St. Thomas

rich wounds, yet visible above

As you might have guessed, I have taken my title from the hymn, “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”  It’s part of the line, “Crown him with many crowns / Behold his hands and side / Rich wounds, yet visible above / In beauty glorified.”  That hymn isn’t usually sung on Easter, but there’s no law saying we can’t!

We’ll get to those rich wounds in a moment.

Our celebration of Easter this year is somewhat muted.  For many it is a great deal muted.  I’ve heard of some churches who plan to wait on celebrating Easter until they can return to their sanctuaries.  I suppose I would remind us that every Sunday, being the Lord’s Day, is a “little Easter.”  There are Christians all over the world who don’t have the luxury of a building on any Sunday.  My guess is they are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord today.

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[He Qi, "Easter Morning"]

And unfortunately, there are still some churches who are doing business as usual.  Of course, if they keep doing that, my prediction is they will very soon not be doing any business at all!

Having said all that, I am well aware of how we, and the rest of the human race, are exploring uncharted territory, to use a considerable understatement.

And sadly, the coronavirus has struck our church family.

If the planet Earth itself was ever in need of resurrection, this is the time.

Jesus is risen from the dead.  Matthew tells us, “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (28:1).  They were in for the surprise of their lives.

There is the utter disbelief of his friends, not to mention his enemies.  Seriously, it was just too insane.  Still, the women were quicker to accept it than the men were.  In his version, Luke tells us the men’s reaction to the women’s report.  “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24:11).

I don’t know about you, but I for one am glad that men disbelieving women is a thing of the past!

To quickly summarize Matthew 28: the women find the stone blocking the tomb has been rolled away.  The guards are quaking in their boots.  An angel tells the women to go and report what they saw, but on the way, Jesus appears to them.  When the priests hear the story, they engineer a coverup.  The disciples go to Galilee and meet the risen Jesus.  He gives them what has come to be known as the Great Commission.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (vv. 18-20).

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A scripture passage often used for funerals is 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s chapter on the resurrection.  A question that gets him started is this: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12).  Later he deals with the questions, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body do they come?” (v. 35).

How do we describe the resurrection body?  Paul says that “this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (v. 53).  I’ll be honest: that really doesn’t help me much!  I have trouble envisioning what that looks like.

Someone who could probably identify with that is Thomas, the so-called “doubting Thomas.”  He wasn’t there when the risen Jesus appeared to his friends.  They say he showed them his hands and side—the hands and side pierced with nail and spear.  He doesn’t believe them, but a week later he does.  Jesus again appears to them, and he shows Thomas that he is real.

Through the ages, people have painted Thomas, not so much as a bad guy, but one who needs a major faith adjustment!  Is it possible that the idea of a resurrected body (as difficult as that is to swallow) still bearing wounds is even more of a stretch?  Here’s where we return to that “rich wounds, yet visible above” business.

The resurrection body of Jesus, who defeated death and the grave, still has scars!  I find that remarkable.  At first thought, we might expect his body, risen from the dead, to be in immaculate condition.  Does God do things by half-measures?  Why not have complete healing?

Perhaps the resurrection body of Jesus models what it means to be scarred.  Maybe it was a way of showing the disciples that it really was him.  They weren’t encountering a ghost; they weren’t having a vision.  So his wounds were a method of identification.

But surely it was much more than that.  In fact, the scriptures give testimony to that.  In 1 Peter 2, we are told, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (v. 24).  By his wounds you have been healed.  Jesus heals by taking on our infirmity.

Back to the idea of an immaculate, a flawless body—God not employing half-measures.  What better way to identify with we humans, to be plunged into human flesh, than to honor it?  Jesus, more than anyone else, understood what it meant to be “the man of sorrows.”  By retaining the scars, Jesus honors the depth of what it means to be human.  After all, he was human!

There has been much discussion about getting back to normal (post pandemic) and how long it will take before it happens.  I don’t believe it will ever happen.  If we somehow pretend to go back to the way things were, we’ll be fooling ourselves.  These events are happening; there’s nothing we can do to change it.  The question will be if we learn from this—if we allow the Spirit to teach us.

