Sunday, 11 April 2010

Today's sermon

Year C Easter 2 (2010) RCL Principle

Doubt is good!

Poor Thomas – always remembered as the one who needed proof. The one from whom we get the saying ‘Doubting Thomas’ – a saying still used in a Biblically illiterate nation, with generations of people who don’t understand phrases, or at least don’t know the root and deeper meaning of phrases like ‘Prodigal Son’, ‘Treasure in Heaven’, ‘faith like a mustard seed’, ‘Job’s comforter’ nor many others that most of us have grown up with.

Thomas, remembered because he couldn’t accept the stories that the others were telling – because he didn’t happen to be with the others when Jesus appeared. Doubting Thomas because the fantastic events recounted by his friends were too much to grasp, because he needed more.

But let’s be honest here, how would you or I have reacted? Jesus was dead – really dead, cold and in the ground kind of dead. For those of us who have lost anyone to death then we know something of that loss, that devastation, that emptiness that comes with bereavement. Death is so very final – and the loss stays with us. We don’t like talking about it – in fact in many ways it is the last taboo that our society has. But it is a reality that changes us. Even thirty years or so later I miss my grandparents and the compassion and encouragement they showed me in my formative years, and thirteen years after my father’s death I still have days when I miss him terribly – his wicked sense of humour and forthright way of expressing his opinion (and that’s putting it politely).

We know how it feels, most of us, to have lost someone we care about. It was summed up perfectly for me by a colleague from Washington DC who, as we talked about our role in leading funerals said, simply, ‘Death Sucks’.

And that’s how all of the disciples must felt. Devasted, lost, afraid of what might happen to them, very aware of their own mortality I’m sure. Their grief and loss were so overwhelming that they gathered together in the upper room, comforting and supporting one another. All but Thomas. They all saw Jesus, all felt his breath upon them, heard his blessing of peace, shared in that moment of resurrection.

But Thomas didn’t.

For Thomas the devastation was still real, the feelings still raw.

No wonder the disciples excited babbling about seeing Jesus alive again, about him reappearing in the upper room made no sense, no wonder he wanted some kind of proof.

And Jesus, graciously, lovingly, openly gives him what he needs. It’s worth noting that we have no record of Thomas taking Jesus up on the offer of checking out the holes in his hands, feet and side but worships him. He doesn’t persist in his doubt, but declares Jesus his Lord and his God.

But would we have been any different? Would we have walked into that room of excitable disciples and said ‘yes, of course Jesus is alive’?. I’m not sure I would.

I get the feeling that Jesus’ comment ‘blessed are those who have not seen me but still believe’ is not so much a criticism of Thomas but an encouragement to us. We don’t have that chance to see Jesus for ourselves, but the witness of Christians through the ages and the conviction of the Holy Spirit is the foundation for our statement that Jesus is alive!

If I’m honest, I have days when the whole resurrection of Jesus thing is beyond my grasp intellectually. I cannot, as they say, ‘get my head around it’. But I can get my heart around it! Firmly I believe, and truly, that Christ is Risen! I allow the faith of the Church and the truth of the Gospel to hold me even in my doubts.

If anything, the story of Thomas gives us the freedom to doubt. It shows us that the doubt is not the enemy of faith, but that we need to hold on to those glimpses of Jesus to get us through our times of questioning and struggle. And we can see throughout Scripture that Thomas is in good company – St Paul struggles with what the Gospel means, some of our Old Testament heroes are constantly trying to get to grips with the demands of faith and the calling of God, and even at the Ascension, when Jesus is there we read, in Matthew 27 v 18 ‘And they worshipped him, but some doubted’. Doubt is a part of what makes us human, and part of what makes up our faith.

It is important to remember, doubt is not the opposite of faith, unbelief is. Struggling with, thinking about, asking questions regarding Faith is part of truly engaging with the amazing, pretty much unbelievable, reality that faith and a relationship with Jesus brings us.

If we really consider all that the disciples went through then we can see that Thomas’ response isn’t at all abnormal. But Thomas went past his doubts – though I suspect that like all of us he didn’t leave them behind completely. The tradition and belief of the Church is that Thomas like all the Apostles went out to proclaim the Gospel – in fact it is believed that he founded the Christian Church in India which still exists to this day – the oldest Denomination in India, called the Mar Thoma Church. His faithfulness and desire to share the news of the living Christ took him to another land, and it is believed that like most of the Apostles St Thomas was put to death for his faith.

We need doubt in the Church – but we need it alongside faith. Our willingness to ask questions should be alongside a desire to know Jesus better and to open ourselves up to his touch and his life. We struggle through the difficult times in our walk with Christ but we keep walking with him – carrying the cross he calls us to bear as we follow the one who bore it first.

And like Thomas, no matter what our doubts, we continue to worship and to proclaim Jesus. We share the good news of our risen, loving Lord in all circumstances and no matter what the cost. Thomas went out and declared his faith, sharing the risen life of Jesus with those he met; how many people have we shared that resurrection life with lately?

Reading this account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance excites me because it tells me it is OK to doubt, and that Jesus meets us with his grace, and with outstretched arms. It challenges me too, and should challenge each one of us, to consider our part in the Mission of God – our own calling to live and to be the Good news of Christ, bringing his life to a world so in need of his life.

Will you let the story of Thomas the Apostle, Thomas the Believer, Thomas the friend of Jesus inspire, challenge and motivate you? If so, how – for if we allow God to talk to us through this Scripture we may find comfort in our doubts, but we also hear again the calling to be faithful and to live in the light of the risen life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.