Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 28, 2014
A nimble faith
On this Monday in the Easter season, I find myself mindful of the different ways the gospels tell the story of the first Easter, and especially how the gospels describe the men and women who saw an empty tomb and met the resurrected Christ. Each gospel offers its own spin, but all four have this in common. The disciples have, how shall we say, mixed reactions to the news that Jesus is alive. Most famously, as we always hear on the Second Sunday of Easter (i.e., yesterday), Thomas gets stuck with the adjective “doubting”, forever fixed to his name. He refuses to believe unless he gets physical evidence. That doubt, that skepticism makes him a hero to some. I sometimes think he is the patron saint of Episcopalians who are pretty good at celebrating the questions. But as I read the Gospel of John, it sounds like Thomas is getting called on the carpet, or in biblical parlance, he is upbraided for his doubt.
Lest we are too hard on Thomas, all four gospels indicate that he was not the only one with questions. The gospels describe disciples who doubted (Matthew), who fled the tomb in terror, amazement and fear (Mark), who were perplexed, terrified and startled, who thought they saw a ghost, who were comically clueless about Jesus’ presence until he broke the bread (Luke). Let’s just say that the first disciples did not immediately break into singing “Jesus Christ is risen today.” Before they got to “alleluia”, there were a lot of “I don’t know about this.” And along the way, I’m guessing there were a few ancient near eastern expletives uttered.
For the first disciples, those eleven guys and the several women on whom dawned news of resurrection, it took a while for the news to sink in. Doubt was part of the story. Which is good news for each one of us, because they are us. The news of Easter is amazing. But if it doesn’t prompt questions and wonder and doubts, we may not be paying attention to its claims. The ways the gospels describe the event gives permission for us to embrace the news at our own pace. It gives us the opportunity to believe and disbelieve (a la Emily Dickinson) and thereby to develop a nimble faith.
That nimble faith is the goal, because doubt is not the destination. It is meant to lead to a deeper, more authentic relationship with God, and especially to an embrace of the hope of new life. It is meant to lead to mission, a call to service in a world that needs to hear good news. I don’t know about you, but in a world where religious certainty often breeds intolerance, exclusion and division, I can easily linger, even loiter, maybe lurk in the place of doubt. I can easily take up residence there, gravitating to the religious sidelines, in a slightly defensive posture that says: “At least I’m not like those folks.”
The doubts, the questions, the skepticism that Thomas courageously expressed led him ultimately to worship. We’re called to the same journey. Celebrate the questions. God made us in such a way that we can’t help but ask them. They are a gift. But as you ask them, also ask God to lead you through the questions to a place of deeper commitment, deeper insight into the mystery that surrounds us, into service as a response to the love that comes to us as gift.
– Jay Sidebotham
|We both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble.-Emily Dickinson
If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.
Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.