Maybe you’ve seen images from around the world what the reduced use of pollution-causing activities has done.  I saw a report on how, in northern India, the reduction of pollution has enabled residents to see the Himalayas, 200 kilometers away (about 125 miles).[1]  Someone commented, “We can see the snow-covered mountains clearly from our roofs.  And not just that, stars are visible at night.  I have never seen anything like this in recent times.”

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And it’s only taken a worldwide disaster to get it done!

Shelly Rambo, who teaches at Boston University School of Theology, has written extensively on trauma.  Something she says about trauma is that it marks “a ‘new normal’ in that there is no possibility of the person returning to who they were before.  A radical break has occurred between the old self and the new one.”[2]  The challenge for one who’s undergone trauma is how to “[integrate] the experience into their life.”  That’s true for us all.  That’s true for us as the church.

We see many reactions to this unwelcome viral visitor, just as we do with other calamities.  One of the most common is one I think we all have had, in one way or another.  We believe God has sent the disease or the storm or the accident or whatever.  Is it God’s will?  Is it a test?  Is it a punishment?  Is it a cruel cosmic joke?

(For what it’s worth, I don’t believe any of those things.  However, I do believe we can choose to believe those things.)

Regardless of what we believe, perhaps the more important point is asking how that belief affects us.  How does it affect our behavior?  How does it affect our faith?  Rambo says we can see Jesus’ wounds as “not only as marks of death but as ways of marking life forward.”

Our scars do not define us.  We all bear scars, be they visible or invisible.

Yes, the scars can be visible.  They might be scars from accidents or surgery.  Maybe we’ve been harmed by others.  Maybe we have harmed ourselves.

And yes, the scars can be invisible.  They might be the result of a constant drumbeat of insults, of ridicule.  Maybe we’ve been rejected because of the way we were born.  Scars can be left—left because of self-deprecation, self-doubt, self-hatred.

4 mtBut that takes us back to the glorious nature of this day.  Rich wounds, yet visible above—in all the ways “above” can mean.  In beauty glorified.  Jesus Christ looks at us, and he sees in our wounds something beautiful.  Our scars are beautiful.

[Even this guy’s scars are beautiful?]

The good news of this Resurrection Day is that the Holy Spirit empowers us as we mark our life forward.  We testify today we as the body of Christ, though wounded we may be, are empowered to say the devil, the grave, that which would harm us, does not have the last word.  Our risen Lord journeys with us as we declare with a holy boldness:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co 15:54-55, 57).

 

[1] www.sbs.com.au/language/english/audio/himalayas-visible-for-first-time-in-30-years-as-pollution-levels-in-india-drop

[2] www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/how-christian-theology-and-practice-are-being-shaped-trauma-studies


spirit to forgive

I want to begin with a story about something that happened almost thirty years ago.  This was when I was a student at Southeastern College (now Southeastern University) in Lakeland, Florida.  That’s an Assemblies of God school.  For two semesters, I was part of a street ministry team that traveled to Tampa on Friday nights.

Our “parish,” so to speak, was a quarter-mile strip along Kennedy Boulevard.  Our “parishioners” were the street people who lived, and passed through, the area.  In those days, I don’t think it was the best part of town.

On my very first night, the very first person I approached was a gentleman clad in shabby-looking clothing.  He appeared to be in his fifties.  Not knowing what else to say, I told him, “Jesus loves you.”  As soon as he heard that, he began crying and telling me how he had lost his family and his career.  I don’t remember if it was because of drinking or gambling or something else, but he recited a litany of his mistakes.

1 pentecostWhen he had finished listing his failures, he asked me if I would forgive him.  At the time, I was thinking, “It’s not my job to forgive him.  I need to direct him to Christ.”  So I told the man Jesus forgives anyone and anything.  But that didn’t work.  It seemed like he needed to hear the words, so again he asked me, “Do you forgive me?”  I relented and said, “I forgive you.”  And with that, he shuffled away into the Tampa night.

