One of our parishioners, Jeff Cole, is the supervisor for Geneva College’s study abroad program here in Rome. And he and his wife, Christine, and their son Quentin, invited me to come talk to their group of 20 students about the past two years of my life spent as a missionary with the Young Adult Service Corps.
We shared a meal together. The menu? Barbeque chicken and mashed potatoes. This American felt right at home.
But it wasn’t the menu that struck me that evening. Instead it was the buzzing energy of 20 or so young adults living together, laughing together and learning for the first time that there is so much more to life than what goes on in and around the United States.
I said a minute ago that I felt old, and indeed I did. At dinner that night, I felt that I was finally able to make a connection between the person I am now and the person I was before I started on my years of mission work. It was a humbling experience.
At the end of our meal, I was asked a few questions about my time as missionary. One of the students asked me the following:
“What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a missionary.”
The magnitude of the question truly took me by surprise. But the answer came to me so fast that it actually kind of scared me.
“Being present,” I said. Being present.
Being present to people and to situations, even when you think they are not important or even when there is a part of you that would rather be somewhere else. That is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned these past two years.
It is a lesson I learned just by sitting and talking with lonely seafarers in Hong Kong, or playing a game of chess with a refugee in the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center.
The most amazing and life-giving discussions have occurred at times where my mind has been elsewhere, my body tense.
Yet it was when I focused myself on being present on the here and now, just for a little while, that magic happened.
That God appeared.
Today’s gospel reading, the story of Doubting Thomas, echoes the importance of being present.
This morning, we find the disciples of Christ in a bad way. They are grieving, they are devastated, and they have locked themselves away in their house out of fear that they might receive a punishment as painful and humiliating as Jesus.
Everyone is there, everyone is scared and everyone is suffering.
Everyone except Thomas.
Where is Thomas? What was he doing? Where was he when Jesus appeared to his disciples for the first time?
These are all questions that Christians have been wondering for centuries.
And personally, I think that Thomas gave up.
Personally, I think that Thomas thought the story had come to an end.
In his mind, Jesus was dead. The hope that Jesus preached had come to an end.
Can you blame him for thinking this way?
What do I do now?
What do you do when everything thing around you has crumbled?
I think Thomas left the disciples to grieve on his own.
But we know the rest of the story.
We know that Thomas misses out on the first miraculous appearance of Jesus in that tiny locked room full of scared disciples.
And we see today that he refuses to believe it until he sees the Lord himself with his own eyes.
Not only does he wish to see Jesus, but he also wishes to go a step further.
He wants to put his hand in the holes where the nails went through.
He wants to place his hand on the side where Jesus was struck with a spear.
He wants proof.
Thomas gets a lot of criticism. Not only is he singled out as the lone disciple who wasn’t there, but he is also the one who needs proof to believe that Jesus was resurrected.
Thomas doubted, just like any of us would in this age of 24/7 news and viral Youtube videos.
He wanted proof.
He wanted to see it with his own eyes, touch the wounds with his own hands.
And can you blame him?
I think I would have been just as demanding, just as doubtful, as Thomas. Would you?
Jesus says later, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
And I’ll be the first to say – Jesus, most of the time I do believe. But I do feel doubts from time to time, just like Thomas did.
Maybe you’re like me and you want proof, too.
Come on Jesus, please just come down here one time and show us that this is real.
Come to us in our locked rooms and tell us that everything is going to be okay.
I want to touch your wounds,
I want to feel your pain.
Is it wrong to want proof? Is that too much to ask?
I don’t think it is.
This part of the bible is a mystery, and like all good mysteries the clues we need and the proof we seek is often right under our nose.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Have I seen the risen lord? Have I touched His wounds?
Not exactly. But I didn’t have to.
I believe because I have seen the face of Christ in each of you this year, this month and this week.
I believe because I have touched your wounds, and felt your pain in the struggles that you have privately shared with me.
And with that I have all the proof that I will ever need.
If we are to witness Christ’s appearance on Earth, it dictates then that we first must be present to receive Him.
If you want to see Christ, if you want the proof you so dearly desire. Then I ask you to today to be present – even in the of face fear, discomfort and doubt.
Lend an ear to someone who needs to talk.
Comfort someone who is troubled.
Visit someone who is lonely.
Forgive someone who has let you down.
It is only when we are truly present that we can actually touch the wounds of Christ, and that can we actually feel His pain.
It is only when we are present that Jesus indeed becomes real, and the grace of God truly revealed.