Today, as the season of Easter continues, we begin a series of narratives about the appearances of Jesus after the Resurrection. But, as you probably already know, these “stories” and more importantly, their purpose, vary greatly from gospel to gospel.
What do I mean? Well, consider that Mark ended his masterpiece of a gospel with a cliffhanger. We might even call it “a resurrection with question marks.”[i] You see, in the original text of Mark, there were no resurrection appearances, only a handful of frightened woman returning home. Now, “Luke, Matthew and John, writing generations later, embellished the story, adding multiple appearances and new miracles by the risen Jesus. I don’t know, maybe they had better intel than Mark. Maybe they created fiction for a people craving hope. Or maybe they had a lived experience of a Christ who kept showing up, shaping and saving their lives.”[ii]
But here’s the good news for us as we continue to endure the isolation and unknown of this pandemic: a double-thousand years later, we pick up these four stories, and as we consider them within each context, we are invited to discover our own sense of resurrection. My friends, the original Easter story has never ended. Resurrection isn’t limited to history but instead it goes on, in endless song, above the earth’s lamentations. Resurrection isn’t an ending, but rather, it’s only the beginning.
Now, the strange new world we’re living in may lead us to believe that resurrection is only a thing of the past. I’ve heard time and again across these past weeks, that this pandemic is the end of days. And I realize that a narrow view of the situation may seem that way. This disease may seem like the end of the story. The reality is that we will not all be raised from our sickbeds or our tombs. Some of us will lose our jobs or the businesses we have spent a lifetime building. Marriages that might have made it otherwise, absurdly pressured by quarantine, will end in divorce. And maybe worst of all, some of our loved ones or some of our neighbors may lose their lives just as some of our fellow citizens of this nation and this world, have already lost theirs. We mourn each and every one of these losses and offer prayers of hope and healing for their families and their friends.
But here’s the thing. After all of these endings, there will be new beginnings; some of them visible, tellable, others beyond the veil of earthly life. My friends, Easter is not a history lesson with a tidy ending, but an invitation to look past death in all its disguises. The problem with a lamentation proclaiming the end of days is that it doesn’t allow for resurrection. Yes, you may sometimes have to endure a year of Good Fridays, but in time, Easter will always arrive. It is as inevitable as a sunrise after the long night.[iii]
And it’s with this understanding of the on-going-ness of Easter that we encounter Thomas today. Thomas the disciple. Thomas famously dubbed “Doubting Thomas.” But is this a fair or even accurate portrayal of Thomas? And if it is, what is it about doubt that frightens so?
I mean, in the text, Jesus doesn’t seem to be afraid or even put-off by Thomas’ need to see for himself. Actually, Jesus is rather matter-of-fact towards Thomas. He walks right in, bids him peace, and says, “Here Thomas. Put your hand here and touch there.” It’s as if Thomas’s doubt is the most natural thing in the world. In fact, the word for faith and the word for doubt come from the same Greek root. It’s as if they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s as if you can’t have one without the other. If your faith doesn’t have any doubt mixed in with it, it’s not really faith, it’s certainty.[iv]
And therein lays the problem. The most frightening words in the language of the Christian faith are “God’s will is…” Why? Because to claim to know God’s will, to be certain about the nature of God, is nothing more than hubris. And as you already know, we are challenged by Scriptures to practice humility, the opposite of hubris. We are invited to dwell in the Mystery of God. Because, you see, certainty is an end in and of itself. Certainty doesn’t allow for growth or discovery, or the expansion of the mind or faith; certainty doesn’t allow for new relationships to form. Certainty stands in the way of the gracious God-given invitation to contemplate our doubts, and own them, which then frees us to begin to discover our own sense of resurrection.
You know, Frederick Buechner once said, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”[v]
I read about one theologian who tells his students that knowing God is not like knowing whether you’re hungry. It’s more like music. “Like the knowledge of music,” he says, “the knowledge of God is something that can never be fully attained. It’s a knowledge which always leads to a kind of unknowing.”[vi]
I would like to leave you with one final thought today. In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about people who would come to her because they had trouble believing. Some believed “less than they thought they should about Jesus. They were not troubled by the idea that he may have had two human parents instead of one, or that his real presence with his disciples after his death might have been more metaphysical than physical… For others, the issue was that they believed more than Jesus. Having beheld his glory, they found themselves running into God’s glory all over the place, including places where Christian doctrine said it should not be.” In the midst of these conversations, and her own questions, she said, “I realized just how little interest I had in defending Christian beliefs. The parts of the Christian story that had drawn me into the Church were not the believing parts but the beholding parts. ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. Behold the Lamb of God. Behold, I stand at the door and knock…’ Christian faith seemed to depend on beholding things that were clearly beyond belief.”[vii]
Thomas, I’m convinced, was a beholder. But what was it that Thomas beheld? Was it, Jesus’ eyes, piercing and deep? His face, open and available? The way Jesus walked into the room, gently but with authority? These are the features we’d normally look at to recognize a person. But no, Thomas wanted to see the wounds, the nail holes, the pierced side. He wanted to witness the epicenters of pain.
If like Thomas you’re feeling doubt about discovering your sense of resurrection, whether life will really win out over death, then it’s time for you to look into the wounded places in the world. You need to be in touch with people who are wounded, people who are down and out, people who are poor, people whom the world has forgotten or despised or rejected. You need to be in these places because at one time or another we’re all the ones who are wounded. And it’s in these wounds that we will finally find the Living Jesus.[viii]
My friends, as you turn off your device today and go back to your exile, my prayer for all of you is this: When in doubt, doubt. If you’re suffering, seek healing. If you’re struggling with fear, that you will let your faith shine through the darkness. And when you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, that you will pray to discover your sense of resurrection.
May it be so for you and for me. You’re all in my prayers. Amen and Amen.
[ii] Ibid. Baskette
[iii] Ibid. Baskette
[v] Ibid. McKibben
[vi] Michael DeLashmutt, quote from the Christian Century.
[vii] Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church, p. 110.
[viii] Ibid. McKibben.