Why do I begin with this story of speaking and hearing words of forgiveness?  One might ask, “Is this a theme for Pentecost?”  It’s not even about the Day of Pentecost!  I begin with this story on forgiveness because Jesus makes it a theme in our gospel reading from St. John—which is the gospel text.

I should say some people refer to the event in our gospel text as a “pre-Pentecost” Pentecost.  Already, on the evening of the day of his resurrection, on the evening of Easter, Jesus is giving his disciples the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know about anyone else, but if you picture this, to me it seems kind of strange.  “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22).  That’s what he says, but first, he breathes on them.  (Blow!)  Really?  Is that what it takes?

Actually, it doesn’t say he “blew” on them, but he “breathed on them.”  This is the posture of one who is not reactive, but responsive.  Being in a reactive posture or mode means coming from a place of defensiveness, a lack of listening and learning.  Being in a responsive mode means the opposite.  It is a place of openness, a place of listening and a curiosity which wants to learn.

There are many other things that could be said, but in a physical posture, it means remembering to breathe, paying attention to one’s breath.  (Breathe.)  When we remember to do that, it’s amazing how it helps us to be calm and patient and reflective.  (But it is something I find myself continually needing to practice.)

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The Hebrew word רוח (rua), which means “breath,” “spirit,” or “wind,” was a familiar idea.  John surely would have known about it.  Earlier in his gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (3:8).  So I suppose it does make sense for Jesus to use his breath in granting the Spirit to his disciples!

But we need to back up and see what’s going on, since this is the evening of Easter.  Our scripture text ends before we get to the part about St. Thomas and his questions of believing all this resurrection stuff.  Verse 19 says, “the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities” (Good News Bible).  Jesus suddenly appears out of nowhere and says, “Peace be with you.”  He shows them the now-glorified wounds in his hands and side.  He is not a ghost!

We’re told the disciples have been hiding from the authorities.  No doubt, they’re fearing for their lives.  Before Jesus appears to them, with his words of shalom, they’re thinking about what happened to him.  Still, Craig Barnes, who is president of Princeton Seminary, thinks there’s more to it.  If one understands the human psyche, it seems to be an unavoidable conclusion.

Barnes speaks about, not only fear, but shame.  “Like the disciples,” he says, “we try to hide when we’re ashamed.”[1]  It’s a defense mechanism; it’s almost instinct.  It may seem like a good strategy for a little while.  But, as Barnes says, “Nothing is more crippling to our souls than working at hiding shame.  We lock up more and more doors, sealing off more and more rooms of the heart to prevent our true selves from being discovered.  We think we are keeping the world out, but in fact we are keeping ourselves locked in.”

The disciples are ashamed because, when Jesus needed them the most, they turned around and took off.  They carry a horrible burden of guilt.

But thank God, that isn’t the end of it.  “At the center of the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus Christ has come looking for us.  According to John’s text, he walks right through the locked door to find us.  He shows us his wounds from the cross, which are the marks of our forgiveness.”

With verse 23, we come to what I said earlier may be an unexpected theme for Pentecost: speaking and hearing words of forgiveness, or more directly, forgiving and refusing to forgive.  Right after Jesus tells the disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he adds, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

3 pentecostJesus entrusts the disciples with a great deal of authority.  It isn’t something they have, in and of themselves, but as the community gathered in his name.  As the community—as the church—they have the authority to offer forgiveness of sin.  We do something similar to that every week with our prayer of confession and assurance of pardon.

Jesus is speaking about something very powerful.  On the one hand, if we forgive someone, they are forgiven.  In Matthew 18, Peter has a little chat with Jesus about that (v. 21).  On the other hand, if we retain the sins of any, they are retained.  The Good News Bible says, “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

The Greek has an even stronger force.  First of all, the word for “to forgive” (αφιημι, aphiēmi) also means “to send off,” “to let go.”  I think anytime we’re able, by the grace of God to forgive, we can feel what it means “to let go.”  It’s a burden we’re glad to be rid of.

