Do Not Doubt but Believe
John 20:19-31 (TLB)
That evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors, in fear of the Jewish leaders, when suddenly Jesus was standing there among them! After greeting them, he showed them his hands and side.
And how wonderful was their joy as they saw their Lord!
Then he breathed on them and told them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you refuse to forgive them, they are unforgiven."
When they kept telling him, "We have seen the Lord," he replied,
"I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands-and put my fingers into them-
and place my hand into his side."
The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them and greeting them.
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger into my hands. Put your hand into my side.
faithless any longer. Believe!" "My Lord and my God!" Thomas said.
But blessed are those who haven't
seen me and believe anyway."
Jesus' disciples saw him do many other miracles besides the ones told about in this book,
but these are recorded so that you will believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that believing in him you will have life.
”The prayer books illuminated for gentry in the Middle Ages were called Books of Hours. Hours or “offices” were set aside throughout the day, during which prayers were said to commemorate the Virgin, the Passion, the Cross, the Holy Spirit, and the dead. In them drawings invade the pages, sometimes the very words of prayers. In a Book of Hours made for a young French queen, a cluster of angels crowds into an attic, lines of daily offices morph into a gazelle, a juggler balancing a plate, a beggar holding his bowl. In the prayer said for St. Louis, a rabbit hides within the letter B, eating a cabbage leaf. Words become flesh. It’s as if the scribes who made these books could not resist pairing the world—it’s loveliness, its mystery, its dailiness—with the Adoramus te of prayer and supplication.”
This passage is the beginning of the book Practicing Resurrection by Nora Gallagher. For me, one of the joys of being in this congregation is that I so often see the faces of animals peeking through the letters of our prayers. In some ways, this is literally true: having services outdoors means that birds sing through the middle of my prayers and sermons; having services in the parish house means that there have been times when I look at the faces of my congregation, and they include the face of a well-behaved dog who sits still in respectful silence throughout the liturgy. And so many other aspects of our lives blend with our worship life. I watch as the altar on which I consecrate the elements for the sacrament of Holy Eucharist is pulled aside on a Thursday evening to serve as a table on which a parishioner repairs a broken sewing machine for a woman who worships with us from time to time. And then it morphs back into an altar again. The fabric of our lives, joined together in new ways. I think Jesus smiles at moments like these.
The elements of our liturgies are in some ways the most ordinary things possible: water and fire, words and silences, handshakes and meals, flowers and ashes, motion and music. And yet, they are the ways we experience together the connections of community and the love of God. When people asked Jesus deep theological questions, he responded with stories about sheep, about quarreling brothers, about women sweeping, about sprouting plants. To show people what the kingdom of God looked like, he washed dusty feet, spit in a handful of dirt to heal the blind, handed out bread, picked up little children and blessed them, and over and over, touched people.
And still, there are people, even among his closest followers, who keep insisting that ordinary things cannot be anything more than ordinary things. That a human being cannot be anything more than a human being. That death cannot be anything more than death. Jesus does not force them to move beyond their expectations. Instead Jesus allows himself to become vulnerable to the suffering that their unbelief and abandonment inflicts on him as he moves beyond their expectations and into the crucifixion. And then further beyond their expectations into the resurrection.
Thomas does not show up to be with the disciples on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, and so he misses seeing the risen Christ. And I am not entirely joking when I say the best reason I have ever heard for showing up every Sunday to be with the disciples, is that Jesus might be there. And if you don’t show up, you might miss seeing him, and hearing what he has to say to you. The disciples who did show up tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” And Thomas insists, “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.” Even though Thomas has said he will not believe unless God meets his conditions, the next week doubting Thomas shows up on Sunday to be with the disciples. His decision to show up on Sunday to be with the disciples despite his unbelief is the best decision of his entire life. Jesus is there, and this time, Thomas hasn’t missed it.
We could certainly understand why Jesus could be furious with Thomas. But instead of scolding Thomas for his faithlessness, Jesus does something completely unexpected. It is an act of great vulnerability and trust to allow another person to touch your wounds. For each of us, our flesh and blood is both deeply ordinary and deeply precious, and our instinct when it is wounded is to protect it. But God is not impassive: God is humble enough to suffer pain, to let us wound him, to let us deny him, and then to let us touch those wounds.
Words become flesh. It is not just that we see the faces of earthly things peeking through our prayers, it is that in earthly things we see and touch God. God is not just someone we pray to; God is someone we touch. Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” When doubts arise our temptation is to stay remote in the realm of concepts. Remember, when doubts arise in you, that Jesus asks you to touch, to reach out your hand, to extend yourself into the experience of faith, to touch God in something as ordinary as flesh, as common as pain. When Jesus tells Thomas to touch him, when Jesus tells Thomas “Do not doubt, but believe,” doubting Thomas becomes believing Thomas. Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
Every Sunday we have the opportunity to reach out our hands to receive the body of Jesus Christ, broken for you. The pita bread is an ordinary thing you can get at the Heathsville Food Lion. It is served from an ordinary folding card table in an ordinary field or an ordinary house.
You could, if you wanted to, insist that they are nothing more than ordinary things. You could, if you wanted to, insist that God is not here with us. You could, if you wanted to, insist that you cannot touch the flesh of Christ.
Whatever doubts you might have, you have shown up this Sunday to be with the disciples. You have heard Jesus say, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” You have heard John tell you, with frank directness, in his parting words, that the things in his gospel are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. And what next?
When you reach out your hands and touch the bread, when you hear the words, “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven” you could respond by saying, “I will not believe” or you could say, with believing Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Second Sunday after Easter 4/19/09
Note: If you are still confused about how a gay Christian can feel they are 'right' with God I encourage you to read the section of the web site entitled "Gay and Christian? YES!"