Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25
“What is Easter?” Wanderson asked. It seems like a simple question. The answer should be very easy for any clergy person. However, I was little stumped. Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of the question. We had just stepped out of a science museum. He had wanted to go on this excursion for weeks. He even offered to pay his way as long as we accompanied him. Of course, we did not let him to do this. He is an intelligent teenager. He likes to be the clown of the group and yet, there is a seriousness about him. He tends to be melancholic when he is not being the fool.
It is interesting that such a question would be asked in this most populous Roman Catholic nation. The city is replete with marks of Christianity. There are evangelical churches on almost every corner. The center abounds with majestic Catholic churches that tower over the principal squares. Preachers of all sorts and conditions taunt the average passerby with their rhetoric of religious jargon. Nuns and friars walking in their religious habits are a common sight. We spend all our time in front of a church where the doors are closed but its tiny square is our meeting place to play, teach and talk with the children. Religion is everywhere, but despite this, Wanderson still does not know the meaning of Easter.
It is not that he hasn’t heard the standard answer. This is why I couldn’t answer him. I knew him well enough to know that he was asking for something more concrete. If I had replied, “Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection”, he would have nodded his head and never brought up the subject again. I did not want the question to die without the possibility of resurrection. The standard answer has no relevance to Wanderson’s life. It is hearsay as far as he is concerned. It is enough for him to join in the celebration. He needed to know something more significant and relevant. He would have been Thomas if he had been an apostle. For that matter, I would have been Thomas. His attitude makes complete sense to me. I would want to see the marks of the Cross on Jesus before believing any account of the disciples. It is interesting that Thomas said that he would only believe if Jesus still bore the wounds of His sufferings. There is no doctrine that states the resurrected would bear the markings of their previous lives on their bodies. However, for Thomas, only the Jesus who suffered would do for Him. It was that Jesus who was most relevant to his life.
Our children know suffering. Well, every human being is acquainted with suffering. In our fantasy, we believe that children should be given a brief reprieve from it but reality is often times more brutal. Our children and teens have embraced their suffering. They treat it as part of their lives. They can’t imagine their lives without its unrelenting presence. Consequently, the suffering Jesus is a powerful symbol for them. The idea that God has experienced suffering is very comforting to them. No one has doubts about the meaning of Good Friday. Perhaps the only questions asked about this day is about the dietary restrictions which have nothing to do with the Cross. The image of the Crucified Jesus makes complete sense to our children and teens. It makes God become as one of them. The Resurrected Jesus brings something new to this conversation. It is an invitation to go beyond the Cross. This is quite difficult because it demands that we go beyond our comfort zone. Suffering and pain is our comfort zone as strange as this sounds. Our minds are aware of these things and have grown accustomed to them but the Resurrection opens the doors to something different and new.
Thomas wanted to see the marks of his wounds which led to his powerful confession of Jesus as his Lord and God. The boldest statement made by a Jewish man in the Bible. It is a grave injustice to remember Thomas only for his doubts and not for this confession but such is our human nature. We are more fascinated with failures than success. Failures of others comfort us and we are disturbed by their success. Failure reaffirms our frailty and success perhaps challenges us to go beyond our status quo. In the same way, the Resurrection should disturb us. It marks the victory of Jesus over humanity’s greatest enemy. It is not death. It is suffering. Death comes quick but suffering lingers, especially, when it is unjust. It paralyzes and dehumanizes. Thomas experienced these feelings at the foot of the Cross. The Risen Christ does not put an end to suffering but He overcame it. It did not stop Him from achieving His fullest stature. He came back to give us this Hope. We no longer have to be slaves to our suffering. This does not validate the unhelpful and hurtful clichés of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps or not having a victim mentality or learning to overcome life’s obstacles. All these empty sayings have nothing to do with the victory of Jesus over pain and suffering. The Risen Christ is our hope to lift people out of their hopelessness. He is the Love able to heal our souls to see beyond the pain and suffering. He is the courage to live our lives to the fullest. This is the meaning of Easter. However, I still cannot give an appropriate answer to Wanderson. None of this translates into words. He has to meet the Risen Christ.
Thomas was not easily convinced by the words of the disciples. However, he saw something in them that convinced him to stay around. They gave him hope that Jesus might appear to him as well. Perhaps, the best way to answer Wanderson or anyone like him is to bear the fruits of our personal encounter with the Risen Christ. This might generate hope in Him to wait and receive the answer from the One who truly gives the most satisfactory answer. Wanderson believes that we might have an answer. However,
all we can say are words and doctrines. None of these will do anything for him. He needs to encounter the Risen Christ. It is a possibility. This is why we celebrate Easter. It is not a historical event. It is an encounter that is still available to anyone today. Wanderson may not be aware of this. Most of people might not be aware of it. They might think that Easter is just a celebration of a dogmatic concept. Well, words are not going to convince them to stay around and meet the Risen Christ. They need to see the fruits of our encounter with Him in our lives. None of the disciples who met the Risen Lord were the same again. Their values changed. Their outlook changed. It was no longer compatible with the world’s ideas or concepts. It gave them the courage to face the unknown and perhaps grave suffering like Thomas himself who became an apostle to India. For us, the Risen Jesus has shown us something even more special. He opened our eyes to see that doing simple and mundane things like going to museum and listening to young teenager’s questions about Easter can be a special and life changing event for us and hopefully, one day for Wanderson.