On the flip side, there’s an equally strong force.  The words “retain” and “not forgive” don’t quite capture it.  The Revised English Bible says that “if you pronounce them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain.”  The Greek word for “retain” (κρατεω, krateō) also means “to hold,” “to seize.”  It comes from the word (κρατος, kratos) that means “strength” or “power.”  It takes a lot of strength to hold on to that stuff.  You wear yourself out.

According to the New Testament, we are a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Pe 2:5, 9).  One of the key roles of a priest is to declare the forgiveness of sins.  We’re told “we disciples are not called to produce forgiveness.  We’re called to be the priest pronouncing that which has been produced on the cross.  We’re called to open the locks and throw open the door, and walk back into the world as a priest who is unafraid.  The only alternative is to live in shrinking prisons of hurt.”[2]

I imagine most of us have sometimes heard it said forgiving also means forgetting.  In order to forgive, we have to forget.  I would humbly have to disagree.  I don’t believe we are called to display amnesia.  I don’t believe we are called to have the attention span of gnats.  That doesn’t improve the character of either party.  That doesn’t help us deal with life.

At this point, I need to interject something.  When someone has been the victim of abuse or assault, forgiveness is a very tricky thing.  Telling someone, “It’s your Christian duty to forgive,” only adds another layer of abuse.  Forgiveness often takes a very long time to come, if it happens at all.  Sometimes the scars are too overwhelming.  I just mentioned the grace of God.  When grace can break through the hurt, it is a wondrous thing.

Moving on, there’s a concept known as “the shadow.”  It’s described as “the place we put all the suppressed and repressed parts of our lives.”[3]  The shadow isn’t evil.  Rather, it’s the stuff about us we want to keep hidden from the world, and even from ourselves.  It’s the stuff we find embarrassing and shameful.

As Richard Rohr says, “Suppressing what we don’t want to deal with is like trying to hold a basketball underwater while going on with life as usual…  What we suppress—the shadow aspect of life—ambushes us sooner or later.  We don’t know why we’re depressed or angry, why everyone and everything is out to get us.”[4]

One big sign of some major repression is the lack of a healthy sense of humor.  Can we laugh at ourselves?  (That might be an unfair question.  Not everyone has the treasure trove I possess which is needed to laugh at oneself!)

Rohr continues, “People who are overly stern and moralistic usually have a significant, repressed shadow.  They walk through life shaking a judgmental finger in disapproval—and they disapprove of just about everything!  They’re often incapable of easy enjoyment.”[5]

I fully believe humor is one of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I say that because I can recall a time when I had no genuine, joyful sense of humor.  Was I a jerk who thought humor consisted of snide comments and sarcastic remarks at someone else’s expense?  Yes.  I was a living example of having “no patience, no forgiveness, no mercy, but only harsh judgments.  No gospel.”[6]  No good news.  (Sad to say, sometimes I still fall into that trap!)

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Looking at our text, one sign we’re open to the Holy Spirit is how willing and able we are to forgive.  Both are important.  There must be both the willingness and the ability.  Remember, just as the disciples find out in their encounter with Jesus, the ability to forgive is a gift.  But the willingness must also be present.  We need to have a spirit to forgive.

In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells us “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (3:17).  That is the deep meaning of Pentecost.  The Spirit of God brings freedom; the Spirit of God liberates.  As people of the Spirit, we reclaim our identity when we send out—when we unleash—the forgiveness of Christ.

When we allow that Spirit to run free in the world, who knows what dangerous and wonderful things will happen?  Why don’t we find out?

 

[1] www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3138

[2] www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3138

[3] Richard Rohr, On the Threshold of Transformation (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2010), 129.

[4] Rohr, 196.

[5] Rohr, 197.

[6] Rohr, 198.


Thomas, the daring doubter

A couple of years ago, I led a discussion of a book by church consultant Peter Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times.[1]  We were talking about the ability to keep one’s head when emotions might overwhelm.  At one point, the discussion took a rather strange turn.  I will admit that I was responsible for that strange turn!

I mentioned the movie World War Z.  It’s about zombies taking over the planet.  It stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, who works with the UN.

