Doubts Are Incredible
This is a big chunk of gospel to dig into and wrestle with on the second Sunday of Easter. It’s worthy of Easter Sunday crowds for sure. And takes place that same day, at least the first part does.
The second part – the part more familiar that literally involves a doubting disciple digging in – takes place a whole week later.
Time isn’t normal in the gospels – even when things are written chronologically. I am noticing and valuing this in a new way after living through 2020 and into 2021.
There are three words I want to lift up from this big deal story – and they are big deal words:
Doubt (the most famous and let’s face it the most fun)
A word about that word.
If you like icons – those holy other-worldly paintings then maybe you know they developed in Eastern branch of Christianity – the Orthodox branch. We may consider or call them paintings – but if you talk to an iconographer you will learn that icons aren’t painted – they are written.
Just like the words of the gospel are an entry way to the good news of Christ – icons are also windows, doors. Icons make a way to enter into the message and the mystery of the good news of Jesus.
And if you ever find yourself in Russia – and able to go and see some of the most ancient, beautiful and original icons of Rublev and others – and come upon the icon of this gospel scene – the one we commonly refer to as Doubting Thomas – you will discover it is not called Doubting Thomas – it is called the Incredulity of Thomas.
Incredulity – the incredible nature of what Thomas is beholding. For what he is beholding with his own eyes – and in real time is incredible – without a doubt it is beyond belief.
And Jesus responds to his incredulity with words I do not find at all judgmental. Thomas, Jesus says, trust God is capable of incredible things. In a full circle – remember Gospel time is not like our time – this moment of new life – brings us back to another moment of new life – the incredulity of Mary met with the angel’s promise that – For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37)
All of which to say – I prefer the Incredulity of Thomas – for my God is an incredible God.
I do want to circle back to doubt – but a few more words on two other incredible words in this reading. First – peace.
Jesus greets his scared, secluded, locked away disciples with a greeting intended to prompt a memory.
The night before he died, he said to those same disciples – Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
And how does he find them three days later – very afraid. Because just like us, the disciples forget that God can and does do incredible things.
The greeting of peace – just like the peace you and I will share momentarily – is meant to call us back that peace that surpasses all understanding – that place within our body, mind, heart, soul where we are not troubled. A peace we cultivate – we nurture – so that we can tap into our God-self no matter where, or when, or what is going on.
The peace the world gives is something else – it has it’s place. Getting along, getting to agreement – that’s all good, necessary stuff. That’s different than what Jesus means when he says to this scared group of guys – peace be with you because he already left them, he left us – his own peace. That thing he tapped into just three days ago. This peace surpasses understanding.
This is surely the peace they will need to tap into if those disciples are ever going to go back into the world. (like Thomas by the way, but we’ll get there)
So maybe that greeting – that word – that reminder to tap into the peace God’s given you is something you need to connect with this morning.
Peace be with you. We would do incredible things if we were unafraid to live from that place of peace.
Forgive. Jesus breathes the gift of the Holy Spirit – and says – receive the Holy Spirit. To me, that sounds like the disciples have a choice.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love the way you love, and do what you would do.
Jesus breathes and invites whoever wants to – to receive the Holy Spirit and says – if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any they are retained.
If we can connect with the peace of God within ourselves (and the wordplay there is intended) – we give forward to God what we do not want to retain – because it doesn’t serve us – it doesn’t fill me with life anew – we can forgive.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I don’t think super powers – which is basically what I think we humans don’t realize are given us – are easy to use. Forgiveness is worthy of the many books written on the subject – and my go-to is Desmond Tutu’s. I’m just lifting up that Jesus gave and gives us this power this morning – invites us to consider – what are we giving – what are holding onto – which one is going to get us to open the door towards life.
So peace – forgive – doubt. Thank you, Thomas, for having the courage to leave that locked room. I don’t know where you went – I don’t know what you had to go do. My generous interpretation is that you looked around and said – what are we doing? After everything we’ve been through with Jesus are we seriously going to stay locked away in this room? It’s late – I need to eat – I’m going to go get some food.
The need to eat would’ve definitely gotten me out of the room.
Here’s all I know about doubt. Without doubt I wouldn’t be able to write this sermon. Without doubt I never would’ve found Jesus in the first place. If I didn’t have doubt – I wouldn’t know anything. One thing I am certain of as a faith professional – forever and always – I will have doubts.
If you have the courage and compassion to pay attention to when your heart is troubled – and recognize that is worth digging into – just like Thomas dug in (gross but true) – then my friend, as far as this priest is concerned – you are on the way. The way – the truth – and the life – that I discover anew day after day after day. And it’s not because I have retained some sense of certainty about life – it’s because I’ve been forgiven when I doubted I deserved it. It’s because I’ve known peace when I doubted I would ever find it again.
I find God when I follow my doubts. When I’m afraid – and my heart is troubled – I make a way to Jesus with all my doubts.
And he says – Peace be with you – what do you want to talk about?
Peace and forgiveness and doubt are incredible gifts that have the power to make a way for resurrection and new life.