We have just celebrated the greatest festival of the church year.
The day we remember God’s triumph over death and sin.
The day we celebrate our own entry into eternal life and salvation
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So it’s curious that this is the day of the church year when the story leads us so often to focus on – doubt.
Doubting Thomas, the story is called –
and whether that is a fair moniker for someone who only asks to see the same thing all the other disciples have already seen –
it’s a name that has stuck.
The story begins with all the disciples hiding in a room.
Thomas may have gotten stuck with the nickname, but it seems that all the disciples are doubting – all have forgotten what Jesus has told them –
that he would rise from the dead.
So they are hiding from the authorities who may, after all, come after them too.
And they are trying to figure out what they will do next.
And suddenly, Jesus is there among them.
He says, “Peace be with you,”
and he breathes on them.
And with his breath he gives them the Holy Spirit, whom he has promised to them.
He literally in-spires them – fills them with his breath, with his risen life.
But, the story goes on, Thomas was not there that night.
And he is adamant in saying, “there’s no way I will believe unless I see it for myself.”
The witness of his friends is not enough.
A week passes
I wonder what the disciples were doing all week.
How did Jesus’ appearance change their plans?
What did they think they might do next?
Whatever happened that week, on the first day of the week, the disciples were again gathered - and this time Thomas was them.
And it sounds as if Jesus comes to Thomas and offers to him,
look, see my hands and feet – here, touch my side and see that it is me.
Jesus is gracious in his response to Thomas’s doubts.
Yet, with his next words, Jesus talks past Thomas,
past everyone in the room with him, really.
In a movie, this might be a moment when Jesus looks past Thomas and right into the camera, to address the audience directly:
“Blessed are those who have no seen and yet have come to believe”
The audience is the community for whom John is writing – a community of believers who have not seen Jesus.
And the audience is us – all of us, throughout the generations, who have come to faith in many other ways.
We have heard the witness of the community; received the Holy Spirit in our baptism; received the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion; known God in nature and human love and in our own experiences of prayer.
Perhaps you have heard a sermon in the vein of “be like those who believe without seeing – do not succumb to doubt, like Thomas, but let your faith be strong.”
But I don’t think that’s where this story points us.
Because Faith is not always the same.
It looks different for different people, and at different times in our lives.
Which is why I think it is important, on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, to talk a look at the idea of doubt.
I think it’s important to recognize that vigorous, vibrant faith can only grown when there is freedom to question, wonder and doubt.
Seminary President and weekly preaching blogger David Lose wrote this week,
Indeed, I think that if we don’t have any doubts we’re probably not taking the story seriously enough. I mean, really – think about what we confess when we come together on Sundays: that the Creator of the vast cosmos not only knows we exist but cares deeply and passionately about our ups and downs, our hopes and dreams, and all the rest. This confession is, quite literally, in-credible (that is, not believable). And yet we come together and in hearing the Word and partaking of the Sacraments and by being joined to those around us through prayer and song, we come to believe.
We come to have faith –
but sometimes that faith is strong and sure, and sometimes it is a struggle.
Faith can be believing completely that Jesus was fully human and fully divine,
that he was born of a virgin mother and lived as a 1st century Jew in Palestine, that he was crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead.
And faith can be wanting to believe the story. Questioning, along with Thomas, the full truth of the story – wanting to believe, but wanting to see for ourselves as well.
Faith is trusting completely that we are in God’s hands –
and faith is also wishing fervently for such trust in our hearts.
One some days, faith is certainty and trust.
And on other days, faith is doubting, but still acting as if we believe – longing for the certainty we see in others or once had in ourselves.
And some days, faith is sitting on near despair and crying out, “Where are you, God?”
And you know what?
I’ve lived all these sorts of days.
And I think one reason God calls us to live out our lives within a community of faith is because most of us have all these sorts of days – days when trust and belief come more easily, and days we are holding on to God by a thread.
And we gather here so that those of us who are stronger can lift up those who are weaker.
Because those of us who are stronger today know that someday,
we will be the ones who need support.
And, sometimes it’s just knowing that I’m not the only one who’s struggling –
that even though when I look around here it looks like everyone but me has it all together and has never had a day of doubt in their lives –
that isn’t really the case.
When we can share our doubt and grief and fear with one another,
as well as our facebook-posting days of pride and joy,
then we are acting a community of God’s people,
encouraging one another in love and faith.
One commentator I read this week pointed out that “we might remember the example of Thomas, who inability to believe could have put him outside the circle of the disciples, but who is still among them now a week later. We do not know whether it was hope or friendship or despair in other options that kept him from leaving, but let it be noted that the fellowship of disciples was elastic enough that he could be there.”
The other night, the Newcomers ministry met – about a dozen people new to St Michael and All Angels, and about a dozen of the “old-timers” – current members who volunteer in the ministry to offer support to our newcomers.
We went around the room and each person shared a bit of their journey,
and what brought them to St Michael’s.
Over and over I heard, from newcomers and “old-timers” alike,
that one thing they appreciated at St Michael’s is that sense of elasticity.
St Michael’s is a safe place to bring my questions and doubts, people said.
St Michael’s is a safe place to be myself.
So this morning I invite your doubts, your questions, your fears, your grief, and your anger.
I invite you to bring those questions to worship, to prayer, to small groups and adult forums and Bible studies and book groups, and, if you wish, to speak with Fr. Joe or me.
We can bring all of ourselves, and offer it all to God,
trusting in the God who hears our doubts and fears
and knows our hearts
and always loves us and welcomes us home.
Thanks be to God – for this place, for all of you,
and for God’s infinite love and grace.