5/28/2018 0 Comments
John 20: 19-29
Well, here I am, the Sunday after Easter, though I tried very hard to argue with the Lord, suggesting to him that I should be sent here on Easter, rather than on Low Sunday, when church attendance is well, low. Lord, I said, it would be far more amusing if I showed up on Easter, when least expected. I’d come in right after the people have sung the joyous resurrection hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Today. Have you seen him? I would ask. Have you touched the wound in his side and felt the imprint of the nails in his hands? Unless you see for yourselves, how can you believe? But the Lord would hear none of it. “Thomas, he said, you may be a most engaging character, but I think you enjoy far too much riling people up. You are going to the Unionville Church the Sunday after Easter.
So here I am, Thomas, Doubrting Thomas, the disciple who likes to rile people up, but only because I want people to think. Religion, after all, is not only a matter of the heart; it also concerns the head. Religion is also about how we think and what we think. I want people to understand that doubt can be the handmaiden of faith---not faith’s enemy. Doubt can help us to think, to ask questions, deep, penetrating questions.
And I have always loved the questions more than the answers. That is the way I am made, the way my mind works, and Jesus understood that about me, which is why he never tried to make me into someone I was not. He knew I am one of those people for whom questions never go away. We can begin with the most basic question of all: Why? Why is there a world? Why is there suffering? Why do some people do wicked things, while others do the good? Where does that goodness and wickedness come from? The questions go on and on; they never go away, because they can never be fully answered, at least while we live on this earth. You find an answer to one question, and it only leads you deeper into another question, and so on and so on.
So where to begin my story of Easter and its aftermath? Not with the questions, and not even with the doubt, but I shall begin with the fear. Fear is stronger than doubt, and let me tell you this, we were all afraid---afraid that the Jewish leaders would betray us to the Romans and make of us rebels against Rome. And we knew what Rome did to rebels. So yes, we were afraid and for good reason. But you can limit fear with reason, and that’s what annoyed me so much that day about the other disciples---they weren’t thinking, only emoting. There they were, huddled in a room in a house known to the Jewish authorities, sitting there, shivering with fear, waiting to be arrested. The doors were securely locked, as if locked doors could stop Roman soldiers. “Look,” I said, this is ridiculous, just sitting here waiting to be arrested. We should all go home. It’s over; he’s dead. We’ve got to defeat our enemies by scattering, by returning to our old lives. They won’t bother us if we go fishing. Let’s go back to what we knew before he ever came into our lives.
Peter stood up and eye balled me, straight on. We can’t go back, he said. There is no going back, because everything has changed. Everything is different, because we have known him, because we have heard his words and tried for a while to live his truth. You are right about that, Peter, I said. Everything is different now. He is dead. We have to make our own way.
Peter and I never got along. He never used his head; he was all heart, and the heart is no infallible guide. It is, as the Psalms say, deceitful above everything else. When Peter and I would argue about such matters, Jesus would never interfere. He would listen to us exchange our barbs, knowing that no resolution would ever come, and Jesus never tried to provide a resolution. But one time he did ask me if I thought the mind was an infallible guide. Surely you know me better than that, I said. Nothing is infalliable when it comes to human beings, but I do find that my head is a more reliable guide than my heart. And so for you, Thomas, Jesus said, it is. But it may not be so for everyone. And that is all he would say on the matter.
So when Peter first told me the story of the empty tomb, I concluded that it proved nothing----only that the body was not there! And Mary Magdalene’s story about seeing Jesus, I thought it all hysteria. And I was disgusted, so disgusted and angry that I left the house. I went home. Home: Where else do you go when your heart is broken, but home. I had not been home for a very long time, but when I walked through the door and saw my family, no one asked me for an explanation. They just looked at me, and I realized that although they did not understand all I had been through, they accepted and loved me. Maybe that’s what home is: the place that accepts and loves you even when they do not understand you. I went to bed that night and slept as I had not slept in days.
Early the next morning, Peter and John came breathlessly running to my house. Pounding frantically at the door, they commanded me to open it. Have there been more arrests? I nervously asked. No arrests, they said. We come with great news. We have seen Jesus! We have seen the Lord! At that moment I felt such anger welling up in me. When are you going to stop this nonsense? I yelled. When are you going to face the hard cold facts? He is dead! Don’t you understand? He is dead. We saw him nailed to the cross, and if we had not all been such craven cowards, we would have seen him die. But, did we not see him laid in the tomb? He is dead, I tell you. He is dead. Shut up, Peter shouted, and his hand swung through the air so quickly that I was sure I was about to be hit. But instead, his hand found its place over my mouth, and very calmly he said, “He is alive, I tell you. We saw him. We all saw him.” My anger began to cool; there was such conviction in his voice that I began to wonder. Unless I see the mark of the nails on his hands; unless I touch the wound in his side, I will not believe, I calmly said.
A week later I returned to the house. The doors were all shut, and suddenly with no warning, there he was. Jesus was among us. Peace be with you, he said. Looking me in the eyes, he gave a command, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe. I don’t think I ever touched him, at least I don’t remember doing so. I just looked at him and said, My Lord and my God! He looked at me and asked, Have you believed because you have seen me? And when I did not answer, he simply said, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.
It is true, I only believed because I saw. I needed proof; that’s just who I am and how I am, the same way that Peter was the way he was, and you are who you are. Oh, we change and we grow, but we are ourselves. And so you skeptics out there, you doubters, you, who are full of questions, just know that God has a place for you in the story. You are needed; your questions are needed and so are your doubts. And one last thought: Jesus came to me not when I was alone, but when I was in the company of others. You see, faith is never simply a private affair. The church is needed, because it reminds us that we are interdependent. We need one another to help each other be witnesses, and we need one another to help each other believe.
About Our Pastor:
I am very happy to be here at the First Church of Christ, Congregational in Unionville, CT. I arrived here in July, 2017, and have been warmly received. This is a wonderful church community. I have been an ordained minister for over three decades now, and I consider it a great privilege and challenge to be called to serve. Before coming to Unionville I served churches on Long Island, Middletown, CT and then ten years in New Haven, Center Church on the Green. My home is in Middletown, where I live with my husband, Donald Oliver, who is a professor of molecular biology at Wesleyan University. We have four grown children, two boys and two girls and three granddaughters, the youngest born on October 3, 2017!