Third Sunday of Easter
April 10, 2016
by Melody Kroeger
This is my favorite gospel story! Oh who am I’m kidding – they’re all my favorite!
But the story of Thomas – doubting Thomas – is especially dear to me because he is so much like us – or at least like me: uncertain – even doubtful – in the face of betrayal, emptiness and tragedy.
And given Thomas’ situation, who among us would not be filled with a measure of doubt mixed with a certain amount of fear? Within the short span of five days, the crowds who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, with palm branches and shouts of Hosanna, turned on him and Jesus was brutally executed as an enemy of the state.
“Stop doubting and believe,” Jesus tells us. And, many of us assume that the great religious people, who have walked among us, are models of these words. Stalwarts of faith, they are fully grounded – never doubting – always believing – especially when facing the tyranny of evil. The great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, knelt on the death camp floor, praying with confidence that he would be heard, before climbing the steps of the gallows. Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by government death squads while holding the communion cup over his head at the altar.
Compared to these giants of faith, I confess that I fall woefully short of the mark. Like Thomas, I am tempted to say “Unless I see it, I will not believe it.”
Several years ago, a book was released called “Come Be My Light”. The book was composed of a series of secret letters written between the author and her superiors and confessors.
“So many unanswered questions live within me, I am afraid to uncover them – because of the blasphemy – If there be God – please forgive me – When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. – I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?” Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote these words while serving the poorest of the poor.
You remember this tiny powerhouse, dressed in a blue-bordered sari. Hold her words in your mind as you recall her infectious smile – a smile so brilliant that it captured people thousands of miles from Calcutta. She held the hands of lepers as they died. She kissed the cheeks of faces sunken in starvation. She embraced the poor in a city famous for dirt, misery, hopelessness and death.
Mother Teresa also embraced Thomas’ doubt and fear. She lived her public life loving and smiling, bringing light to others’ darkness. She lived her interior life abandoned, lost, doubting God in the darkness.
Now, doubt isn’t something that gets a lot of pulpit time, but our faith tradition and the experience of the faithful speak of it plenty. From the father who brings his son to Jesus and exclaims: ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ to St. John of the Cross writing of “the Dark Night of the Soul” in the 16th century, doubt is a common thread.
In fact, I’ll put forward that all but a few of us have felt emotionally abandoned by God or have had doubts about God’s existence.
“Stop doubting and believe”, Jesus tells Thomas and Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”
That is a more faith-filled response then my own. Whenever I read this gospel story and I hear Jesus say, “Stop doubting and believe,” I generally want to argue, not only for myself but for the whole worried world. “Yes but…” That is what I want to say. “Yes, I should stop doubting and start believing but…when a tsunami drowns a quarter million people in Indonesian I wonder how a Good and Loving God would allow this to happen. Yes, I believe God is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, but when mud slides and hurricanes and tornadoes rip through communities, tearing families apart, I tremble and doubt.
Yes, the world holds darkness & coldness & misery. And doubt is a part of the life of faith. If we are engaged with the world and others, if we are thinking and inquiring, which is to say, if we are alive. then we are going to have moments, or seasons, of doubt.
Perhaps the better question this gospel story asks us to wrestle with today is not how to stop doubting and believe but to ask instead what animates us and allows us to continue – in the face of doubt. How do we go on?
Perhaps it’s when we hear someone tell of an experience of their faith – when they stand on holy ground – and we get chills. Or, we witness something truly loving, and we think, “There is more to that love than this moment.” Or we hold a newborn infant in our arms. Or we realize that the connection we feel with our partner is holy. It’s when we experience a moment that is so spiritual, so sacred, that we can actually feel God reaching God’s hand into the world. We just know. We move from doubt to belief that there is a God who is bigger than us–that God loves us and desires that we love one another.
Belief and doubt are a paradox – and in the tension between them, hope is born. Hope is what animates us and propels us forward. Hope gave Mother Teresa the energy and will to rise each day – ready to love and serve. Hope gave Dietrich Bonhoeffer the courage and strength to climb the steps to the gallows. Hope allowed Oscar Romero to continue to give voice to the voiceless, despite threats on his life. Hope brings us here – to this place – to worship with these people.
Through hope, we believe once more that there is an eternity that transcends our time and our space and it is good. We believe – once more – that despite the difficulties and challenges of this life, all will be well. Things may not turn out as we expect or plan, but they will be well. We believe that the more we can tie our will to God’s will and our spirits to God’s spirit, the more we will flourish, the more we will be the creatures we were created to be. And once more we have “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”
Have hope and believe.