The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Doubting Thomas" Sunday


19 April 2009
Easter 2B
John 20:19-31

Almighty God, help us to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It’s “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. We read, hear, and preach on this text from the Gospel according to John every year on the Second Sunday of Easter.

It’s a bit of an unfortunate designation that we’ve bestowed upon Thomas. Poor Thomas. It seems that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He missed that first post-Easter appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Perhaps he was just down at the market buying milk and bread in preparation for being hunkered down with the disciples for an indeterminable period. Perhaps his mother had become suddenly ill and he had to rush to her side to care for her. We have no idea what caused Thomas to miss out, but nonetheless, he did. As such, he is forever labeled “Doubting Thomas”.

But in reality, who could blame him for doubting? He had been there through the previous week – that week before Easter. He had seen the emotional rollercoaster that had taken him, Jesus, and all the disciples all the way from the cries of Hosanna on Palm Sunday to the cries of the angry crowd on Good Friday. He had seen his friend and teacher endure that sham of a trial and the ensuing shame of one condemned. It had all been very real. He heard the driving nails, he smelled the blood and death, he saw the sky grow dim… The crucifixion had been, for Thomas, an entirely empirical experience. How could it not be? So who could blame him for demanding the same standards of proof for something so incredible as the resurrection of one whom he knew to have been dead?

Certainly preachers throughout the generations have blamed him. We have lifted poor Thomas up as the icon of the kind of faith to be avoided. “Doubting Thomas,” we call him. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!” We say it with an air of superiority. “We have not seen and yet have come to believe… Surely we are more blessed and righteous than even this apostle!”

But poor Thomas was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And the rest of the disciples weren’t much better! They, too, did not just rely on the report of the women who had seen the empty tomb and who had first heard about and reported the Resurrection. These disciples, too, did not believe until Jesus came to them revealing his wounds.

Somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to overlook the band of doubting disciples and focus instead on the one – the outsider – who is no worse than we are.

It’s true. We are “Doubting Thomases”. We are the outsiders who know of the Resurrection only through its retelling. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We, too, lack the measure of certainty that Thomas sought. But that is not cause for deriding and castigation.

Doubt is a part of faith. They aren’t opposites – they are two sides of the same coin. One always accompanies the other.

If we listen closely to the story, we hear that Jesus isn’t denying us doubt. We can hear those words, “Do not doubt, but believe,” less as Charlton Heston and more as Sally Field. They are not so much an edict of judgment from on high as a kind of gentle pleading from one who holds deep love for the other.

Jesus does not order Thomas to betray his doubt – he meets him where he is, he supplies what is needed for faith, and he allows it to bloom.

Later today we will baptize Colin Douglas Blekicki. If you notice, in the words of the Baptismal Covenant, we make statements of faith, we promise to live out our faith in the ways that we believe ourselves to be called, but never do we promise that we will be free from doubt. Never do we promise to even strive toward such a lofty goal.

But we do promise to support Colin in his life in Christ. We promise to be with him in the midst of his doubt. We promise to do our best to supply him with what is needed for faith, and to allow it to bloom.

And in our own renewing of our Baptismal Covenant we are making those same promises to each other, and to all the baptized.

Deliver us, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.

Open our hearts to your grace and truth.

Fill us with your holy and life-giving Spirit.

Keep us in the faith and communion of your holy Church.

Teach us to love others in the power of your Spirit.

Send us into the world in witness to your love.

Bring us to the fullness of your peace and glory.

This is our prayer each time we welcome a new member into the household of God – that we will live out the story of Doubting Thomas. That, like Christ, we will meet each other where we are, that we will offer one another what is needed for faith, and that we will give that emerging faith room to bloom.

We offer this prayer with the faith of a people of great doubt. We are outsiders of certainty, but insiders in the doubt from which deep faith can grow.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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