I studied theology with a wonderful, wise, acerbic priest named Jim Griffiss. He walked around the campus of the seminary smoking his pipe, lost in deep contemplation of the mysteries of the Trinity.He’d had a distinguished career as an academic and mentored generations of clerics. While he had helped out at various parishes through the years, he’d never served as a rector.
During one lecture, he confided in us, “I’ve never had the chance to preach on Easter day. But if I had, I know exactly what I’d say: ‘To all of you who have not been with us in church since Christmas, let me just say, Go home.’”
He wouldn’t really have said that, of course. He was kidding. But this point was this: Faith is easy when the trumpet is playing and the flowers are fresh and the pews are full. But where our faith is truly molded and shaped and fired is on the other days. To really understand and experience resurrection, one has to sit with the suffering, endure the hardship, touch the wounds.
That’s why I love this Sunday. In the church, we call it “Low Sunday.” It’s the Sunday after Easter, when, if you are here, you are here on purpose. There are no trumpets. The Easter lilies are wilting. Our attendance is low. If you are here, you are here with intention. Perhaps you are wrestling with hard things. Perhaps you are yearning for the peace of Christ but finding it illusive. Perhaps you doubt.
In this Easter week, the headlines have been full of horror. Perhaps, in the wake of the senseless massacre of 140+ young adults in Garissa, Kenya, you wonder, “Is resurrection possible?” Perhaps in light of the news that Djokar Tsarnaev stood for over four minutes near children he then maimed or killed, you wonder, “Are we redeemable? What good is the peace of Christ in the face of the violence of the world?” In the face of the wounds of living, faith is a challenge.
If you are here this morning carrying doubt, you are in good company. Thomas doubted the good news. And he wasn’t alone.
The Bible full of people who doubted: Eve doubted God.
The Israelites in the desert doubted that their long journey was going to be worth it, railing to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die?” The prophet Elijah doubts that God will work through him so intensely that he runs into a cave to hide. In the Christian scriptures, Paul’s letters record some of the doubts of the early church. Philippians, for example, addresses a community so beaten down by persecution that they are tempted to give up on the good news of God in Christ.
Doubt is not an outlier experience in scripture. It is woven through the record of people’s experience of God from the get-go. And a close look at the lives of even the most seemingly stalwart defenders of the faith through the ages reveals that they, too, struggled to believe, at least occasionally. Martin Luther, of all people, while admiring the childlike faith of his children, once said “And I, who would give my body to be burned, find myself asking, ‘Is it really so?”
The question is not whether we doubt but what to do with our doubt. And it is here that Thomas is actually our guide:
On that first Easter Day, Thomas declares to his friends, “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.” We don’t know what happened in the days that followed, but we do know that a week later, He’s still there. He hadn’t turned his back and walked away. He hadn’t gone home. Maybe he spent the week debating the disciples, praying with them, listening to them explain their encounter with Christ, reading the scriptures and trying to make sense of it all.
The following Sunday, Jesus returns to give him what he needs to proclaim his faith.
So that’s the first lesson: stick around. When your faith wavers, show up anyway. Let the faith of others carry you for a while. Keep asking questions. Dig more deeply into the scriptures, into prayer. Bring your doubt to God and ask for help.
That’s the first lesson. And I think Thomas shows us a second lesson about doubt, too. Thomas’s faith comes from touching Christ’s wounds. Thomas goes right to the marks of the nails. His faith comes not from gazing on the victorious, shimmering God. It comes not from touching Christ’s strongest muscles. This is so important. Resurrection redeems real pain and real death. It begins in the places we are most likely to label “God-forsaken.” If you are yearning for faith, go to those places. Touch the wounds of Christ, as they appear today, in the least, the last, the lost of this world. Touch the wounds of Christ as they manifest in you – in the places of your own woundedness. This is what God came to save. Sing a lament, rather than a praise song. Camp out with the obscure rather than partying with the most popular.
This week I took my Girl Scout troop to the Boston Athenaeum. A terrific curator showed us historical maps she was repairing. They recorded the “discoveries” of Europeans journeying through the Himalayas in the early 19th century. They were beautiful. But something was missing. That something was Mt. Everest! They hadn’t discovered it yet. In that map was a lesson in faith: Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Throughout our lives, we are invited to grow in faith and understanding, and so much that we can’t see now may be revealed in the days ahead. If we stick around, and if we touch the wounds of Christ, Jesus will give us what we need. This will never happen on our timetable. It will never happen in a way we can map out or predict. But by grace, we will find ourselves proclaiming “My Lord and my God.”
Happy are those who have not yet seen and yet believe.