“Doubt and Blessing”
Dear Lord, give us eyes to see beyond what others say is possible. Give us hands to reach out further than we can touch. Give us the generosity that pushes back the boundaries, for even death by You has been defeated. With all our doubts, we find our blessing in Your marked hands. Amen.
I admit, I had my doubts. I knew his intention. I had his promise that it would happen. But it was hard for me to imagine. Although I was part of the work, I don’t understand the mechanics behind the “how”. What was set in motion during Holy Week involved us emotionally and physically. By the Friday, I thought we were done. It wasn’t until Sunday, however, that I could see for myself if it had come to pass. When I touched the play button on my computer and the first ever virtual Easter service from St. Martin’s started, I was convinced. My grateful thanks to Harold, Joy, Howard, Cathy, Jessica, Julie, Sarah, and everyone who helped bring a new way of worship to our parish.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”. These words were spoken from Jesus to Thomas, but they were really written down for our benefit. We were not there that first Easter. We couldn’t touch and hear the risen Lord in person. Instead, we have to take it on faith from the writers of the gospels and the early apostles of the Church who witnessed to the truth of the resurrection. Those early followers of Christ affirmed that these events really did happen to others who were distant in space and time. In a way, it’s rather like last Sunday, when believers all over the world celebrated Jesus rising from the dead even though we were separated from each other and our usual places of worship.
Standing at the altar in our parish church and celebrating the Holy Eucharist, I had to imagine all of you with me in the congregation. It was a difficult connection, especially knowing that this sacrament was being recorded to be shared, rather than simultaneously engaged. I was not with you in the same time and space. And yet, in God, I was with you, and with all the faithful who have gathered at the table from the time of Jesus to the present day. At every blessing of the bread and the wine as the body and blood of Christ we are surrounded by what we call the communion of saints. I know this intellectually and theologically. And mostly I feel it as well. But this time has strained our faith. If you, like me, have doubts about whether this is Church when we go “online” with worship, today’s gospel reading helps us see what we are going through also as a blessing.
Maybe we are all a little like Thomas: wanting to believe but not knowing who to trust. He says to the other disciples “You know what? Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands- no, unless I actually touch his wounds myself, I am not going to believe.” It’s not that Thomas isn’t open to the possibility of resurrection; what he is doubting is the testimony of his companions. After all, if they had really seen the Lord, what are they doing still hiding in a locked house after a week? Is this really the witness of the Church? Thomas is wanting an experience of the divine to shine through to him. If that isn’t happening yet with the disciples, he wants more.
When Jesus does show up to the gathered community a second time, they are a little more receptive. The door is shut, but not locked, and the number has grown to include Thomas among them. The risen Lord meets Thomas and invites him to see and touch in order to believe. But Jesus’ presence is enough for his doubts- he doesn’t need to reach out and touch before he proclaims “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’ doubts left room for him to be convinced. He didn’t block God’s attempts to reach out in love, even though it was a stretch for him to trust the word of others. He remained open to the possibility of meeting Christ.
It comes down to who we are going to trust. If you trust your friends, you are more likely to believe what they tell you. If you are going to trust your leaders, then it takes some discernment about how trustworthy their testimony is. Right now we have all sorts of people claiming to be speaking the truth, from Dr. Bonnie Henry to Donald Trump. We have to weigh not just what they say, but what they are claiming as their values, and what they are actually doing to model the behaviour they desire from us. Are they talking the talk? Are they walking the walk? (And what shoes are they wearing?) In the Church, is what we are preaching and doing in line with the values and behaviour of the risen Christ? We are called to model his love and forgiveness and compassion in order to proclaim the gospel. In other words, we are to be faithful disciples, open to trusting God because of what God has already done for us.
Thomas needed to check out that it really was the Jesus he knew and loved so that he could continue to follow. He asked to be faced with proof of his suffering love for him and the world. The wounds that the risen Christ showed to him was enough to replace his doubts with the knowledge of God’s blessing for him. And we as followers of this loving and forgiving Lord are to continue this blessing as his hands and feet in the world. In every generation and situation, we are to find ways to show this to those who have not had the opportunity to see and touch themselves. Even through a virtual worship, we are drawn together with the communion of saints.
Do we need more? The gospel writer of John says we don’t. He records that he could have written about other signs and proofs, but that what he has set down is sufficient for us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. To trust in the risen Lord working through us is to bring new life in his name. As we move forward, learning new ways to be in community, I know that life will be very different from the pre-Covid 19, pre-Easter way of doing things. We have to be flexible and adapt. And we will certainly have some doubts, but new life is already in us.
Jesus’ commission to his disciples and to us is “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Believe it! Amen.