Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (John 20:25-27)
Today is the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, also known as Doubting Thomas. Personally, I have always felt that this was an unfair characterization. After all, the other disciples had already gotten to see Jesus. They had already been given the evidence that Thomas demanded. But Thomas’ request is a strange one. When he imagines the resurrected Jesus, he requests not a miracle – not a healing, not the feeding of a crowd, not the raising of one dead — but a wound. The only way that Thomas can think to verify the identity of Christ is by the wounds that Christ sustained in his dying, the wounds he took on because of his great love for us.
This week, the last of our soldiers have come home from Iraq. They have come home to no great fanfare, no heroes’ parades. This ending is almost an anticlimax. After nine years of war — the longest war in our nation’s history — the soldiers are coming home into silence. But around this country, families are gathering around the men and women they love, looking at their wounds, peering into their eyes, asking whether this is really the same person they sent off to war long ago. Over the next weeks and months, amid the celebrations of Christmas and Chanukah and Milad um Navi, people will be learning their woundedness, the marks this war has left on their soul.
In this, as in so much, they will be joined by their Iraqi counterparts: the families receiving home their own wounded, seeking to rebuild their own lives. They, too, will be embracing their loved ones and looking into their eyes and trying to discern a way forward.
Pray for them all this Christmas. Give thanks for the courage and heroism of our soldiers, for their love of this country and their willingness to serve. But do not let those rays of goodness and patriotism blind you to the price they have paid, the price so many have paid. Pray for those who have been lost in this war, for all that has been lost. Pray that we may never forget. Pray for those still in Afghanistan. Pray that we may know peace.
Almighty God, we give you thanks that this long war is now ended, and we pray for the day when all war will be ended. Have mercy upon the souls of all who have died, and heal the souls of those who have believed they needed to kill. Bless the people of Iraq as they work to rebuild their nation, and us as we work to restore our own. Grant that, in your time, we may know the blessing of peace. May that time be near, O gracious God, for you are the Prince of Peace, who come among us this Christmas and always. Amen.
Thank you, Deborah. Your description of the Thomas story reminds me of how much I know Jesus precisely in his wounds and mine. And thank you for reminding us of our returning soldiers and the people of Iraq who have paid such a high price for this war. I will be thinking about you in your first Christmas at St. Alban’s. May it be wonder-filled for you. Carlyle
Heartfelt thanks for this post Deborah and for remembering these men and women.
Thank you, Deborah. Your message is profound. St. Alban’s is blessed to have you as their spiritual leader. Blessings to you all on your first Christmas together. Susan Thon
Can’t improve on those comments already posted. Excellent blending of Thomas, wounds and soldiers.
Bob Sellery, Boyce, VA
What a great opportunity to extend the circle of compassion and demonstrate that combat veterans qualify as answers to “who is my brother?” ! Unfortunately, the American media has failed to report how many Iraqi citizens fled the country. Some of them worked for our military but their families were threatened. This large group represents the bilingual, educated, middle class that would be essential to build a nation. Meanwhile, we can do something about the soldiers coming home. Please do not make them into “other” instead of “brother.” These men and women represent the best and brightest of small town America. They deserve more than dumb stereotyping. Veterans know how to accomplish a mission, with leaders they may not admire, with colleagues they may like, regardless of the time and effort it takes. Often, they have been forced to make crucial decisions in real time. Instead of fearing them and assuming they suffer from PTSD/combat stress/TBI, employers should embrace them! Their worth is invaluable to any organization. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. Those of us who fought there were characterized as “other”—“baby killers,” “victims”, “PTSD sufferers”–all incorrect generalizations.
The Army finally acknowledged Agent Orange and combat stress and rewarded some of us to remain helpless victims and collect a check. How demeaning! I implore you to adapt some of Thomas’ doubt and question society’s assumptions about today’s veterans. A good starting point is to eschew the labels of “warrior, victim, crazed mental defective” and then reach out, say “thanks for your service,” and invite them in. . .
Thank you for this beautiful prayer & your thoughts!