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Monday, April 15, 2013

Peace & Doubt

The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook
Easter 2, Year C
John 21:1-31
    I saw a cartoon earlier in the week that seemed to make a fair point. In it, Thomas--most commonly known as Doubting Thomas--is lamenting, "All I'm saying is we don't call Peter 'Denying Peter' or Mark 'Ran away naked Mark.' Why should I be saddled with this title?"
    Good question, and one that has had me mulling over the possibilities. Sure, Thomas doesn't believe the witness of the other disciples when they told him they'd seen the Lord...but consider that those other disciples hadn't believed the women who came to them with news that the Lord was risen either. There was plenty of doubting going on, and with good reason; honestly, if someone came to you with a story like this, would you believe it? So why does Thomas get the bad rap?
    I wonder if in part it's because his questioning is something that mirrors our own, and by naming it, we acknowledge that his struggle is also our own. Who among us hasn't had questions, wondered what this resurrection and Jesus's wounds and sin & forgiveness stuff is all about? Who among us hasn't looked life's horrors and wondered if God has abandoned us? Who among us hasn't thought that the incarnation is a pretty crazy, risky way to get your point across if you're God? Who among us, even if not seeing and yet believing, wouldn't give quite a lot to get to see, too? Thomas--the twin--is our double in his honest questioning and doubt.
    Thomas is struggling with believing. Well, welcome to the human race. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, wrote "Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep." Question marks are all around us, and sometimes it seems like the more we discover and "know for sure," the more questions we uncover. I don't see that as a bad thing, and I'm not reading this passage to mean that Jesus does either. It's simply where Thomas is at that point, and then he has an experience of the risen Lord that shifts him to least for the moment. I find it interesting that in some combination of his being flexible enough--never say, "Never"--and Jesus being, well, Jesus, Thomas is able to be transformed by the Spirit to become a believer. And not a believer "again" but a new believer, because it was one thing to follow Jesus the first time around and quite a different matter to be his disciple after the resurrection. His life and death took on huge new meanings when set in the context of his new life, and any of the disciples can be excused for not being on board, not really getting it, immediately.
    Thomas's disbelief also doesn't stop him from being part of the community of disciples, which is obviously a good thing because if he'd said, "You all are full of it...I'm outta here," then he wouldn't have been there when Jesus showed up again the next week,   though I kind of like to think Jesus would have tracked him down wherever he was. Nor did his friends send him packing for his doubt. They all kept moving forward, each in the best way he or she knew how, but together, in support of one another and perhaps with a shared hope, even if where they were on the road toward that vision differed for each one. That's a pretty good model for the church, I think. What if we could understand the doubters and questioners in our midst to have particular gifts to help all of us on the journey, and we invited the open sharing of questions for that very reason?
    The gospel writer very much wants us to believe also, to be ones who have not seen and yet believe, and yet he doesn't want to argue us into it. By his own admission, he gives us evidence, but not every last piece, maybe because in the end he knows that the witness of others can't do the whole job. One way or another, each of us is going to have to encounter the risen Christ on our own terms, in a way that speaks to our heart. Whether it's in the transcendence of feeling the breath of the Holy Spirit or in the depths of touching Christ's wounds and connecting them with our own and the world’s, it ultimately needs to be our experience, not someone else's, though they may point the way.
    Perhaps that's why Jesus starts out these appearances with a blessing of peace. To those who are fearful about the consequences of belief, to those who are worried about not believing, to those who are challenged by others who don't believe or who believe differently, Jesus offers the gift of peace. His peace unites us in the face of all the closed doors that threaten to separate us. Peace, that it is okay to doubt. Peace, that it is fine to ask questions and to come to different conclusions. Peace, that it is normal to want to see for ourselves. Peace, that we are human...because it is for our sake that Jesus became human and brought us abundant life, here and forever, in God's resurrection kingdom.

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