The theme of our Easter journey together has been about challenge. On Palm Sunday we were challenged to acknowledge the darkness within as we became the crowd and shouted to crucify Jesus. On Maundy Thursday, we were challenged, along with Peter, to allow Christ to wash our feet in order to allow Christ to love us so we can love others. On Good Friday, we were challenged to understand the power and authority that emanates from the cross, how God has chosen to rule creation with the cross as God’s throne. And then finally on Easter Day, we were challenged to “go” and proclaim the resurrection as the beginning of our story, not the end.
Today we are challenged by Thomas, often referred to as doubting Thomas. As I have said in the past, Thomas has gotten a bad rap. Had any of the other Apostles not been in the upper room when Jesus appeared to them on Easter night, they too would have responded in the same way Thomas did. I doubt there was anyone back then who would have or could have believed the tale the disciples had for Thomas.
I wonder the same for us today. How many of us deep down truly trust in the resurrection? How many of us expect to experience the risen Christ on the road to Providence in the same way the two disciples did on the road to Emmaus. Or, as Paul did on the road to Damascus? This is what we are actually being asked to believe, to even expect! I suspect believing in the resurrection is the first of many road blocks placed along our journeys with Christ. It is the first article of faith which pushes us to let go of the rational and to open ourselves to what many consider irrational and impossible as we are asked to trust in something as being possible that is impossible.
This is where faith begins. To have faith in something or to believe in something is about trusting in something with the heart and not the head. Because faith is not about knowing with the head, it is about trusting with the heart.
In this morning’s Gospel, Thomas did not trust in what his fellow apostles told him. His brain would not let him go there. Like you and me, he needed to see and to touch the risen Christ in order to understand, in order to know and to believe in what God could do.
For us today, the greatest challenge we face, trusting in the Resurrection, is believing in the next step, that with God, all things are possible, that God has provided in abundance for our needs, that all of creation continues on track towards the promised reign of God. Can we even trust, that through the resurrection, the chains of evil that once held us back from God have been destroyed? Do we believe we are now free to vanquish all evil, and all darkness from the earth, without seeing it, touching it or feeling it?
I ask these questions today, not to make us feel inadequate about our faith, but to help us better understand what Thomas was thinking and feeling and to acknowledge the part of Thomas that resides in all of us. I also ask these questions to demonstrate how our lack of trust holds back the reign of God for which we so long for.
The story of Thomas is not just about you and me and our relationship with God. It is about how the doubt we hold inside us also affects how we perceive the world. For doubt ultimately fuels our fears and keeps us from trusting in what God can do and perhaps even what we can do as the Body of Christ.
Dr. John Domminic Crosson presented this question in a different way when he addressed a standing room only crowd at Kingston Congregational Church last month. The question we were forced to grapple with was, where do we put our trust, in the nonviolent ways of Jesus, or in the violent ways of Rome.
While I am never thrilled with being asked to choose between polar extremes, I believe Dr. Crosson made a valid point. This morning as I look at the disciples locked away in the upper room, I find them literally standing on a precipice, not sure what their next move should be. With their beloved Rabbi having died at the hands of Rome, do they accept defeat, submit to the ways of Rome, or do they carry on living into what Jesus had taught over the years. In essence, do they continue to live the message of divine love and non-violence? Do they continue to use non-violent means to overthrow Roman oppression, or do they join in the violence of the other revolutionaries of their day.
As I enter the upper room with the remaining eleven disciples, I find the fledgling Church scared and totally immobilized, not sure how to find the answer of how and where they are to proceed. I am not so sure if the church today isn’t once again locked away in the upper room looking for clear direction from the risen Christ. I wonder about this in light of the numerous conversations I have had with parishioners and acquaintances over the last decade or so.
One conversation which continues to stick with me was one I had with an acquaintance at the health club I frequented several years ago. This country was in the midst of war and contemplating expanding the theater of battle. He was for it, I was against it. In the midst of our conversation I challenged him, knowing he was a faithful and devout christian, with Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. Words which say to love our enemy, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, etc. To this he passionately exclaimed, “nice thoughts, but not possible.
I suspect this is what Thomas believed as well as the other ten disciples before they encountered the risen Christ. I.e. Jesus’ talk of resurrection was all a nice sentiment but not very possible.” To their surprise, as it is to ours, for Jesus the resurrection was not just a passing sentiment, but a real possibility.
If the resurrection is true, are not Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness and reconciliation also possible. In this morning’s collect we prayed “almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith;” What the resurrection tells us is that Divine Love has the ability to triumph over evil and darkness and even death itself. It tells us divine forgiveness can heal all wounds. We just have to trust.
At the end of Jesus’ first appearance in the upper room, Jesus offers the Disciples the peace of God. Then he breathes on the them as he infuses them with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive. At baptism, each of us is also given the gift of the Holy Spirit, empowered to forgive by being agents of reconciliation. As Jesus says to the disciples , “receive the Holy Spirit,” for me, this implies a choice, we can choose to receive and walk out of the upper room secure in being part of the reconciling work of God, or we can remain frozen, huddled in the corner of a locked room doubting the power of the divine’s ability to over come evil and violence with love and Justice. Ultimately the choice is ours, do we choose to believe or do we choose to doubt.