saints in Naples, or by way of intellectual deduction and syllogism.
Like Thomas, Newman and his followers believed that we could know God through physical evidence or by way of our own intellectual endeavours. They travelled to Italy and disputed with theologians. Returning, they agonised over whether or not the Church of England was a part of the universal Church, and whether or not the reformers of the sixteenth century were renegades, and whether or not Timothy and Titus were bishops, and so on ad infinitum.
I think now of my own years of looking for faith and belief and belonging, of doubt, of torturous questioning of God and Church and congregation and self, of periods of consolation alternating with months of angry rejection. What on earth was I thinking? That I could stand God up and question him, demanding answers and holding him to account? That he could fit into my limited human imagination?
Letting this go has been a relief. St. John of the Cross tells us: ‘This knowledge in unknowing is so overwhelming that wise men disputing can never overthrow it, for their knowledge does not reach to the understanding of not understanding, transcending all knowledge.’
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Given what was ahead of them, he must mean inner peace, not security from physical harm. Maybe this is the key message, as much as the rest of the story of Thomas: the invitation from Jesus that ‘Peace be with you’.
Starting with the acceptance of peace, there is space for faith, for God.
Peace be upon us all this Easter.