The lectionary each season of Easter brings us back to the same texts. Lent has a similar structure but there is a little more variation between each year in the three year cycle, while for Easter we read the same passages from the Book of Acts and the Gospel of John.
This all is related to Baptism: preparing for the waters of Baptism at Easter and then unpacking the meaning of living in our new life given at baptism. The teaching that prepares one for baptism is called catechesis and the teaching of the meaning of the baptismal life is called mystagogy, teaching about what had remained hidden before one gained sight in the waters of baptism. We must learn to see.
The texts for the Second Sunday of Easter direct us to sight and touch. The author of the epistle of John claims that the reality he is speaking of and witnessing to is what he and the other apostles not only saw but handled. And of course the Apostle Thomas famously says I will not believe unless I touch the wound in his side and holes in his hands.
We can get caught up in Thomas’ doubt. When so many Christians act so very certain, Thomas becomes the patron saint of those who aren’t always so sure. This use of this story of the Resurrection of Christ allows many to have the faith of Thomas in the face of the absolutism in which doubt is seen as akin to darkness and thus a sign of God’s absence in a distorted interpretation of 1 John 1:7. Yet, we shouldn’t settle into the comfort of this interpretation, which still focuses on the doubt rather than the encounter.
1 John 1 is about the tangibility of the truth which the Twelve Apostles handed on and which has come down to us. They saw and handled. Thomas, an Apostle needs to handle his faith. While, Jesus’ words of blessing to those who believe without the tangibility given to the Twelve and the disciples, still affirms that we have faith in something that was visible and tangible: that is in the physical and not just ethereal, spiritual or psychological, but something that affects the whole of us and the universe.
1 John 1 expands upon the story of Thomas the Twin: It invites us into faith beyond mere assent. We misread the testimony of the epistle of John if we think it says just accept what I say because I say I handled and saw. No, this witness of seeing and handling is an invitation into the tangibility of the faith of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are invited into the actualization of the Blessing Christ bestows on those who will hear Thomas’s story and his encounter with the Risen body of Jesus Christ, still bearing the wounds of his passion. This is real, no fantasy, no story to make us feel better, so in a sense there’s no point to go along with it all if one has never had the encounter with God in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
If someone tells me they don’t believe because they have never encountered God, or experienced the reality of Christ (and especially if they say this as one who had been formerly a Christian as one assenting to belief), I think of Thomas, and I say yes, there is nothing I can say to you – mere assent to belief you haven’t encountered isn’t the faith of the Church. All I can do is witness to my own encounter within the realm of the faith of the Church that has been handed down from Thomas the Twin and the other eleven Apostles, who handled and saw this mystery. Through their witness handed down for centuries I too have handled and seen.