2 Easter B—4/12/15
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
Pr. Scott Kramer
Before we gathered here for worship last Sunday many of us gathered around a fire by the lake before dawn and as we worshiped the sky grew brighter and the sun eventually rose above the horizon. Light and darkness are Easter themes and the author of our gospel and epistle readings this morning loves the language of light and dark. For example, in today’s second reading John assures us that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
John tends to think in “black and white” terms: Dark is bad and light is good. But is that always true? Think about the natural world: How would we get any rest without darkness? How could we appreciate the moon and the stars and other wonders of the night sky without darkness? John’s testimony leaves room for doubt!
Today’s gospel reading includes the disciple famously known as “doubting Thomas.” Jesus says to Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe.” Doubt is bad. Faith is good. Seems pretty straightforward. But did you know the word “doubt” never actually appears in this reading? The English translation uses the word “doubt” but in the original Greek Jesus says, “Do not be unbelieving.”
What’s the difference? Some wise person once said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” Dear friends in Christ, doubt is a companion of faith, a crucial part of faith, somewhat in the same way that death is not the opposite of life, but part of life. And, denying the existence of doubt in our lives is about as helpful as denying that one day all of us will die. Author Frederick Buechner writes: Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving!
In v. 22 Jesus appears to his disciples and says to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. The biblical word for “spirit” is the same word as “breath.” As Jesus breathes on his disciples, he gives them a visible sign of the Holy Spirit. Think of your breath. Who among us inhales only? Who among us exhales only? To be alive is to experience that natural rhythm of breathing in and breathing out. Receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus says. He breathes out the gift of the Spirit. We breathe in that same Spirit…
In a similar way, our faith is tested and expanded by our doubts. Our doubts are tested and expanded by faith. Otherwise, how can we learn and grow? And yet, many Christians—fearing their doubts–cling to habits and beliefs of a lifetime. Unfortunately, it is this certainty, this rigidity that people outside the church see, and find incompatible with their own human experience.
We do not come to Sunday worship merely to have our beliefs reinforced. Sometimes, the Word of God does that, but many times, if we’re paying attention, it will shake us to the core, upsetting our beliefs and our certainties, and over time deepening our experience of the Holy Spirit—maybe even to the point of being transformed into something new.
On that first Easter evening, Jesus appeared to his disciples and John writes in v.20 that it was only after he showed them his wounds that they dared to hope. They were no different from Thomas! They needed to see. Jesus created doubt in what they believed was possible or impossible.
In his first letter to the Corinthians St. Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” Over the past two thousand years the world, like Thomas, has been testing to see if we really are that body of Christ, or not.
The world outside the church has little patience with spiritual talk, doctrine, tradition, “going to church” for its own sake. They need to know with their senses that we really are the body of Christ. And they are right to demand it, for this is nothing more than we ourselves have demanded, as John writes in today’s second reading: We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands,… we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us. We need to know through our God-given senses the presence and power of Christ!
What does it mean for the world to see and touch and hear and feel the body of Christ? In our first reading we hear this account of the early church: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
What do you think? Do you believe in the example of these early Christians? Everything you’ve been taught shouts, “No!” But certainty can be the opposite of faith. Certainty, in fact, is often a companion of fear.
What does this mean for us? It means that disciples of Jesus Christ set aside certainty. Leave certainty to the religious fundamentalists and the atheists! Instead, we make room for the power of the Holy Spirit: breathe in, breathe out—now faith, now doubt. Being certain of what we believe does Christ no favors. Being certain of what we believe does the world no favors either, for the world needs to see and to hear and to touch the living body of Christ.
We give the world a glimpse of what they need when we tend to the work we’ve been given. Listen to a few descriptions of what that resurrected body of Christ looks like in today’s readings: There was not a needy person among them (Acts)…How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity (Psalm)…We have fellowship with one another (1 John)…which means practicing what Jesus did for his disciples: extending a word of forgiveness and reconciliation, first of all to one another and then to the world: Peace be with you, he said not once but three times.
Light and dark need each other. Life and death need each other. Faith and doubt need each other. We need each other, and most of all, the world that God loves needs to touch and hear the living Christ, and to see by our lives that he is risen!