When someone we love dies, in a sense it feels like we have been abandoned. This sense happens because you shared your heart and mind with them, and you do so with an ease and joy that would seem to last forever. But now we have to continue living without them.
And there will be those moments of great joy, when we realize with a heavy heart, that we cannot share this joy with those who are no longer with us. And in fact, all those things, small and large, that you once shared, that gave you both joy, that you delighted in together, now serve as painful reminders that they are gone from our lives.
The apostles felt the same way with the death of Jesus. Thomas feels this acutely even as the other apostles seem to be insisting that Jesus is alive. Thomas cannot see how Jesus could be alive after seeing the cruel passion and death that Jesus experienced.
So Thomas insisted to the other apostles: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.” For Thomas the sorrow of the death and loss of Jesus seems to be overwhelming. Thomas believes that this sense of loss of Jesus will now always be a part of his life.
The apostles gather out of fear in the Upper Room. But a power greater than them is at work, and the Risen Christ appears in their midst. Jesus fulfills the wish of Thomas and insists that he touches His wounds in His hands, feet and chest. And it is in touching the wounds of Jesus that the doubts of Thomas vanish. The Risen Jesus does not pretend that His passion and death never happened, as Thomas can see and touch the cruel wounds, yet they are not sorrowful any more, but glorious.
The same Risen Jesus who told Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him wants Thomas to touch His wounds. Noting this difference, the Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked, “The Risen Christ does not want to be touched, except in His wounds.” Why? Because it is from these sacred wounds that His saving powers – the seven holy Sacraments of the Church – stream forth upon us. And His wounds show us the truth that there is a remedy for all our sorrows including sickness and the loss of a loved one. This remedy does not pretend that the sorrows we experience in life never happen, but gives us peace, strength and hope in the midst of our sorrows. Peace and strength in the resurrection of Jesus, and hope in the face of sickness and death, for ourselves and our loved ones. A miraculous remedy which glorifies us and makes us live again in our bodies, unable to suffer or die, and forever able to love and to rejoice.
Because Jesus has risen, we are not left alone. Because He has overcome death, our own grief when facing death will not be overwhelming. Because Jesus has come back from the dead, the sense of loss over a loved one will be lessened because we know we will see them once again. We are not left as orphans because Christ is alive in His Church. Just as Thomas touched the wounds of Jesus, so we touch the same life-giving wounds of Christ in the Sacraments, above all in the Eucharist. From the altar we too receive our Lord and our God, the Living One whom Thomas touched, the One who took flesh for our sake, to give us peace, strength and hope.