Meditation In A Time Of Social Isolation

Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20:29).

Jesus speaks straight to us, on that first Sunday after the resurrection. Thomas has put his finger in Jesus’ wounds; in those beloved hands he has seen Jesus alive, and he has said, “My Lord and my God!” Right after Thomas makes his great confession of faith, Jesus turns and speaks to us, who cannot see as Thomas sees.

Blessed are you: this is a beatitude, a blessing, like the blessings of the Sermon on the Mount. It is not just a descriptive statement – “if you believe…well done, you.” It is declarative: it names this people blessed, us, we who have not seen and yet believe.

Why? Why are we blessed? 

Why not Thomas, who has touched the beloved risen hands? Why are we, who have known neither Thomas’ agony in the face of the cross nor his joy when the risen Jesus, his Lord and his God, takes Thomas’ hand in his – why are we the ones who are blessed?

It has been a puzzle to me, perhaps because I would so like to stand in Thomas’ place, to see the dear risen face. “Take your hand and see my hands…” Can there be a greater blessing than this?

Jesus tells us there is. His last word on that first Sunday after Easter, his last word in this first ending of the gospel, is for us.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

This alone – that he turns to us here at the gospel’s end – is gift enough. That we are not forgotten by our Lord (however forgotten we may feel this Easter, here by ourselves in our homes); that far from being forgotten, we are the ones he turns to at the gospel’s high point and peak, just as Thomas makes his confession of faith. My Lord and my God. Just as we arrive at the place to which the whole gospel has been heading, Jesus turns to us and speaks the gospel’s great beatitude: 

 “Blessed are those who have not seen.”

We are part of this Easter story, here by ourselves in our homes; we are part of the history that starts with Thomas’ confession and becomes a church that sweeps the world.

We are part of it, at Jesus’ word. This is in itself is gift enough.

But there is more. 

How are we part of it? How are we blessed, more blessed even than Thomas, whose hand Jesus has taken in his?

Jesus did many other signs too in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

It is tempting to take these words as a kind of epilogue: here, I’ve given you the facts so you can believe. 

But in fact the words are not epilogue at all. They belong with the verse that immediately precedes them. 

Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe…These things are written that you may believe.

John draws a straight line from Jesus’ beatitude, his blessing – upon us – to the scriptures. “These things are written”: the expression, in the Greek, means “the scriptures”. 

This is not a paltry claim about evidence. This is a promise of the grace of God.

There is some sense, John says, in which to have the scriptures is to possess a blessing which even Thomas with his hand in the side of the risen Lord did not have, which Mary did not have when she heard the voice of the gardener calling her name, which even the disciples standing at the empty tomb did not have.

Consider the disciples at the empty tomb.

Then the other disciple also, the one who came first to the tomb, went into the tomb, and he saw and believed, for they did not yet understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20:8-9).

That little word “for” sticks out like a sore thumb.

It does not seem to follow: he believed for – because – they did not understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead? That makes no sense. Surely John means to say that he believed because they did understand the scripture.

It bothers the reader (this reader – for years it has bothered this reader!), that little word “for.” 

So, let’s take it seriously. What does the sentence say if we take that “for” seriously?

“He saw and believed” – the disciple at the empty tomb – “for they did not yet know the scriptures.” He saw and believed. Does the “for” put the emphasis on “saw”? 

He saw. The beloved disciples saw the empty tomb, and seeing he believed – because they did not yet know the scriptures. The logic then is this: in the absence of knowing the scriptures, of understanding the scriptures’ word about Jesus, he had to see to believe.

Thomas has to see the nailmarks in the hands of the risen Lord in order to believe. The other disciple has to see the empty tomb. For they did not yet know the scriptures.

But we do! But we have the scriptures, and the gospel (and the Comforter, and his church – but that is for another day) that interprets them for us. 

These things have been written so that you may believe. 

Blessed are you who do not see and believe. Blessed are you in these scriptures, in this gospel I give to you.

Blessed are you in Jesus in the upper room, with the nailmarks in his hands; blessed are you in Thomas crying “My Lord and my God”; blessed are you in Mary weeping by the tomb and in the voice of the Lord calling her name. 

Blessed are you who have not seen. These things have been written that you may believe.

They are our life, these scriptures, our eyes and our heart. They are his blessing. 

They are his life, these words written. Jesus alive: who was before all time began the Word.

…and the word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…In him was life, and the life was the light of the world.

These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

He does not leave us orphaned, this Jesus, our Lord and our God. He gives himself to us, here in his word. He comes to be with us as surely as he came to be with Thomas. Here in this word you hold in your hands. Here in this word – this Bible, this biblion – that the world itself cannot contain.

Blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe.

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton is Priest-in-Charge of St. Matthew's Riverdale, and Professor of New Testament and New Testament Greek (part-time) at Wycliffe College. She has served also as Chaplain at Havergal College and Associate Priest at Grace Church on-the-Hill and St. John the Baptist, Norway (Toronto). She enjoys singing around the piano with her kids, her husband's Indian food, all things Italian -- and above all her two little grandchildren. Catherine and David live in Greektown. She blogs occasionally on feasts and fasts at feastfastferia.wordpress.com.