After the crucifixion, the disciples had heard the news from Mary Magdalene—that Jesus was alive. That was last week. In our passage for today, a week has passed, a week after Easter morning. A week since Mary saw Jesus outside the tomb. A week since she rushed back to the others to share the good news. A week of hope and doubt, of confusion and fear—a week of wanting to believe the impossible but still going to bed every night without any assurances, without any guarantees, without any proof, just wide-eyed desperate prayers.
Now, this week, the disciples are gathered behind locked doors in fear of the unknown. And Jesus comes to them, in the flesh, his wounded body still bearing the marks of his crucifixion. Then he comes again, a week later, so Jesus could see Thomas.
There’s so much to notice here—the way Jesus’s first words to them are of peace, “peace be with you,” he says it twice on his first visit (20:19, 21). And that he breathes the Holy Spirit into them (20:22), just like God breathed life into the first human being in Genesis, formed from the ground (Gen 2:7)—the Spirit as renewal of life, the gift of peace in a world of violence. And notice the wounds, his open wounds—either because he has not yet healed from his death or because his resurrected body will forever bear the marks of the cross—and watch as he invites his friends to touch them, to know that it is him by knowing his pain (Jn 20:27).
There is meaning for us in all of these things, mysteries worth exploring, wonders for our faith. But this time through this Easter story one word has captivated me: “my.”
“My Lord and my God!” (20:28) Thomas says after he sees Jesus, after Jesus tells him to put his finger where nails were hammered through his wrists, after Jesus asks him to slide his hand into the hole where the solider plunged a spear. And Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’ confession returns us to the first verse of John’s Gospel, where Jesus is introduced as the Word who was with God, the Word who was God: “In the beginning was the Word,” it says, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1).
Here, with Thomas, from his mouth—he’s the only person to name Jesus as God. It’s Thomas who identifies Jesus as God. And not just God in general but my God, he says.
Usually in the Bible when people talk about God, they use communal language—“our God,” “the God of our ancestors,” “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” I like that way of talking about God. I kinda like it better than what Thomas says, to be honest—better than Thomas with his singular possessive pronouns here in our passage. I prefer “our God” to Thomas’ “my,” his way of saying, “my God.” And I want to think that the reason why I like it when people in the Bible say “our” rather than “my” is because our faith is communal. We are a community of faith; we gather to worship our God. Church is about all of us; our relationship with God has to do with all of us. Our faith has everything to do with the people who came before us. To say “my” sounds narrow and restricted, it sounds possessive and selfish.
“My Lord and my God.” But there’s another sense of “my,” which may be the tone of what Thomas is saying. To say “my” risks the self—you put yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable. The plural lets us hide; the singular exposes us. “I” can hide in the crowd of a “we.” To say “our” is a way to disguise myself in others, to disappear in the “we.” Our hides the me; we conceals the I. There’s intimacy in saying “my,” in saying “I.” It’s one thing to look at someone and say, “We love you;” it’s feels like something different to say, “I love you”–to hear someone say, “I love you.” There’s no one else to hide behind, no other people to conceal yourself—with “my,” with “I,” you are all that’s there, risking a confession, risking your self in bearing your truth.
“My Lord and my God.” Thomas lays out his soul in this confession. He is speaking with the intimacy of the Psalms, voicing words in the tone of a Psalmist. He’s talking as if he’s writing a Psalm to Jesus, a prayer, words like this verse from Psalm 35, for example: “Vindicate me, O Lord, my God!… Come to my defense, my God and my Lord” (Psalm 35:23-24). It’s the same phrase, just with the words switched, the same thing Thomas says—and with so many my’s.
To say “my” is also a way we get our bearings—to make sense of our world, to locate ourselves, to know where to find our lives. Here’s a silly example. This is my shirt—the one I’m wearing here today—which I probably put on every Sunday, and you are longsuffering enough to not point it out to me. I know where to find it in my closet. And I know my car, how to drive it here, to church, and how to make my way back to my neighborhood, my street.
We all have a sense of “my”—a way of being in the world, of making our way through life, depending on familiar things, depending on people: my people, your people. The loss of any of this makes it feel like we’re losing our bearings, losing our sense of the world, of who we are, of where we’re going in this life.
When prisoners have their lives stripped from them—their homes, their clothes, their friends and family—the small things that they can call “mine” take on so much importance, like a picture slipped into a book, their book. I remember a prisoner showing me a picture once. “This is my family,” he said to me as he pointed to each person in the creased photo. “I keep it in my bible.” My family. My bible. Just a few items he could call his own while he lives in a world that is totally out of his control. A picture—my picture, he said—as a way for him to somehow get his bearings in an impossible situation.
“My Lord and my God,” Thomas says. He confesses as his God this wounded person standing in front of him, Jesus crucified and now somehow alive. Before him stands a mystery, and he calls this mystery, “My God.” Thomas believes in a mystery, this Jesus who will now disappear, his body will soon withdraw from the sight of the disciples. If Thomas is grasping at parts of his world as a way to get his bearings, to make sense of his life—if he’s claiming this Jesus as his God to make life more manageable, to know who he’s supposed to be, then he’s got it all wrong. Because this one, this wounded life, this resurrected body, this Jesus stands before him as neither known nor unknown, as both unknown and known—uncanny yet familiar. And if Thomas is confessing that he will latch his life onto this one—“My Lord and my God”—then he is grounding his life in a mystery that will mean an unfathomable life for him, baffling to himself and others, because none of this makes sense: this crucifixion, this empty tomb, this death and resurrection, this Jesus, once dead and now alive, here with his friends for a day then disappearing tomorrow.
But that’s all he has. That’s all we have. This mystery. Resurrection: that all the evil of this world, all the violence and terror couldn’t keep him gone, that in him the world was offered divine love, God’s love as an invitation for all of us, for all of us to believe in that love, in that God, with our lives. This mystery keeps me going, keeps me living.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (20:29). That’s us. And to believe has everything to do with returning to this mystery, this mystery who stood before Thomas, this mystery who gathers us here again and again, week after week, as we notice the wounds of this world, the wounds of our lives, and look for God’s healing presence, God’s love as a balm for our souls—to stand before one another, with nothing to offer but prayers, words, confessions, and to believe that at some point we will be given what we need to know that we are loved, and to love like God loves. Our confession of faith is our love. My love is my confession.