Rev. Dan Haugh
PLEASE READ: Acts 5:27-32 and John 20:19-31
Here we are on the Sunday after Easter. We managed to make it through a very busy Holy Week full of wonderful worship and meaningful Lenten reflection. The fast is over and life returns back to normalcy. The Church actually has a word for this season...”Ordinary Time”. Typically, church pews empty out in the weeks following the climatic celebration of Christ’s resurrection as the flowers fade and the angelic choirs dissipate. Fortunately for us, we are blessed with amazing music every week and, though not exactly planned this way, our Easter lilies are just now beginning to bloom!
For me, this time we are now entering is anything but ordinary. In fact, we celebrate these forthcoming Sundays as meaningful worship services progressing towards the feast of Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. While I understand from a theological perspective that Easter is the climax of the Christian calendar and, indeed of our faith, it is important to know that Easter was only the beginning. As Scott alluded to powerfully last week, perhaps true transformation takes place after all the feasts and festivities are over. The Easter narrative gives birth to resurrection faith and amazing stories of personal and communal transformation occur.
One such story is famously misnomered “Doubting Thomas”. I grew up hearing from Sunday school teachers this phrase; “Don’t be a doubting Thomas”. Viewing the story from this perspective leads to two incorrect assumptions. The first is that Thomas personifies doubt and the second is that doubt is contrary to faithful following. I contend with the words of theologian Paul Tillich, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.”
What I appreciate about this honest narrative is Jesus’ desire to meet the disciples and in the midst of their fear and isolation. We know from the text that the disciples left the crucifixion scene utterly lost, confused, hurt, and scared. That was not the way it was supposed to happen. For many of you who attended our Good Friday service you may have left feeling the same way; in silence, in the dark and rather confused.
Of course we know that a select few personally saw the resurrected Christ two days later while others had to rely only on reports. I do not think I would be the only one rather skeptical of these stories, in company with the other disciples wanting to see for ourselves in order to not get our hopes up and be hurt once more.
Jesus meets with many of the disciples later in the evening on Easter Sunday and proves to them beyond all doubt this new reality. Thomas however, was not present and affirmed publicly probably what everyone else had been privately thinking. One week later, the first Sunday of Easter, while the disciples were gathering Jesus meets them once again and this time graciously offers Thomas exactly what he needed to take the next step in faith and understanding. It is interesting that John does not indicate whether or not Thomas actually touched the risen Lord. Perhaps the invitation was enough. His confession “My Lord and my God” is the highest Christological affirmation in John’s gospel. So rather than referring to him in negative regard, we should call him “Believing Thomas”. Christian history holds that Thomas became a missionary to India and later was martyred for his faith in Christ. Faith birthed from doubt and desire. This is what resurrection faith is like! We are captivated by the real presence of Jesus, empowered and changed forever.
Over these six weeks Jesus approximately has a dozen appearances. I often wonder why Jesus did not make more appearances? Why limit visitations to friends? Why not reappear on Pilate’s porch or before the Sanhedrin? Perhaps a clue can be found in his words to Thomas; “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
With the exception of the 500 or so people who saw the resurrected Christ, every Christian who has ever lived falls in the second category of “blessed”. Even though there are times in our life when we desire to see the miraculous and may wonder why God does not “show up” in tangible ways, we are not alone. This is not a lack of faith, as some may argue, but rather the blessing of faith.
Throughout his gospel, John makes clear connections between seeing and believing. This is why the miracles of Jesus are called “signs” in John’s gospel. These signs lead towards belief. But John calls his readers and us today toward a faith that is not based on signs. Signs should never be an imperative for faith. In fact, it is those who do not see the signs or experience the miraculous who, paradoxically are blessed with faith.
If “seeing is believing” then not seeing is being faithful, or aptly stated being “full of faith”. Faithful in God’s promises. Faithful in hope. Faithful in doubt and even in suffering. Choosing to believe, in spite of our fear, questions, and concerns and at times in the midst of them.
Many of us know about the faith of Mother Theresa, giving her very life for the destitute of Calcutta’s slums. What most people did not realize was the crisis of doubt that haunted her for most of her ministry. In a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that has been released in a book entitled Mother Theresa: Come be My Light, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, I listen and do hear; I look and do not see.”
What astounds me is not the reality of her doubts, but rather her commitment to Christ and her desire for faith even in the midst of doubt. She demonstrates a concrete commitment to Christ, a genuine resurrection faith that even though she did not see, hear or feel at times, she chose to believe, to serve, and to follow.
In this week following Easter, I ask myself what do I need to take the next step towards belief and faith? I resemble Thomas more than any other disciple in my skepticism and my slowness to accept what cannot be proved beyond doubt. I find comfort and hope in Jesus graciously approaching us in the midst of our fears, doubts and skepticism and offering himself to us. He provides what the world does not possess and cannot give. He offers a peace that we need as does our world.
Though I admire his poems, I disagree with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that “Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” I do not have a deep recess of peace residing within. If fact, at close observation I discover just the opposite. True peace is a gift from God graciously given to us in Christ. This is why the offering of peace is connected with the reception of the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit of Christ to believe the truth that we are beloved children and God and to receive peace, not only in our hearts and lives but for our world.
Without Jesus, our hearts and the world around us will always lack peace. We will struggle and suffer with fear, worry, and anxiety in the midst of this frenetic and chaotic world. Jesus offers the traditional greeting of “Shalom” to his friends. His greeting of “Peace” calmed their fears and welcomed them. They would need this peace especially as Jesus commissioned them to go into the world and make disciples. We know that these fearful followers soon would be boldly proclaiming Christ in the streets. Even the threat of persecution, imprisonment, and eventually death could not overcome the peace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that now dwelt within them.
This is why we begin each worship service with the greeting “The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all”, and we encourage all to offer the peace of Christ to one another. This peace transcends all understanding; it is a peace which provides hope in the midst of despair; a peace to overcome fear and anxiety; a peace that is for the present and one that will last into eternity. Because of Easter, I can hope that the peace of Jesus is present in the here and now and I can hope for a life eternal with him.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!