Last Sunday was Easter Sunday and we pulled out all the stops to celebrate the resurrection. Banners! Anthems! Trumpets! Imagery! Flowers and Resurrection buns! But the Spirit of Easter continues today. For Christians, every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Easter is every day in which we are freed from the power of pessimism and death…when there is a rebirth of gladness in our hearts with the living presence of Christ. Easter is today! So we shout, CHRIST IS RISEN, and the congregation shouts back, “Christ IS RISEN INDEED.”
It always amazes me that at the very heart of the Easter story there is doubt. On such a grand occasion as Easter morning, you would have expected the disciples to have been filled with awe and adoration. But the Bible tells us on that first Easter morning, there was doubt.
We know the story of Mary Magdalene and how she came to the tomb on that first Easter. The morning dark was beginning to give way to the morning light. Suddenly, miraculously, the risen Jesus spoke to her, saying her name, “Mary.” They spoke, and then Mary ran to tell the disciples what she saw. And what was the disciples’ initial reaction? “There goes Mary again. Excitable Mary. Emotional Mary.” The first report of Jesus’ resurrection, and there was doubt.
Later that night, the disciples were huddled in the upper room, and suddenly, miraculously, Jesus appeared. The doors were shut; the windows were closed, and the disciples were scared spitless. Did they fall on their knees in adoration? …
Did they high five each other and say, “Hey, we knew he would come back.” No, they were afraid. They didn’t know what they were seeing. At the very core of the Easter message, there is doubt.
Another example: Jesus was ready to leave this earthly existence. He had just told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all people. This was their last great moment – their last goodbye to each other. And the Gospel of Matthew says, “Some believed but others doubted.” And so ends the Gospel on that note of doubt.
And today’s reading: You see, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples that night. You can almost hear them saying: “You should have been here, Thomas. Jesus came back to us and he was alive.” And Thomas’ reaction? “Until I see the holes in his hands and wrists and side, I won’t believe.”
Doubt, on Easter.
Rheati catches this in a Poem entitled “Doubting Thomas”
Everyone but me, it seems—
where was I that I should miss this grace?
My grief not consoled by the others,
driving me to the streets …
to the temple…to the tavern…hoping for some sign.
I couldn’t stand with John and the Marys
to watch my hope destroyed,
I heard your words within me,
“MY GOD, why have you forsaken me?”
Abandoned even more now that the others have seen you –
How can I believe?
“Peace,” they say. “He is alive.”
And then they scorn me for wanting proof,
yet did they believe until they saw?
Why is more asked of me?
…After all that has passed I need to see—
no, I need to touch
I need to hear your voice speaking to me—to ME.
Doubting Thomas they call me,
but remember how it was for us?
Cowering in storms,
still counting the loaves and fishes in our minds,
wondering how so few could feed all those thousands,
running away in disbelief
from the cross that hangs over me still.
…and if it’s true, if it is true…
the one thing that I can trust…is that you will forgive.
Doubting Thomas has a certain appeal to all of us because Thomas is an honest person and honesty is attractive.
He didn’t believe just to believe. He wasn’t the kind of person who just blindly accepted faith. He thinks. He has a challenging and inquisitive mind. Once, Jesus was teaching about going to prepare a place for them, a heavenly mansion. It was Thomas who scratched his thoughtful head and asked, “Jesus, we don’t know where you are going and we don’t know the way.” Thomas didn’t understand, and so he asked questions. None of the others raised their hands and expressed their curiosity. Thomas did.
We are like Thomas. We, too, have doubts. We have questions about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Christian faith. We have big questions such as, “Is there a personal God?” or “Is Jesus the only Son of God? Is there validity to the other world religions?” or “How do we understand the Bible?” or “Why is there so much evil in the world?” Or personal questions: Why am I having all these troubles?”
We are like Thomas: we also have questions and we don’t hide them.
We are like Thomas in another way. We would like God to prove that God really exists, that there is truly another dimension to existence. We are like the person (was it Herod?) in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, who sang: “Jesus Christ, if you’re divine, turn my water into wine. Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool.”
All Christians, sometimes during our lives, have doubts, questions and skepticisms. That is the way that God wired us: to ask questions, to inquire, to think, to sort out… During our lifetimes, we will have many questions for God. And there are times in our lives that we ask more questions than others. There are a variety of religious personalities in this world and some have much more doubt and questions than others. Yet it doesn’t mean we are not people of faith.
There is a distinction between a doubter and an unbeliever. A doubter is a person who searches for God and the divine dimensions of life; that person is on a journey, a quest, a search to find God and the love of God.
An unbeliever isn’t searching.
I started ministry as a leader of children and youth. One of the best and worst kids in my memory was a kid named Mark who had thousands of questions about God, the Bible, Christ, everything. He just wouldn’t let up. That was almost forty years ago now, and I feel that there is justice that David Green’s brother Mark is preaching in a church this very morning in Victoria. The thousands of questions and doubts that he had as a youth were leading him to a deeper understanding of the Christian faith.
Centuries ago, Copernicus doubted that the earth was the centre of the universe. Christians around him were using the Bible to prove that it was. His doubt of their reading of the Bible lead him to a larger and deeper understanding of the Christian faith.
During the time of Columbus, certain Christians were using the Church to declare that the earth was flat and if you sailed too far, your boat would fall over the edge. Columbus doubted the Christianity he had been taught, and his doubts led to a deeper and larger faith.
In my life, I am so grateful that I have had Christian teachers who have led me to a theology that, in my opinion, is deeper and wider than the theology I learned in the basement of the church Lansing, Michigan as a child. The childlike faith that I learned before and during Sunday school is foundational to my life, but without all those faithful folks who came after, who welcomed my obstreperous questions and blue funks of doubt, I wouldn’t be standing here today.
It happened over time… I entered University with a quadruple major of religious studies, theatre arts, social work and the law. I kept my options open. Faith grows…and doubts – they are like fertilizer…
As a “skeptic”, I’ve discovered that there comes a time when we begin to doubt our doubts, question our questions, and become skeptical of our skepticisms. Christians can become fixated on their Sunday school theology and not move beyond it; and a person can become fixated on their doubts and not move beyond them.
And I am aware that there is power to believing that is not weighed down and slowed down by doubts and questions. Jesus said to many people, “Great is your faith.” He said that a hundred times in the Bible. There is power to faith, power carry momentous burdens. Blessed are those who work through their honest questions and doubts…and believe.
Thomas, after all his doubting and skepticism, ran headlong to the moment when he fell on his knees and said:
“My Lord and My God”.
Words of a recovering skeptic.
May those words be ours as well. Amen.
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