In the name of Christ. Amen.
A few days ago I stumbled onto this Facebook page that was for people who believe that faith – not just Christian faith, but faith in any sort of religious system – should be classified as a mental illness. I went there because a friend shared a particularly funny meme from the page. I guess I thought it must have been an ironic title, or an attempt at humor – because there were so many really funny posts poking fun at all kinds of religious things. As much as I love our faith, I love poking fun at it, too. At first the page came across as the kind of loving gibing you might get from a friend – you know, yanking your chain…
But after a few minutes enjoying the posts, I finally saw one that seemed to go a bit beyond friendly teasing. So I went to read the page’s description of itself. Then I started reading some of the comments on some of the posts. I had completely misread the situation. This wasn’t loving gibing at all – these were attacks. The vitriol that I encountered was so pronounced that my first thought wasn’t anger or hurt or even defensiveness, but sadness. These people must have really been hurt by faith communities.
Obviously, because our culture is so dominantly Christian, most of the attacks were against our faith. And let’s face it, the institutions of our faith and their adherents haven’t always been exactly exemplary when it comes to kindness and support of all of God’s people. People have been hurt. So we can’t really get too offended when we see evidence of that.
But the reason I bring this up today is because so many of the comments on one of the posts were about trying to refute the Resurrection – looking for holes in the story. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are holes in the story. Each of the accounts of the Resurrection that appear in our Bible are told from a different perspective, and was written targeting a different audience. And there are other accounts in other ancient sources that didn’t make it into our Bible – and they, too, had different perspectives and different audiences, and different details presented.
The stories of the Bible exist to challenge us and to inspire us. They exist to help us find ourselves in the story, and to see that the story is still going on. They exist to give us a sense of the past that brought us here, but the Bible was never intended as a kind of historical textbook. And studying the Bible isn’t about memorizing places or dates or names. I’m often a big disappointment to my friends when they find that I can’t cite chapter and verse for Christian concepts that exist in popular culture, or give them a quick reference point to find some quick fix to one of life’s problems. That just isn’t how Christian faith works.
Faith isn’t something that typically lends itself to quick fixes and guarantees. More so, it’s a discipline. Something that takes time. Something that takes practice. The benefits of Christian faith more often grow like a tree – not strike light a bolt of lightning.
If anyone were to come up to me today and ask me to prove the facts of the Resurrection to them, I wouldn’t be able to do it. And, I’ll be completely honest with you, there have been plenty of times in my own life when I didn’t believe, either. There have been plenty of times when I doubted all kinds of things about this faith of ours.
But here’s the good news: God doesn’t need perfect faith from us. I can’t really imagine that God expects perfect faith from us, or even envisions it as a legitimate possibility. If it’s true that God created us, as our faith proclaims, God also, then, created our minds. God created these instruments of questioning, and even of doubt. So I have to believe that God is okay with the processes we take to find and enrich our faith, even when we get it wrong. And we often get it wrong.
The purpose of practicing the Christian faith isn’t to acquire answers, or to score perfectly on an exam. Its purpose is to get to know God. Its purpose is to cultivate and explore that relationship that exists between all that is created and the creator of all – that relationship that’s most clearly known here, in groups and places like this – in loving community. Because: the closer we come to love, the closer we come to God.
There was an American Trappist monk named Thomas Merton whose writings so often spoke to issues of faith and doubt. Here’s an excerpt of one of his prayers. He said:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
Easter is a celebration of faith. It is a proclamation of the truth that exists within the impossible.
But it’s okay if you’re not quite there right now. You’re in good company. Even wise and famous monks have sometimes struggled. Even priests sometimes struggle. Even those people we know who seem to have some sort of magic connection to God that’s somehow clearer and better than everyone elses – even they struggle now and then.
Every person of faith struggles, at least some of the time.
The truth is, there’s a lot of suffering in the world – from war, from pandemic, from the deaths of loves ones, from estranged relationships, from lost jobs and missed opportunities and more other examples than we can imagine. In the midst of suffering, it’s hard to shout “Alleluia!” and mean it.
But know this: God doesn’t expect you to always have the loudest praise. God doesn’t expect you to know all the right answers. God doesn’t expect you to always have the broadest smile, or the clearest direction, or the most perfect faith.
“But I believe that the desire to please [God] does in fact please [God].”
Easter doesn’t have to be about who can praise God the loudest, or who can most convincingly proclaim as fact things we can’t actually know. Easter should be about cultivating desire – cultivating, and practicing that desire to please God – responding to joy with desire. We won’t always get it right. We will stumble. We may even cause each other to stumble once in a while. But faithfully cultivating the desire to please God will keep bringing us back. It will keep bringing us back to the loving communities that help us to know God a little bit more than we did before.
May God continually inspire our desire. Amen.