He hears about a wall that the Israelis have built to keep out the zombies.  So he boards one of the few planes left flying and goes to Israel, to check it out.  Upon arrival, Gerry meets Jurgen Warmbrunn, an Israeli official, and asks how they could have known to build a wall.  He responds, saying they intercepted a message from an Indian general who said they were fighting “the Rakshasha.  Translation, zombies.”  (And yes, I did consult the internet for lines that I had forgotten!)

Gerry looks at him in disbelief.  “Jurgen Warmbrunn,” he says, “high-ranking official in the Mossad.  Described as sober, efficient, not terribly imaginative.  And yet, you build a wall because you read a communiqué that mentions the word ‘zombie.’”

Warmbrunn sympathizes with his disbelief.  Then he talks about events in which the Jews thought they were safe:  concentration camps in the 30s, the ‘72 Olympics, and war in 1973.  People doubted the danger until it was too late.

“So,” he says, “we decided to make a change.  The tenth man.  If nine of us look at the exact same information and arrive at the same conclusion, it’s the duty of the tenth man to disagree.  No matter how improbable it may seem, the tenth man has to start digging on the assumption that the other nine are wrong.”

Gerry asks, “You were that tenth man?”

He replies, “Precisely.  Since everyone assumed that this talk of ‘zombies’ was cover for something else, I began my investigation on the assumption that when they said ‘zombies,’ they meant zombies.”

Unfortunately for them, the wall doesn’t protect them very long.  Some refugees are singing loudly, and the zombies outside are drawn to the noise.  They climb the wall, with the humans trapped inside.  Like fish in a barrel, they quickly become dinner.  Of course, Brad Pitt escapes!

What I found interesting was the concept of the “tenth man (or woman),” one who disagrees with the others, no matter how unlikely their position might be.

In John 20, I wonder if we can see Thomas, in a way, playing the role of the tenth man.  Going back to my original comment, can we possibly see him as the one who keeps his head when emotions might overwhelm?  I’ll admit that would give his nickname “doubting Thomas” a certain wisdom and awareness of his role!

image from matthewdg.files.wordpress.com

I think St. Thomas has been unfairly portrayed.  It’s not like he’s the only one who doubts that Jesus has been raised from the dead!  Maybe the reason he gets singled out is because he’s the only one absent on that first Easter evening.  Being the odd one out is always a tricky situation.

Here’s a quick side note.  On that evening, the scripture says the disciples were behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (v. 19).  John wrote his gospel in the 90s, near the end of the first century.  By that time, the split between Judaism and Christianity was a couple of decades old, and there was some Jewish persecution of the church.  Still, the reference to “the Jews” is unfortunate.  Throughout history, not understanding the context, people have targeted the Jews as bad guys.  That’s always been a grave injustice.

Now, back to Thomas.  Not everyone has given him grief.  Like the other apostles, who took the gospel to different places, Thomas went on a trip of his own.  Tradition says he headed to the east, eventually arriving in India.  That’s also where he was martyred.  There is a branch of the church known as the St. Thomas Christians.  They still exist, and they trace their history back to the apostle.

Having said that, we still have to acknowledge that Thomas does doubt.  So what about it?  Nancy Rockwell, in her blog “The Bite in the Apple,” has some thoughts about that.[2]

“Like a breath of fresh air, Doubting Thomas enters the over-lilyed atmosphere of Easter.  He’s reliably among us on the Sunday after Easter—and on every Sunday.  He’s part of us, steadily, reassuringly.  He anchors us.”  She admits that believing someone has come back from the grave can be a bit much!

Again, Thomas isn’t the only one in his group who doubts.  He is, however, the only one who gives full voice to it; he’s the only one who states it plainly.  Rockwell draws a parallel between his situation and the ones we find ourselves in.

Doubting Thomas, she says, “belonged to the group, those who believed, those who said they did but didn’t, and those who had questions but were afraid to pipe up.”  She continues, with a comment we might find surprising, “Churches are not communities of believers, but communities of people who have questions, who doubt, who hope, who come to find something out.”

I don’t know about you, but I have been in churches where you dare not ask any questions.  Not swallowing everything hook, line, and sinker, is considered to be a no-no, even sinful.  There’s a saying that goes, you are supposed to check your brain at the door.

