April 12, 2015
2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B
The Rev. Nancy Gallagher
Texts: Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
Alleluia! Christ has risen.
The Lord has risen indeed. Alleluia!
Jesus came and stood among then and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
So Thomas, the twin, also came to be know as ‘Doubting Thomas.’ I suggest that our perspective on this story should be refreshed. Thomas didn’t believe the stories his friends told him because he doubted—he didn’t believe because he was certain, absolutely certain that Jesus could not have come and stood among them. Whether it was a mass hallucination, some sort of prank, very strong wine–well, who knows, but Thomas was certain that resurrection, a visit from his beloved but now dead teacher, and conversation with the deceased, was NOT possible.
Thomas was so certain that he doubted what his friends said.
Like Thomas we have doubts. We shouldn’t be ashamed of this. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is the sister of faith and living with our doubts can bring us to question, to reflect, to imagine and to wonder. All of these are necessary for faith to take hold in our hearts and grow.
The hard part though is that doubt can make us feel uneasy, vulnerable. To numb this discomfort, sometimes we make everything that is uncertain———absolutely certain. In turning to certainty, our religious tradition moves from a belief in faith and mystery to rules that divide us. I’m right. You’re wrong. Shut up. And those of us without faith usually don’t have any doubts either. We are very certain in our disbelief. We see this in our religious and political discourse. We no longer have to listen to each other, as we are absolutely certain what we will hear. Absolute certainty is not life giving. This kind of certainty disconnects us from one another. It can create blame and shame. It does not create community; it creates us and them.
The opposite of faith is unquestioned certainty.
Doubt and faith together let us live the questions. Rainer Rilke encourages us “to try to love the questions themselves”…. And then “live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
I used to have trouble saying the Nicene Creed. I used to have a whole list of reasons why I felt like I was saying it with my fingers crossed behind my back. At various points in my own faith journey, there have been a number of omissions, mumblings, and mental gymnastics. Over time, though, through saying the Creed, Nicene at the Eucharist and Apostles’ in the Daily Office, I found myself being formed by the words and actually believing in them at a heart level even if my head still struggles. I don’t think Christian faith is not about getting our beliefs exactly right. Yet I don’t think I can give my heart to something my mind rejects.
Marcus Borg actually helped me resolve much of this. Marcus Borg’s writings offer this understanding “… the ancient meanings of “credo” and of “believe.” Credo is the word from which we get the word creed, and it’s also the opening word of the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed. Very strikingly, the roots of the word in both Greek and Latin do not mean, I agree with my intellect that the following statements are true, but rather mean, I give my heart to, I give my self at its deepest level to. To what, to these statements? No. I give my heart to God. Which God? The creator of Heaven and Earth. I give my heart to Jesus. Which Jesus? The one who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate and so forth. These are statements of what I give my loyalty to.” End quote.
And I am also helped when we say, “we believe” since even if I personally might not be able to fully accept a certain point on any given day. Our corporate saying of the Creed links me to all of you and I am no longer dependent on my ever-shifting feelings.
I’ve made peace with the Nicene Creed yet all along my struggling path I assumed everyone else in the congregation had no trouble with the Creed or really any other part of the liturgy. As a newcomer, I just assumed all of you knew the secret of certain belief. Ah, not true. As soon as I shared my doubts, I connected with fellow seekers struggling with our faith.
And as a person and as a priest I want to welcome unchurched guests to our communities. And I want what we do to make the most possible sense to them because their conversion and formation is also ours. When their uncertainty, tentative hope, reservations, wistfulness, bottled up resentment at organized religion, etc. walk in the door, it’s a part of ourselves we’re seeing. How do we and they celebrate the embrace of a God whose love is stronger than death, a God who comes to us to share our full humanity, a God who doesn’t ask us to be certain and who actually doesn’t hold our still forming religious opinions against us?
I hope they experience in the Eucharist, in the continued back-and-forth conversation of the liturgy as I do. In the first part of worship, we receive the proclamation of God’s Word revealed in Scripture and [hopefully] broken open in the homily. We then respond with the affirmation of our common faith. In sort of a mirror image of that, we present our gifts of bread and wine along with our selves, our souls and bodies, which are revealed as the Body and Blood of Christ broken open and poured out for us.
Doubt is part of us, part of our wholeness, our holiness. Let us take our doubts to the altar; take them to the altar along with our gifts of bread and wine, the work of our hands and our selves, our souls and bodies.
How does Jesus respond to Thomas’ doubts? Jesus shows his scars, his vulnerability. Yes, we have a scarred God who knows joy, sadness, pain, who knows what it is to loose a son. The Risen Christ still bears on his body the scars that speak of his solidarity with human suffering in all of its forms. These scars serve as a reminder that God is with us through all things, especially the appalling, destructive and scary times.
Many of us have stories of our scars. In my family, all my mother’s seven children had stitches by the time they were 2 years old. My scar is at the end of my middle finger on my left hand. While playing with my brother Pat and a rocking chair, my fingertip was severely pinched. Somehow this scar is a badge of belonging to an active, wild pack of siblings and part of the reason for my mother’s white hair. It seems there are some scars we love to show off, and there are others we want to hide so no one ever knows. Yet scars, whether visible to the eye or not, are something we all have in common — something everyone shares. We all have experienced pain, both physically and emotionally, in our lives. Yet we are reluctant to share them with one another. Christ’s scars become part of our story, and our scars become a part of God’s story in our lives. The scars of Christ become scars of hope as we deal with our own wounds in life.
It’s hard to be vulnerable, and it’s hard to tell the bold truth about our lives and admit how we hurt. It’s uncomfortable and risky. And yet when we can begin to share our vulnerabilities with one another, we can experience that same type of connection, of transformation—the shift from fear to joy—that the disciples had when they saw the scars of Jesus. And daring greatly, we can, with confidence, joyfully celebrate that Christ’s redemption is greater than any wound and able to heal any scar. Instead of hiding our scars, let us say, “Look and see where God has redeemed me.”
Jesus said to them again “Peace be with you. “ It was important enough that he says it twice. Jesus’ peace comes without blame or shame. He did not ask, “Where were you? I thought we were a band of friends that would stick together through everything, even the turmoil of death.” The peace of Christ is something alive and active, something liberating and dynamic. It is life and love and joy. Paradoxically, it is a gift which both calms and challenges us – it does not grant us an immunity to pain and suffering, or even death, rather it enables us to face all these painful realities and triumph over them in union with Christ himself.
For me somehow joining doubts, uncertainty, vulnerability and scars is core to my relationship with God and God’s beloved children
Just as Jesus came to the disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening, while they were hiding in fear behind closed doors, so too he comes today and shows himself to us, bringing us his peace, and enabling us, like them, to rejoice in the knowledge that he is risen indeed. We share this peace with each celebration of the Eucharist. The sign of peace. Shalom Aleichem, pax vobiscum, peace be with you—from God for all the world.
Peace be with you. Amen