I have a secret. Actually, I have two. The first is a man called Tom. He’s the same age as me and, to look at, he’s just like me – and there’s good reason for that since he’s my twin brother. There, I’ve been here 30+ years and never told a soul. My twin brother, Tom.
If you want to imagine what Tom is like as a person, he’s rather like Angus Ashworth, the auctioneer on the Yorkshire Auction House. You might have seen him on the TV.
If you haven’t, then think flat cap, tweeds, loyal, knowledgeable and perceptive. But he can tell it like it is too. I might beat around the bush, but Tom won’t leave you in any doubt. He gets straight to the nub of the matter. He says what the rest think.
He’s the kind of person who is a godsend in a Bible Study. When no-one says anything and you’re wondering if you’re explaining it right, Tom comes out with the killer question and everyone else breathes a sigh of relief. They didn’t quite get it, but were afraid to ask, and Tom takes one for the team, again.
If Tom was preaching today, he’d take a fraction of the time, you’d all be extremely grateful and get to your brew and biscuit a few minutes earlier.
Only our mother
My twin brother, Tom. As you might have guessed, his given name is Thomas – but only our mother ever calls him that.
And the second secret is that… well, he’s your twin brother too. Unless I’m mistaken. Thomas the twin.
Our Gospel reading asks us a question that we often avoid. It asks us a question which I don’t think we answer very well. Because if we did, the pews would be packed this morning. The question is: How can we believe that Jesus is alive?
We can believe he was a good man. We can believe he said some wonderful things. Perhaps we can believe he embodied God’s love and care for us in a way that no one had before or has since. Maybe we can believe that some or all of the miracles actually happened, even if we don’t really understand the how or the why. We can believe that Jesus is beautiful and holy – even if, over the centuries, atrocity and ugliness have been committed in his name.
But how can we believe that Jesus returned to life after death and is alive today? How do we know he’s alive?
With my own eyes
Tom said: “I need to see it with my own eyes”. And in our heart of hearts, we know where he’s coming from and we’re glad he said it.
The trouble is that our eyes don’t tell us everything. Our eyes can see that our church is charitably only about 20% full, or about 80% empty, if you prefer. It has plaster falling off, paint peeling and a bell tower making its way down the hill. In our hearts though we know that this is a place of prayer and worship. There is a holiness here. A place where, over the generations, people have encountered God through sacrament and through the fellowship of other Christians. It’s not the eyes in your head that tell you that. It’s the eyes of the heart.
No one else in the world
A week on from when Jesus had first appeared behind closed doors, he comes back into the same locked room. I imagine that it must have been a pretty tense week for all those followers together in that single room. Jesus had appeared and then gone again. Tom returned from wherever he’d been, didn’t believe their story – and told them as much. On top of that, every time they heard a footstep on the stairs outside, they must have wondered if the authorities were coming to arrest them.
But a week on and, despite everything, Tom was still there. And Jesus does his ‘getting-in-through-a-locked-door-trick’ again and again says “Shalom”. And then, as if there was no one else in the room, no one else in the world, Jesus turns to Tom. Put your finger here. Put your hand there.
And I believe that Jesus said it with no reproach but with an infinite kindness. And I believe that Tom never took his eyes off the face of Jesus. At that moment he didn’t need to see Jesus’ hands or Jesus’ side. He didn’t need to touch Jesus because the reality that he was experiencing inside himself was more than enough. With a whisper he says: “My Lord and my God” and in so doing sums up the Gospel. Because what else can you say? John’s Gospel starts with the ‘Word made flesh’ and ends with the same sentiment, but this time expressed bluntly and eloquently by a man that we label and pigeonhole as being a doubter.
I believe that Tom saw Jesus with the eyes of his heart when he said what he said. Nothing more needed to be said and nothing more could be said.
And in our heart of hearts, I think we can imagine ourselves there with our twin brother and experience the same things that he did. To know that Jesus is alive in the same way that he did. And I think we do experience those moments more often than we realise. And more than habit or duty, it’s those glimpses that bring us back each Sunday to church.
We see those glimpses of the truth of Jesus being alive in the faces and lives of others that over the years we know have loved and served him. Maybe you can think of those people now. Perhaps there are others who have seen that truth of Jesus being alive when they look at you – and that’s why they are here in church now or in whatever other church they worship in.
Maybe we see that truth in the pages of the Bible when by grace they come alive for us, and we feel like we’re being spoken to directly. And maybe we see those glimpses in works of art or in poetry or in nature.
Maybe, when we shut up for long enough, you have seen Jesus here in church. And perhaps, if you look around you now, you will see him in the faces that are looking back at you. Look around. Do you see Christ? You might just see him more in those who share their wounds than in those who apparently have it all together.
With our hearts
“Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus says to our twin brother, Tom. I believe Tom’s eyes saw a wounded Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph. A certain height, a certain weight, a certain colour of hair. But, with the eyes of his heart, he saw the God become man who he would follow for the rest of his life. He would follow him when Jesus was no longer around for him to see with the eyes of his head, any more than he is around for us to see him now with ours.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” That’s you and me. We have not seen him with our eyes, but we see him with our hearts. And ultimately that’s the only life worth living. To live life in such a way that we bring to others a foretaste of heaven. Little by little to become bearers to each other of his life – and, in so doing, to come alive ourselves. As the old song says: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart”…and in yours. Amen
“My twin brother, Tom” was delivered by Ian Banks at Christ Church, Walmersley on Sunday April 24, 2022. It was based on John 20:19-31 and The seeing heart in Frank Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark, published by Harper One in 2006.