I’m not sure what they do with Jesus saying to love “the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37).

Questions are good.  I have questions, and I also have doubts.  Kids have questions, and they also have doubts.  When they come to us with them, it’s okay to say, “I don’t have all the answers,” rather than giving some rehearsed response.  It’s okay to say that to each other.

It’s a good thing when we’re a community that welcomes questions, especially the question, “Why?”  That’s a nice one!  It can also drive you crazy.

Earlier in John’s gospel, there’s an episode that I think shows the courage of Thomas.  (That explains the word “daring” in the title!)

In chapter 11, Jesus gets word that his dear friend Lazarus is at death’s door.  He doesn’t immediately take off, but when he says it’s time to go, his disciples remind him that he’s a wanted man.  If the authorities hear he’s back in town, there’s a jail cell with his name on it!  And there might be something worse with his name on it.

Thomas speaks up and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16).  Some might claim that he’s being a naysayer.  Some would chastise him for sending out negative vibes.  Some might say, “Where’s your faith, Thomas?”

Maybe those are fair complaints.  But it seems to me that we can also see him demonstrating not only courage, but loyalty.  It looks like he’s ready to die with Jesus.  And when his doubts are answered in chapter 20, with Jesus appearing before him, Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  For many people, this is the highlight of the story—when Thomas finally believes.

Our friend Nancy has a slightly different spin.  Three different times Jesus says, “Peace be with you” to these “emotionally exhausted people” (vv. 19, 21, 26).

She says, “The peace of Christ is given to all of them, including Thomas in his doubting.  This peace Christ gives is not just for believers, and it does not separate believers from unbelievers.  The peace of Christ does not separate.  Everything about Christ joins people together, across all the separations:  sin, judgment, defeat; gender, culture, faith.”

There is immense power in the peace of Christ.  It is indeed extended to all, even to those of us who sometimes doubt, whether that doubt is daring or not!  That’s what our liturgical use of it in worship is all about.  Passing the peace of Christ isn’t a matter of chit-chat, of catching up on current events.  It is a matter of binding ourselves together in the bond of peace.  Or better, recognizing and embracing the bond of peace that’s already there.

It might seem like having doubts and the peace of Christ contradict each other.  But God comes to us in the contradictions of our lives.

About these contradictions, Henri Nouwen mentions, “being home while feeling homeless…being popular while feeling lonely, being believers while feeling many doubts.”  These contradictions “can frustrate, irritate, and even discourage us.”[3]  Can any of us relate to this?  Can any of us relate to the father who, upon bringing his child to Jesus for healing, said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”? (Mk 9:24).

We need not be defeated or paralyzed.  “These same contradictions can bring us into touch with a deeper longing, for the fulfillment of a desire that lives beneath all desires and that only God can satisfy.  Contradictions, thus understood, create the friction that can help us move toward God.”

That’s the gift that Thomas discovers.  On the other side of his questions—and even his doubt—he finds God.

I wonder, is it possible to admit that it’s necessary to question, even to doubt?  Is it necessary to do that in order to love our Lord with heart, soul, and mind?  I don’t have the final answer on that.  As I like to do, I am posing the question!

Still, after Thomas’ eyes are opened, Jesus gives him this to chew on.  “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29).

Who are these blessed “who have not seen and yet have come to believe”?  To begin with, there are the people who first hear John’s gospel; they live near the end of the 1st century.  This includes Christians one, two, even three generations after Jesus.  And it includes those down through the centuries, leading to us today.

So I think I’m safe in saying:  take heart.  Remember, churches are more than communities of believers; they are communities of people who have questions, who doubt, who hope, who come to find something out.  And thanks be to God, our Lord is faithful and patient with us.  Our Lord extends peace and pronounces us blessed when we come to believe, no matter how long it takes.  That’s what it means to be the people of the risen Christ.

[1] Peter Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times (Herndon, VA:  The Alban Institute, 2006).

[2] www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/doubting-thomas

[3] wp.henrinouwen.org/daily_meditation_blog/?p=3708