Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sermon: "Hurting Thomas"

"Hurting Thomas"

Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
Denver, Colorado
Second Sunday of Easter
15 April 2012

Texts: Acts 4.32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1.1-2.2
John 20.19-31

(Rough audio recording of sermon can be found at the end of the text below)

-It’s Eastertide, and I’m kind of depressed that I’m here.  I’ve never really been an Easter kind of Christian.  Maybe it’s the fact that I just can’t stand lillies - or, for that matter, any other pollen-producing agent of the worldwide conspiracy to incite an allergy uprising in my sinuses.  Maybe it’s because I’m still just not quite sure what to do with all of this resurrection business.  Sin, death, and darkness, I can deal with. Resurrection, new life, and sunshine?  I prefer the Lenten minor-key hymns of the crucified Christ to the major-key celebration of the empty cross.  I believe in the resurrection – I’m just not sure how to believe it.

-Maybe that’s why I love today’s Gospel story about Thomas so much.  Because Thomas plays hooky on the first Easter Sunday.  He’s just simply not there with the other eleven when Jesus shows up - walking through walls, breathing out strange Spirits, and, you know, being alive.  And Thomas misses it – simply didn’t go to church on Easter.

-Which makes me wonder: why wasn’t Thomas around?  We are told the others were gathered behind locked doors out of fear of the Jews.  Maybe Thomas was the only one who wasn’t scared.  After all, six chapters back, when Jesus started talking about having to die, it was Thomas who exclaimed, “let us go too, that we might die with him!”  Maybe Thomas was the only one with the stones to go buy groceries, or make a beer run, for his terrified friends.  Or maybe he simply refused to follow the way of Peter’s denial - refused to be ashamed of his love for his crucified master.

-Or maybe Thomas’ love took a different form.  I’ve always wondered if, perhaps, Thomas loved Jesus so much that he was off doing what any good Jew would have done for a loved one: grieving - what they called “sitting Shiva,” Hebrew for the seven days you sat in mourning.  I wonder if, while the others were cowering, he was grieving the death of the one he was willing to die for.  While the others locked up their love behind fear, he chose loyalty, sitting Shiva at the foot of the cross.  Even on Easter Sunday.

-Which helps me make sense of why Thomas seems so angry with his eleven friends when they come in hoot-and-hollerin’ about resurrection.  If I’m in the midst of suffering pain, loss, and grief, I’m thinking I would have said the same thing as Thomas.  “You cowards.  I’m grieving - like you should be - and you come in here, trample on my grief, acting like nothing happened. telling me about your amazing worship experience, and expect me to believe your crazy story - respect my grief. Or else, get lost.”  

-See, I don’t think Thomas deserves his infamous title, “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t think anyone doubts just for doubting sake. And certainly, no one doubts in a vacuum.  I think every doubt has a story behind it.  I wonder if there were some dashed hopes, shattered dreams, unfulfilled promises behind Thomas‘ bitter refusal to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead., Maybe there was some anger and betrayal and unheard cries for companionship and community behind Thomas’ reaction.

-So “Doubting Thomas” just doesn’t seem fair.  Maybe “Hurting Thomas” is a better appellation.  Or “Grieving Thomas.”  Or just plain “Human Thomas.”  Or, do away with labels completely.  Just Thomas.  Regardless, I suspect he’s been each of us at some point in our journey of doubt and faith.  

-But see, the story doesn’t end with Thomas’ anger.  Somehow, the following Sunday, Thomas returns to the community - back at worship again.  And once more, I wonder: why?

-I wonder if the other disciples, those faltering Jesus followers have something to do with it.  Because I wonder if, perhaps, one or two of Thomas’ friends...listened to him.  Heard his grief and his pain.  Maybe they even sat down with their friend.  Not in denial of their own amazing experience of the Risen Jesus.  But rather, perhaps, because of it,.  Maybe because of their experience of resurrection they were willing to be with Thomas in the midst of his so-called doubt.  Offering not answers and arguments, but companionship and community.

-St. Vincent de Paul once wrote that, “it is only because of your love that the poor will forgive you the gift of your bread.”  I wonder if Thomas forgave the disciples the gift of their disturbing, disruptive resurrection testimony because they shared with Thomas the gift of their loving, patient presence.  I wonder if they were also able to forgive Thomas the hurt caused by his doubt, because of their willingness to enter into the doubt caused by his hurt.

-Perhaps the disciples’ testimony about the resurrected Jesus was made believable, not because they understood it any better than Thomas, but because the Spirit breathed from the Risen Christ had begun to transform them into people unafraid of doubt, of despair, of grief, or of suffering.  Had begun to shape them into a people capable of fulfilling Jesus’ first resurrection commandment.  His first commandment to us after he was raised from the dead was not to believe, or, “teach doctrines,” but to be at peace, to forgive, and to be reconciled to one another.  Perhaps the Spirit had already begun resurrection in their lives.  But a resurrection that always-already marked by the scars of the cross.  

-And I have to hope that the disciples also learned something from Thomas.  For when Thomas looked through the holes in Jesus’ hands and sides, he saw a glimpse of a new reality far beyond anything he had possibly dreamed.  He confesses, more boldly, more confidently, than any person ever before him, “my Lord and my God!”  Thomas glimpsed a God who reigns from heaven, not as a supernatural spiritual supermodel, but with scars on God’s glorious body.  Thomas looked through those holes, like an adventurer peering through a spyglass, glimpsing a vast, undiscovered dimension of reality in which it is not only permitted to doubt your doubts, but also, to believe your beliefs.  Where the last word is not despair, death, or suffering, but rather, reconciliation, restoration, and new creation.

-I wonder if that’s how it works for us as well.  I’m still not exactly sure how to believe in resurrection. But I have the funny feeling that I’ve already been living in it.  Not because of any belief or doubt on my end.  But because the arms of the wounded Christ have been holding me all along, through this community of wounded healers called church.  Where, whether we are a believer, a doubter, or somewhere in the vast in-between, we breathe with the same Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus.  Where, being willing to share and look through the wounds we all bear, we catch glimpses of a mysterious reality:  that, even when we cannot get ourselves to the resurrection, Christ is in the business of getting the resurrection to us.  Whether we believe it or not.


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