Sermon Starter: Thomas the Avatar
In the virtual world of online gaming, players can fully participate in alternate realities and existences. Through the “magic” of the web, people can put themselves into almost every situation imaginable. Whether it is becoming a mythic creature or conquering another civilization, gamers can be part of any simulated world they choose. To participate in these games, people create alternate identities called “avatars.” These identities allow players to maneuver through virtual societies and have encounters that they don’t have in the “real world.” As the avatars fight demons, build amusement parks, or run political campaigns, real humans gain insight into experiences they may never have in actuality. These online societies can help inform and explain the offline world.
In today’s Gospel story, we find ourselves given the opportunity to participate in a reality that is not our own through an avatar – Thomas. The infamous Doubting Thomas, criticized for his disbelief, instead becomes a link across time between the Messiah and future humans. Jesus says to Thomas, “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (20:27b). Through Thomas, we get the chance to touch the scarred hands and side of our risen Savior. For that moment in time, Thomas becomes the alternate identity of every human being who won’t have the chance to meet the flesh and blood Jesus. He is an avatar for every person who has ever doubted the identity of Jesus Christ.
Because of Thomas’ experience of Jesus, we gain understanding about our own relationship with Christ. First of all, we learn that Jesus is not afraid to call our bluff. Thomas declares that he will only believe when he can touch the wounds of Christ himself. So Jesus appears to Thomas and invites him to touch and believe. Next we learn that Jesus understands our human doubt and will allow us the room to find our belief in our own way. Jesus will meet us in our doubt and reveal himself to us in a way that bolsters our belief. Finally, Jesus’ words to Thomas help us to understand that our faith is indeed based on mysteries that may never have earthly resolutions. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus says (John 20:29b). Our faith in Christ is lauded because we believe without seeing or touching the resurrected Lord.
We celebrate Easter having never physically experienced the Risen Christ. We believe without having seen the scarred hand and pierced side. We doubt and are reassured because of the loving encounter between Jesus and Thomas, an avatar for the ages.