The Second Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Torey Lightcap

Thomas gets a bad rap in the gospels.
We paint him with too broad a brush.
We call him “Doubting Thomas”
Because at first blush he seems to be demanding a higher burden of proof
That Jesus’ resurrection was really a thing that had happened.
We see him scowling, getting out his scales, putting on a green eyeshade,
Ready to bat away any evidence of the resurrection.

But stop a minute. Press rewind.
What he said was, “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.” Then rewind a bit more.
If you recall,
This is precisely the same experience
That the other disciples had just told him they’d had with Jesus.
He wasn’t asking for more proof; he was asking for the same proof.

He was not Doubting Thomas so much as Out-of-the-Room-at-the-Time Thomas.
He was Momentarily Absent Thomas.
And he was fully prepared to have his mind changed,
Which is absolutely what happened in that room on that day: “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas’ request for proof was not unreasonable.
He simply seemed to be asking for equal treatment, and Jesus was quick to oblige. God is good.

Because I read this scripture in this way,
I usually don’t make too much of the whole doubt-versus-faith angle with Thomas.
I find these categories to be rather artificial,
And I hope that when we read this, we simply remember that Thomas is a whole human being.
After all, people are complicated: we have opinions, and shades of opinions,
And we can hold more than one interpretation as being true at the same time –
Even two things that may seem to be totally and objectively opposed.
That isn’t a lack of faith; it’s using the minds God gave us.

It is within the capacity of our createdness, and shows our goodness, and our gifts from God,
That we get to wonder, and ask questions, and express doubts,
And hold one thing against another when the two of them don’t seem to match.

Any religion that shuns the truth of this element of the human experience
Will be obsessed about having the answers – propaganda dressed up as doctrine.
Thomas is not to be thought of as being somehow less-than
Just because of these perfectly natural questions that he has.
Jesus does not shame Thomas for who he is; rather, he shows Thomas who he is.

Bishop J.A.T. Robinson wrote, “Faith is a constant dialogue with doubt.” Succinct.
The monk and writer Thomas Merton wrote,
“Faith is a principle of questioning and struggle
Before it becomes a principle of certitude and peace.”

The Eastern Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware wrote:
“It is by no means impossible for faith to coexist with doubt.
The two are not mutually exclusive.
Perhaps there are some who by God’s grace retain throughout their life
The faith of a little child, enabling them to accept without question
All that they have been taught.
For most of those living in the West today, however, such an attitude is simply not possible.
We have to make our own the cry, ‘Lord, I believe: help my unbelief’ [Mark 9:24].
For very many of us this will remain our constant prayer right up to the very gates of death.
Yet doubt does not in itself signify lack of faith.
It may mean the opposite – that our faith is alive and growing.”

Like many in college, I took the Western Civilization courses as a sophomore.
We went to class every day, reading the classics and studying the history
From the Aeneid right up to what was then the present moment.
Along the way, we learned about war, power, genocide, the destruction of whole cultures.

I walked out of school that year and took a summer newspaper internship.
When I wasn’t working, I was sitting on my bed, writing letters to Jacquie,
Reading over the gospels, and thinking about my Civ classes.
I kept turning over one simple question in my mind:
“Why are people so cruel to each other?”
I didn’t get very far with any particularly erudite answers,
But the subject continued to eat away at me.

When I returned to school in the fall, I sought out people
Who I thought would at least be willing to be in conversation with me about this question I had.
At first I didn’t find anyone.
The people I thought were the smartest, or the best speakers,
Or the ones who seemed to have the greatest faith in God – no one was really willing to engage.
Not that I had a stumper of a question: it just seemed that they were just too busy to talk.

A little agnostic, a little burnt out on life, but still in love with the life and teachings of Jesus, I wandered a bit.
Eventually, as with so many, my life became a commercial for The Episcopal Church.

It feels strange to say it now, but I think I understand:
I had come up in a faith tradition that
That already had all the answers, …
That shamed me for asking questions, …
That told me to keep my doubts to myself.
How expansive, to find myself in a community of honest inquirers.
They didn’t have the answers either;
But those clear-eyed Christians were skilled at helping me trade up.
I learned to take the questions and doubts I came in the door with
And exchange them for better versions of themselves:
More apt, more faith-filled. More infused with the Spirit.

The heart of Jesus is an infinite well of compassion.
He is quick to teach and re-teach, showing us his wounds as often as we need to be reminded
That yes, resurrection is not only possible: it is the rule.
It’s true, whether or not we get it, whether or not we believe.

Fortunately, the whole thing does not hang on whether we can apprehend it with our minds.
If it did, we would all fall short.

Rather, it seems to come to how Martin Luther wrote about it in 1529:
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord,
Or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel,
Enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth,
And keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead,
And give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”

And even though “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe” in these things,
“[They are] most certainly true.”

Perhaps there is one more way to think about all this …

We live in a world and in a moment marked by a great and sudden upheaval.
COVID has taken over our days, our nights, our clothing choices, our eating and sleeping habits,
Our thinking, our work, our leisure, …
Even, for just this moment, our style of worship.
Coronavirus registers as monumental force.

Numbers too big to be believed must be reckoned with:
A hundred and forty-six thousand deaths, as of Friday morning;
Thirty-four thousand in this country; eighty people in this state; five in this county.
No one can say with any authority what the effect of all this will be.
We can only agree that yes, this world we live in is complex, ambiguous, uncertain,
And prone to eruption at any time.

And that under our feet is a mountain of grief.

The Jesus we need for just this moment
Is the one whose arms are open wide
To accept the tears and doubts of a trembling humanity.

He did not say,
Come to me, you who have all the answers:
You who are super-rich, or clever, or handsome, or winning,
Or gifted, or put-together, or extraordinarily capable.

He said,
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

He accepts us as we are: broken, grieving, unsure of where we stand
Or how we will face tomorrow.
Whether we doubt or whether we know is of no interest to him.
We are all, in some way, weary, carrying heavy burdens.

Christ loves us totally, without the slightest condition.