Thomas and the Gift and Power of Community

It has been some time since I have written here.

Much of that time I was still preaching, but I did not have the space (mentally, emotionally, even spiritually) to hold two weeks of reflection and preaching in my heart at one time and so I was not able to put my thoughts together early enough to be in conversation with all of you.

Indeed, shortly after my last post, my 92-year-old mother was diagnosed with Covid.  Although the virus would not be the cause of her death, it weakened her enough that she spent the last few months of her life in a care center.  She entered Hospice in early December.  She died on February 9th. Couple this with the loss of a beloved friend last spring and I can only say that I have been slogging through a whole lot of grief. You know as I do, that while such journeys have their unique landscapes, they often do not leave a lot of energy beyond what is needed for what is right before us. This is how it has been for me.

To be sure, here is much about these last months and years that I am still assimilating and I am sure many of these stories will one day make their way to you. For now, simply know that healing is coming and I am grateful.

John 20:19-31

And so it is this week that we meet up with Thomas as we do every year on the Sunday after Easter. It strikes me this time through how while we need one another in the community of faith, we each come to know and recognize Jesus one at a time.  We can’t do it for one another.  As much as we might want to, we simply can’t.

And this is true of so many things, isn’t it?

Indeed, it came home to me yesterday as I stood with a young friend who lost his mother too soon.

I have served as her executor, so my contact with the boys has been frequent, although there have not been that many times I have been alone with either one of them. I had stopped by yesterday, though,  with some paperwork and only he was there. The truth is, I stood there feeling helpless as his grief spilled over, coming up as we are now on anniversaries of her diagnosis and too-soon dying.

He haltingly told me how it has been for him…

  • How he thought she would beat the disease which took her in just a few short weeks…
  • Of how his empathy for others has deepened over the last year as he discovered in a very hard way how one never knows what others are going through…
  • Of how important his mother was to him… of how much she did. And of how he is still somewhat lost without her even now…

I’m sure you can recognize yourself in what he is going through and yet, grief is its own journey, of course. One cannot do it for another and one dare not even try for the healing that follows, it seems, can only be achieved by us each one taking the path before us.

The same is true for our lives of faith, particularly as we meet Jesus in times of tragedy and loss as well as in times of healing and hope. We cannot push one another to find the place we have been gifted to discover.  In fact, I have found that I often do better just listening to the stories of those who find themselves in such hard places of wanting something more but not yet grasping it,  rather than offering my own for in their telling, in their putting their own dark places into words, often they start to find their way into the light again. Indeed, as the disciples do in the familiar account before us now, often all we can do is be present to and for and with one another as we each find our way. As they did for Thomas so long ago. As I hope I did for my young friend just yesterday as all I could really do was cry with him and hopefully begin to point him beyond where he is now to a time when it will be better, even while this loss will always be uniquely his. I cannot help but wonder now if the truest and best thing I could do for him yesterday was just to remind him he is not alone.  Again, as the disciples did for and with one another in those hours after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

There is a whole lot to give thanks for in this week’s account of Jesus appearances to the disciples.

  • The wonder of Jesus appearing to them, speaking a word of Peace and breathing God’s own gift on them and into them.
  • The commission which was theirs and which is ours to be agents of forgiveness to those already part of the community and those who had not yet heard the invitation they had heard.
  • And this.  The disciples were together. Unable to urge Thomas to a place of believing by their own witness, but witnessing nonetheless. And standing alongside as Jesus appeared to Thomas as well.

And oh, we do surely need one another on this journey as we take the path from belief, to wondering, perhaps even to unbelief, and back once more.

Thomas was not there the week before, but he found his way back to those with whom he had shared a common journey. Indeed, clearly the other disciples welcomed him there even when he was not able to claim the faith which had already claimed the rest.

And I know first hand what a gift such as this can be as so many have allowed and invited me to be just where I was as I have begun to find healing and new meaning following  multiple losses. Many of them, I know, had at one time or another, found themselves right where I was.  And what gifts they were as they:

  • Listened as I repeated the same stories over and over again, literally trying to make sense of what may never fully make sense…
  • Showed up with food and more food and still more food…
  • Stood still and simply wept alongside when words ran out…
  • And on and on…

And yes, I am grateful to speak also of those closest to me, family  mostly, who gathered in close while hospice nurses checked vitals and told us the time was nearing, all the while telling old stories and discovering new ones, and most of all making space for each other sometimes with words and sometimes with silence, knowing the journey is unique for each one and while we may not find ourselves in the same place even on a parallel journey, we can simply make room so that we each might be supported and deeply loved in following in the path where we are led.

This week’s Gospel is about many things, but for me I am landing here with great gratitude: that Thomas had a community of people where he was welcomed even when he could not yet believe. Where he could and would and did meet the Risen Christ face to face.

