Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Thomas the Resilient

Sermon on John 20:19-31

Well, here we are. Again. One more week down.

Is it just me, or are the days running together?

I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that we’re trapped in some time warp where every day, Monday through Sunday is just “day.” It’s like we can’t quite imagine life before Coronavirus, and I’m not sure if we can envision life after either.

I think for me, Easter felt a little bit like something to look forward to. Now, that’s usually the case, there’s a lot of work, a lot of energy, built up to get to the big day. But, in normal times, I’d have a little vacation to look forward to afterward. Not this year—I canceled those tickets, and now it’s just…well….what?

The post-Easter blues, we might say. And what better way to mark it than with that always reliable downer, St. Thomas the Doubter. Now, look, Thomas gets a bad rap. I mean, he’s just saying what’s one everyone’s mind: “Yeah right guys, you saw Jesus back from the dead? Yeah, I don’t think so. I’m going to have to see it to believe it.”

But I think Thomas’ reaction here might help us understand a little of what we’re going through right now.

I’m trying to approach this Easter season’s texts as stories for people recovering from trauma because that’s what the disciples had experienced. The whole fracturing of their community—when Jesus was arrested, they scattered. Their leader was brutally murdered. They themselves were hunted. I don’t know how better to describe what they experienced than trauma.

And trauma looks different to different people and different situations. But what we’re going through right now—the upending of our norms, the threat to our safety, the overwhelming uncertainty—that’s trauma too.

And so, what might these post-Resurrection stories say about trauma and recovery? What might we learn from a group of people who went through it 2000 years ago? And, of course, the ever-present question: Where is God in all of that?

Those are questions that I want us to have in our minds as we go through the next five Sundays.

So what does good ol’ Thomas have to teach us today? I think he offers a healthy reminder that in the midst of all this, there is room for doubt. It’s a natural reaction in the face of disaster to rally round. We’re all in this together! We can do it! Ocean Springs Strong. All of those things.

But it’s also a completely natural reaction to think I don’t want to do this anymore. Or I don’t know if we’re going to get through this okay. Or I need something a little more to hold onto. Unless I see the marks on his hands…

I’m going to show you a little chart here for you to look at:

Source: https://www.samhsa.gov/dtac/recovering-disasters/phases-disaster

This is a chart that psychologists have put together on what it looks like to recover from a disaster or a traumatic experience. Now, a caveat: not everyone’s journey is the same…and in this case, things are still ongoing, but I think it’s helpful to think about it.

Notice what it looks like: it’s not a steady curve. Recovery isn’t some unbroken journey from the bottom to the top. No, it seems a lot more like a roller coaster.

Notice how there’s a peak early on. That’s the honeymoon. That’s the whole, yeah we can do this! This isn’t so bad! That’s Easter Sunday.

And then there’s a steady drop. Kind of a rocky road, right? That’s where the Thomases are.

It’s neither good nor bad; it is just part of the journey. And as we bump along, our goal is to build what we call resiliency. And that’s simply the ability to recover from those bumps, bounce back from the setbacks and disappointments. Learning how to be healthy, learning how to trust—trust in ourselves, trust in each other, trust in God.

That’s what Jesus offers Thomas in our story. Notice what he does not do: He doesn’t say to Thomas, “How dare you doubt me.” He doesn’t scold him or question his loyalty. He doesn’t mock him or belittle him.

He offers Thomas precisely what he needed to believe, in this case, his own body. His physical presence. “Do not doubt but believe.”

And remember in the Gospel of John, the word “believe” is interchangeable with the word “trust.” So we might say, “do not doubt but trust.”

I don’t know what the future holds for any of us. I don’t think anybody does. I do know that there will be bumps along the way. But I also trust that things will get better. We will get through this. I choose to place my trust in ourselves, in our community, and in God. Because I know that God has seen me through tough times, and God has seen us through tough times too.

And so take this time to build up your resiliency. Take things slow—this is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure you unplug from the news cycle, take walks, call a friend, do whatever you need to do. Pray, yes, but now and then pray without words. Just let God’s peace wash over you.

And always keep your hearts and your minds on that Easter promise. Easter is about more than just one Sunday—it’s a whole season, where we celebrate a community whose identity is formed by the empty tomb and grounded in the promise of healing and new life.