Here we are with another day when we read the same Gospel every year. Today, the so-called story of Doubting Thomas is always the Gospel for the second Sunday of Easter. I suppose it makes sense, in a way, to read this on the first Sunday after the resurrection. After all, the resurrection story is a wild tale, one that would be easy to dismiss, and yet one that is vital to the people following Jesus.
If the death of Jesus was the end, the followers would have scattered back to their homes and professions, as the Romans fully expected they would. Instead they regrouped, and thanks to their post-Easter experiences with Jesus, formed a new people, disciples committed to carrying on his work.
And so John tells us that the disciples were huddled behind closed doors in fear of the authorities on Sunday night, the same day as the resurrection. For some reason, the disciple Thomas was not with them. Maybe it was his turn to go out and buy food, slipping through the souk in Jerusalem, hoping not to be recognized as a Jesus follower.
When he arrives back at the place of hiding, he hears that Jesus has appeared to the disciples while he was gone. And not only did he miss out on seeing the risen Lord, he did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ouch!
So Thomas refuses to believe them. He’s from Missouri and has to be shown in order to believe. A week later Jesus shows up again. After greeting them with the Peace, Jesus speaks directly to Thomas and encourages him to touch his scars. Thomas acknowledges him as Lord and God immediately.
Notice that Jesus does not chastise Thomas for doubting or for demanding proof. He does say those who can believe without seeing are especially blessed, but he casts no aspersions on Thomas for not being able to do so.
That’s the part that always catches me, and holds me up, because for years I struggled with all sorts of doubt. Now I just live with much of it because the literal truth about many things no longer matters to me. I hope it is significant for all of you, because most of us live through periods of doubt, and it is encouraging to know that Jesus did not condemn it.
It’s also of great significance for all of us because we belong to a religious tradition that, at least until very recently, did not condemn doubt. Questions of faith and belief were always welcomed in the churches I attended, even if that wasn’t necessarily true at home!
I have learned that there are some people who have never questioned what they were taught as children. I grew up questioning almost everything. Most people experience periods of doubt somewhere along the way, maybe times we refer to as ‘dry spells’ when our spirits seem to lag and cannot find refreshment anywhere.
The significant question may be this: what do you do when you find yourself in such a period? What do you do when doubts rise up and create confusion in your soul? Do you push them away and refuse to deal with it, hoping perhaps it will just go away? Do you chew on it and go looking for answers? Do you take action in some other way – leave church, change your address, change your world view?
I’ve tried all of the above, and I’ve returned to the fold not out of newfound faith, but by choosing to act as though I believed, because I realized that people who believe what Jesus taught make the world a better place. It has helped me a great deal to consider what Crossan and Borg say about faith. That it is not about believing a set of statements about reality. It’s not about confessing the truth of a set of beliefs about God, Jesus, etc. It’s about trusting God. It’s about trusting that God loves us and will walk with us through whatever comes our way.
That is the kind of faith that gets me through the rough patches and the dry spells that I still experience at times. And it’s a good thing, because the specifics of what I believe about the Bibles stories have changed at least three or four times in my life, and may well do so again.
I am so grateful for being part of a church that can accept that! I am so grateful for being part of a church that supports those who are seeking or those who are experiencing a dark night of the soul, or those who just can’t swallow our traditional theology.
When Father Bob was here we had a number of conversations about how I couldn’t accept what he was preaching. Those conversations never convinced either of us to change our minds, but neither did he in any way condemn my questioning or my inability to go where he was. In how many other churches would that have been true?
I see the current struggle within the Anglican communion as a direct assault on this part of our tradition of tolerance of different understandings. In the tradition of Anglicanism that I know and have experienced, what binds us together is worship. We gather around the book of Common Prayer to praise God, to worship God, and to give thanks to God.
And every time we come to communion we have the chance to lay our doubts, our fears, our concerns, our grief, our anger, and our hurt, on the altar. We have an opportunity for resurrection ourselves, by laying those things on the altar, by giving them up to God, so that we can, in fact, go forth from church in peace.
The so-called Southern Bishops, mainly those from Africa and Asia, want to make the Anglican Communion into a confessional church – that is, one that is based on what we say we believe. The history of confessional churches is plagued by one schism after another, one breaking off into another denomination after another, because membership requires a certain set of beliefs.
Had I been brought up in such a tradition I would now be a none – not an N-U-N, but a N-O-N-E. A spiritual person with no affiliation to a church. So I hope that the Episcopal Church will not toe the line for these dissident Bishops.
I want this church to remain a haven for people who are like our so-called doubting Thomas and for seekers who are looking for answers to those perplexing questions about who we are and why we’re here. I also suspect that if all the nones in this community knew this about the Episcopal church, our church would be full each week, not that all of them would come, but I do think some of them would.
I just haven’t figured out how to let them know this basic truth about our church, that we welcome doubters and sinners and seekers and questioners, and those who aren’t. Because that’s who we are too. And we find comfort in the Eucharist and we find comfort in one another. Thanks be to God.