He wasn’t there. Where was he? I want to know why Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples in the upper room when Jesus drifted in like a ghost through the walls. The Easter story in John chapter 20 tells about a man who is self-quarantined. It’s like you had a eleven people scheduled for a conference call and only ten show up. Today, with everybody gathering in online video-chat rooms, we get it. There’s always someone who shows up muted or with their video turned off. Or perhaps they opt out. This Easter on Zoom, my extroverted brother-in-law was in the shadows, occasionally disappeared, and never spoke. Like Thomas, he isn’t adjusting well to the new reality. Today we can see and hear, but not touch.
When Thomas says, “unless I touch and feel the wounded Jesus, I will not believe,” we get it. We say, “unless I can gather with my family and hug my grandkids, it isn’t Easter.” “Unless we hunt for dyed eggs, go to sunrise service on the mountain, eat hot-crossed buns, boil kielbasa, squeeze into packed pews, and take our lilly to grandma, Christ is not Risen.” There are teachers with college degrees who’d rather quit than teach online. Their biggest complaint? That so many of their students aren’t showing up. There are preachers who look out on the empty pews, an iPhone on a tripod standing in for the people they used to hug each week, and they say, “Unless we can do it together, it is not worship.”
They are right. And they are wrong. For every Thomas that forsakes the online space, there are ten who faithfully gather. When this is all over, we may discover that we have formed some new relationships. I predict that online worship will become the normal fellowship experience for many in the years ahead. In time we will learn how to use the internet to do evangelism. I can’t imagine how baptism and the Lord’s supper will be translated for cyberspace. I don’t doubt it, however. I am not Thomas.
The good news, which we all know, is that Jesus came back for Thomas. I always read Jesus’ rebuke of this lost disciple as being very gentle. “Not everyone needs to see and touch things the way you do, Thomas.” Jesus doesn’t make Thomas do penance. Being in the midst of the social distancing experience, however, has made me sensitive to what Jesus says; that others will come to faith in ways that those in the room can’t imagine. We have made twenty centuries of progress. But we still are as limited as Jesus’ first disciples in comprehending the full toolbox God has at hand to show grace, truth, and love.