  • I am hearing this week’s Gospel through the unique lens of a year which held too many losses. What lens do you hear it through?
  • It is the gift of community alongside Thomas which strikes me as particularly beautiful now. What strikes you in this week’s familiar account?
  • And yes, I find I treat Thomas a lot more gently than I remember him being treated when I was young. How about you? Where do you find yourself or your community in the story of Thomas?  What gifts does this account offer you where you find yourself on the path of life and faith?





  1. Cynthia Page says:

    Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself. I was happy to see your missive in y inbox, but sorry for your losses. But again, a heart-felt thank you for sharing. Take care.

  2. Dan Paulson says:

    In my weariness I’m often reminded of a professor Harrisville who as per usual was putting a lecture class, some 50 or so, to sleep but all of a sudden he raised his voice about resurrection and stated: “I don’t know about you all here in this room but when I, when I breathe my last here, I’m going straight up! No waiting around, straight up!” When I’m mourning a loving aunt, or a host of friends or a parent I’m given new hope, and peace comes sooner than later and grief is relieved an inch or 2 in my recalling. I mean, if Harrisville said it, I have to believe it. Peace to you good cousin 😉

  3. James (Jim) Beard says:

    I had assumed in your absence that something significant was going on in your life. i will certainly keep you in my prayers. May God bless you on this journey.

  4. Elizabeth Smyth says:

    I am so glad to have you back in my inbox. I have so missed your weekly words. Please remember though, when life seems to plot against you and things become difficult to bear that there are many out here who would like to give back to you just as you give to us. The many miles that separate us may mean we cannot physically put our arms around you to support you but we can pray that He will do so, to strengthen you and see you through. Take care and it’s lovely to see you back xXx

  5. THANK YOU for returning to present this weekly post! It has been inspirational to me for quite some and was sorely missed.

    Blessings and again, Thank You!

  6. Jan Benson says:

    Thank you for sharing about this time of loss and grief. I especially appreciate your words of how we do surely need one another on this journey…..
    Thomas had that community in his grief. I hadn’t thought that deeply about it before.
    Peace be with you.

  7. Sharon says:

    I am so sorry for your losses. I have missed your posts but glad you took the time to be present with your grief. God bless and keep you

  8. Ivy says:

    I, too, have been struggling to post on my blog. I am so far behind. Basically, I felt exhausted from Lent, which is unusual for me. It just kicked my butt, so I understand why you haven’t posted in a while. May Christ’s peace be yours.

  9. Bil Johnson says:

    Like so many others, I seem to have heard the story of Thomas all my life. The focus always was on his unbelief and his wanting some kind of proof. I’ve never before thought about that welcoming community who accepted him amidst his doubting and his inquiries. Thank you so much for the beautiful reflection; I’ll never think of Thomas the same way, nor about the absolute importance of community.

  10. Kathryn Gundell says:

    I was so pleased to see your email in my inbox. I have been missing you and your “Dancing with the Word.” Thank you for again taking up this task and sharing your thoughts and insights with us. I will continue to keep you in my prayers as you journey in your grief that you continue to find comfort and healing.

  11. Julie McNitt says:

    You have been missed. Although I am a stranger to you, you are a regular part of my weekly sermon prep and I am a frequent visitor to your blog. I have been concerned about your health and well-being over the last months and am so glad that you are writing again. I am also very sorry to hear about the death of your mother and friend. Go easy through the grief dear one, but thank you for returning. Your words are a gift to us all.
    with gratitude,

  12. Beth Olson says:

    Continued blessings on the re-entry. The gifts of community are powerful and profound, and I’m so thankful you pointed to them as you shared your story. May healing moments sustain us, may beauty wash over us, and may hope ever buoy us when we’re weary. Much love to you, Janet.

  13. Marilyn Bazeli says:

    So good to have you back! Please know prayers are with you as you struggle through difficult times, and thanks to you for your guidance and help for me and others!

  14. Raye Stone says:

    It is good to see you writing again and yes, you have been missed! Please take your time in grieving your dear mom and a dear friend! Thank you for sharing your story with us! You are in my prayers, dear Pastor Janet!

  15. Michael Alan DeKraai says:

    Dear Janet,

    I am so grateful that you shared this with us. You have been in my thoughts and prayers.


  16. Sheila Elliott Hodge says:

    I not only want to thank you for sharing your journey with all of us, but to tell you that your words are always a blessing to me. I will continue to keep you in my prayers.

  17. Susan Keddie says:

    thank you for sharing. I have missed you and thought something must be taking your energy. I have experienced great losses of friends and relatives these past few years, so I can relate. Welcome back. Blessings, Susan

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