Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1 – 2:2; John 20:19-31
The Second Sunday of Easter is often called “Low Sunday.” Some clergy I’ve known have said that the name refers to the fact that attendance on this Sunday is much lower than the attendance on Easter Sunday. After doing some checking, though, it seems that it’s called “low” in comparison with the “high” feast that we celebrated last week. This Sunday was, evidently, considered relatively unimportant.
But I object to that. First, we consider every Sunday to be a “little Easter.” Every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. And the propers, the scriptures we read on those Sundays, are important too. From now until the Feast of the Ascension on May 13, we read about Christ appearing to believers after his death and resurrection. Every appearance has an important message for us. The gospel writers didn’t put them in just for fun!
Today we get the story of “Doubting Thomas.” Now, Thomas is a really great character, but he gets a bum rap. He was also known as “Didymus,” which simply means “the Twin.” Unfortunately, we don’t know if he actually was a twin or if maybe he just looked a lot like someone else. We call him “Doubting Thomas,” but he wasn’t any more of a doubter than the other disciples. We don’t see it in John’s Gospel, but in Luke, the women go to the tomb, and instead of Jesus find “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning” who tell them that Jesus has been raised. They run to tell the remaining eleven apostles. And what do the men do? According to Luke “…they did not believe the women, because their words seemed like nonsense.” In Mark we read that Mary Magdalen told the disciples that Jesus had risen. And, of course, “When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.”
So let’s not be too rough on poor Thomas today. A friend of mine in Montana likes to call him “Brave Thomas,” because when Lazarus died and Jesus announced he would go to Bethany – a place very close to Jerusalem, a place that was dangerous for Jesus — Thomas said, “Well, then, let’s go and die with him.”
And Thomas was perfectly willing to admit he was wrong. When Jesus showed up and offered to let Thomas put his hand into the wound in his side, Thomas immediately said “My Lord and my God!”
And when Jesus responded “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” I can’t help thinking that he said it with a knowing, sidelong look at the other disciples.
Who has not seen and yet has come to believe? Well, most of us. And yet we still doubt. Of course we do. We’re human! Even Mother Theresa sometimes doubted that God was real. We have doubts about that, we have doubts about our salvation, we have doubts about a lot of things. So what do we do with doubt?
Well, first, of course, we need to realize that it’s not a mortal sin. It’s just something that happens to us. You might notice that Jesus didn’t berate Thomas for not believing that he had risen. He just loved him.
There are schools of Christianity that tell us that having doubt means a lack of faith and that is just not true. Many people who begin to have doubts in this kind of environment can be pushed away from Christianity as guilt sets in and they no longer feel they can belong.
At the same time, we can’t just ignore our doubts or treat them as something that don’t need to be addressed. That is a good way to give doubt a permanent home.
In point fact, doubt, when handled properly, can actually increase your faith.
My Dominican brother Kevin Goodrich, a traveling priest and former Master of the Order of Preachers, recently outlined 5 specific things you can do to deal with doubt.
First, Pray. Pray about your doubts. If you haven’t had a regular prayer life, start one. If you don’t know how, I will be glad to try to help you get one started. And don’t just pray about your doubts, thank God for blessings. Pray for others. And get others to pray for you. It’s OK to admit to others that you have doubts. Really.
Second, Think it through. You’d be amazed at how many issues have already been discussed to death by philosophers, theologians, and scientists. Read them. Do the mental work. Many people who have wrestled with these problem have become believers after wrestling with the issues.
Third, Feel it through. If some kind of trauma has caused your doubts, don’t keep those feelings in. Connect with them. Pray about them. And, perhaps, seek help. A pastor, counselor or spiritual director may be of service.
Fourth, Doubt the doubt. Just because something popped into your head doesn’t mean you have to dwell on it or believe it. One good practice is to reaffirm your core beliefs. Another is to ask God to help you resolve your doubts.
Fifth, Feed your faith. A lot of the time, we start looking or things that back up our doubts. But if we feed our doubt, we need to spend just as much time feeding our faith. Keep worshiping. Stay connected with your faith community. Talk it over with them.
As Episcopalians, we believe that it is OK to question our faith, that questioning can lead to greater faith. We believe that God still loves us, even when we question Him.
And faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is what you do even when there are doubts. Just ask Mother Theresa.