Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed!
The Easter cry isn’t only for Easter Sunday For the next six Sundays, we are invited to continue celebrating Easter. We are invited to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord until Pentecost. Today we continue that celebration by reading about Christ appearing to all the disciples. Their risen Lord comes in to talk with them all shortly after the resurrection. Well, all of them except for Thomas.
I have to admit, I feel for Thomas. I think he gets a bad rap. We have even turned his name from the Biblical “Thomas the Twin” to the later “Doubting Thomas.” And that seems unfair to me. Peter didn’t get stuck with the nickname “Denying Peter.” So why Thomas?
After all, Mary did not believe when she saw the empty tomb. She only believed when she saw her rabbi for himself. And the other disciples didn’t believe when Mary told them of the miracle of the tomb. They remained searching and wondering until they saw their risen teacher for himself. Jesus appeared and showed them his hands and side before departing again. Thomas just had the misfortune of not being there at that time. Instead Thomas is told about it second hand again.
When he was given the news, he refused to believe it, perhaps because it seemed to be too good to be true. After all, Peter was known for believing things a little too enthusiastically. He was the disciple who tried to walk on water because he saw Jesus doing it. Peter was the one who swore that no one would betray Jesus, and that he would never deny him, only to be proven wrong twice before a full day had gone by. Thomas second guessing him is not all that surprising. Thomas needed more, because he probably could not cope with having false hopes dashed yet again.
His Lord and friend died horribly. And he didn’t believe when he heard it second hand.
Thomas saw his Lord die. He doubted the stories he had been told. And yet he stayed with the other disciples. He was there the next week when Jesus returned. In spite all evidence pointed to the contrary, Thomas stuck around, waiting to see if Jesus would return.
I wonder what made him stay after such a dramatic refusal to believe what he had been told. Perhaps he wanted to see if Jesus was true to his word, that he would, against anything logical return to the world again. Maybe he wanted to prove his friends wrong. Or maybe Thomas had something deeper than belief in the resurrection.
Maybe he had faith in his Lord.
See, Thomas was always a faithful disciple. When Jesus said he wanted to go to Bethany, a place he had already been driven off once, the disciples protested that he would be stoned and they should not return. But Thomas said “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16) There was no doubt that he loved Jesus because he was willing to go with him to Jerusalem and die, even when the other disciples expressed their reluctance.
Thomas was not lacking in courage; he probably just considered himself to be a realist, or maybe a pessimist. What happened in the crucifixion was just what he expected and he was broken-hearted. So he waited, doubting, but hoping to be proven wrong. He didn’t just surrender to his doubts, he wrestles with them.
And Jesus doesn’t fault Thomas for his disbelief. Did you notice that? Jesus simply appeared a week later when Thomas was there and showed him what he asked to see. “Here. Look. I am really here.” And Thomas responds in joy, falling to his knees and exclaiming, no poking of wounds necessary.
Yes, Jesus blesses those who do not see and yet believe. But he’s not talking about the disciples who didn’t question, because all of the disciples questioned at one point or another. All of them got to see. Christ is talking about us today. We will very likely never get to see the risen Christ on this side of the grave, and we believe anyway. Yet, we might have our own doubts.
We have it in our heads that doubt is a bad thing. That doubting somehow takes away from our beliefs, from our faith. When really, doubt can serve to make our faith stronger in the long run. In his new book, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” Rob Bell talks about this connection of doubt and faith. “Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.”
As humans we question, we wonder. We look for the truth. And by so doing, we grow. Thomas, did not believe the others when they first told him. He had questions. But he stayed anyway. And when Thomas saw Jesus, he cried out “My Lord and My God.” My God. Thomas, the so called doubter, was the first one to call Jesus God. Not just Lord. Not jus
t Son of God, but My God. Despite being the doubter and willing to question what he was told, Thomas ended up all the more faithful because of questions.
I think some people believe that their faith is lesser, not good enough, because they have doubts. They feel like maybe they really should just be able to believe fully without questions. That to be truly faithful is to never wonder. But we all have days when we have questions. When we too doubt as Thomas did. Some people just ignore those days, focusing on getting on to better ones. But shoving questions and doubts to one side doesn’t make them go away. We need to face them head on and try to answer them.
Doubts can strengthen our faith when we explore them. When we ask questions and try to find the answers through study and discussions. This is one of the reasons I am a Presbyterian. We believe that God gave us our minds so that we would use them. We are called to question and then study. We encourage learning throughout our lives because there is always something more to know. Some other question we have that we need to learn more about.
Now when I talk about doubt, I’m not talking about the same thing as unbelief. Doubt is having questions, but still seeking. Unbelief is not believing and not being interested in learning more. When we let our doubts drive us away from seeking, when they make us abandon hope, then doubt is a destructive force. But when doubt drives us to learn more, to seek God in new places, doubt can do amazing things.
Before he saw, Thomas waited with the others. He waited with a group who all believed wholeheartedly while he still had questions. This can be more difficult and more courageous than the simple act of believing. That Thomas waits, while disbelieving shows great faith in his Lord, if not in miracles. I think many people in the church today find themselves seeking God in spite of their doubts. They may not believe like Peter did, but they show up to church each week, they turn Bible study again and again, because they want that belief.
We are going to have our days when we believe as wholeheartedly as Peter. And we will have times when we doubt as Thomas doubted. But our Risen Lord greeted them both the same. “Shalom.” Peace and blessings to you. Our God understands both our faith and our questions, and loves us throughout. We may have doubts, but we can let them dance with our faith rather than weighing it down, and come out all the more faithful through them.
Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you. Guide us in our doubts that we may continue to seek you. In your name we pray, Amen.