And blessed are all of you who are here today. Statistics tell us that there were three times as many people here last Sunday as this Sunday. And why do we come back the week after Easter? Many of us are here because this is what we do on Sundays, any Sunday. Some of us are perhaps here because we look forward to church getting “back to normal” after all the hoopla for Holy Week and Easter. And I hope that some of you came back—whether for the first time or the fiftieth time—because you want to know more about the life of faith as we live it out in this community. Because you want to know more about the Jesus whom we encounter so intimately during Holy Week, whose resurrection we celebrate so vigorously at Easter.
Did you see it? Did anybody actually see him get out of the tomb? Did you see the resurrected Jesus? Did anyone you know personally ever know anyone who actually saw Jesus walking the earth? How do we know?
After the wonderful liturgies of Holy Week and the glorious celebrations of Easter which we experienced in this place last Saturday, last Sunday and in the days leading up to it, it is striking to me that every year, no matter where we are in the 3-year lectionary cycle, the next time we all get together after Easter, we hear this story of Thomas and his refusal to believe without proof. As this story has been handed down to us through generations from the first Easter, Thomas has been given the name “Doubting Thomas.” Not Disbelieving Thomas, or De-bunking Thomas, but Doubting Thomas.
In the midst of any life of faith, doubt comes in all sorts of ways for all kinds of reasons. We’re tired, we’re hurt, we’re vulnerable. We’ve spent ourselves, whether in rejoicing, or in working on a relationship that may fail, or in working toward an important goal that always seems just out of reach, or in praying to be healed from an illness. Doubt comes in to protect us from further disappointment. Doubt comes in to say God cannot possibly be in charge of the messy, chaotic, complicated lives so many of us lead.
Thomas speaks for all of us at one time or another. I say this every year at this time: just as Jesus is the bearer of our sins, so I believe Thomas is the bearer of our doubts. Thomas was not the first disciple to doubt, and he will certainly not the last.
Thomas stands for the human need to touch and see in order to believe. When I look at Thomas, when I look at my own life, I come to the conclusion that doubt is not about unbelief, it is about the longing to believe. Think about how we use the word in daily life. Perhaps the sun will come out this morning. I doubt it. Perhaps so-and-so will smile at me today. I doubt it. Perhaps all of this will work out just right. I doubt it. Doubt is not about unbelief, it is about the longing to believe.
So what do we do with our doubts? We do what Thomas did. We go to where our friends our, to where Jesus might be, and we share our doubts. We go to church, the beach, Hopworks, Lucky Lab, People’s Co-op, Powell’s, little t, and we wrestle through our doubt. Maybe we do this with a friend, or maybe on our own. Maybe shaking our fist at the sky that may or may not hold the One we may or may not believe in. Any kind of wrestling with doubt is, in itself, an act of faith.
In his words, Thomas is completely focused on the need to believe, rather than the practice of faith. But in his deeds, he acts out his faith. He practices. Driven by hope, he seeks out the disciples, goes back to where they met the Risen Lord. Then he makes this audacious request to put his hands in the holes made by the nails and the spear, and Jesus grants it.
But it starts with Thomas acting through his doubts: going, asking, and believing.
In our collect today we prayed: 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. Many of us need to show forth our faith in our lives before we actually believe it. To put it another way, we need to act ourselves into right thinking, rather than think ourselves into right acting. That’s why our baptismal vows are all about action. When we renew these vows, as many of us did last Saturday night, we promise to break bread, to seek, serve, pray, persevere, strive, respect, repent, and return. Action words.
It is in our actions and our interactions that we encounter the Risen Lord. In seeking out the poor and poor in spirit, in breaking bread with neighbors and strangers, in coming to this table, that we might touch and taste Jesus, in praying for those with whom we struggle—even when we don’t want to or we don’t believe that God is listening—these actions bring us closer to Jesus and give us “proof” of resurrection.
And it is through us, as we minister our way through our doubts, that others experience the Risen Lord. As we act our way into right thinking, we touch the lives of those around us with our actions. The Benedictines have long held to a principle of hospitality, inspired by St. Benedict’s teaching that “all that come to the monastery be received as Christ.” What if we received all that came to our church as though each one of them were Thomas? Think about today’s gospel scene as a model for Christian ministry: Thomas, who missed the disciples’ first encounter with the Risen Christ, is given a second chance. He is greeted with love and grace, with an invitation and the assurance that Christ is truly alive. He is offered the Peace of Christ, and he is blessed.
I’m going to close with a portion of the General Thanksgiving in the morning prayer service:
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.