(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj2UkQ9kLIE) That’s Susan Werner’s “Probably Not.” She calls it the “Agnostic’s Anthem.” About time someone wrote one of those, isn’t it?
Last Sunday was great! We got Jesus raised from the dead, reintroduced Alleluias back into our vocabulary, and celebrated the installation of our broken cross. And, thanks to what I’m sure was a healthy collection of “Chreasters,” at 10:00 the place was packed!
When asked why many people attend church only at Christmas and Easter, one wise pastor said, “Because those are the only parts of the story they know.” That might be true. And I’m glad folks come on those two Sundays. Who knows? At some point, hearing the familiar parts of the story might intrigue them enough that they’ll want to learn some of the other stories.
But today’s story isn’t for the Chreasters. Today’s story is for the doubters. So, let’s check in on the “grooviest apostle of all,” our good friend Thomas.
It’s the same day the women discover the empty tomb. The disciples are gathered behind a locked door because they’re afraid of what the religious authorities might do to followers of Jesus. They crucified him, right? If I were a follower of Jesus, I’d be terrified, too.
The door is locked, but Jesus shows up. He says “Peace be with you”…like it would do any good. They’re afraid of the authorities, their friend’s been killed, and suddenly, said dead friend shows up alive, despite the fact that the door is bolted shut. I’m not sure if in that moment even Jesus-peace would have calmed me down.
So the resurrected Jesus appears, shows the disciples his wounds…at which point the disciples rejoice, because now they believe. Jesus again grants them his peace. This time, it probably has a better chance of sticking. Then Jesus commissions the disciples–“As God sent me, so I’m sending you”– and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What a great scene! The resurrected Jesus reunites with his closest followers…he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit…A great story….
…for everyone but Thomas. John introduces a plot twist when he reveals that someone was missing from that happy scene. We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the others when Jesus first appeared. All we know is that he wasn’t going to take their news at face value. ‘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.’
Before we go beating up on Thomas for not believing, it’s important to note that, except for the touching-Jesus’-wounds part, all he was asking for was the same thing the other 10 disciples had needed to believe—to see Jesus’ wounds. Just like the other disciples, Thomas longed for certainty that this thing was real. He– all of them– just wanted to be 100% sure—or as sure as they could be– that Jesus really was resurrected.
Wouldn’t that be great? To know without a doubt this whole Jesus thing is certifiably real? Wouldn’t it be great to have incontrovertible proof of the resurrection…then take that proof and show it to all your spiritual-but-not-religious friends, or your agnostic and atheist friends? Wouldn’t it be great to know, really know, that Jesus is risen and living among us?
Thomas gets his proof. A week after Jesus appears to the ten, he appears to them again. This time, Thomas is there. Jesus shows Thomas his wounds, invites him to touch them. Thomas declares, “My lord and my God!” Then Jesus says: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
That last sentence is about us. We haven’t seen the risen Jesus. We haven’t seen his wounds or touched them. From the vantage point of unbelief—or agnosticism—what Jesus says sounds right: the people who don’t see and still believe do seem blessed.
So, what’s a doubter to do? Coming here today is a great first step toward belief—you’ve gathered with the community. Had Thomas been there with the others the first time Jesus appeared, he’d probably have come to believe like the rest of them. But he wasn’t there. Later, though, his companions found him and told him what they’d seen. Maybe it was their taking the time to seek him out and stay connected to him that got Thomas back with the community so that he was there the second time Jesus appeared. For Thomas, it was his community that created space for him to encounter Jesus.
Clarence Jordan, founder of the intentional Christian community, Koinonia, understood community to be crucial to experiencing resurrection. He said this: “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”
We might not have the resurrected Jesus standing here in our midst, we might not ever get to see or touch his wounds, but as long as we stay connected to a community of believers, we will get glimpses of the risen Jesus.
We’ve gotten lots of those glimpses during our broken cross project this Lent and Easter. Just to know that we all feel broken, that we all long to be whole, that we all believe that—somehow—something in the Christian story will save us…It’s so much easier to believe when we’re around other people who believe…or people who also struggle to believe.
If you were here during Lent and glued a glass shard or two onto the cross, how does it feel to look at that cross and know that a piece of you is up there…alongside everybody else’s? Someone stopped by this week who’d missed last Sunday and, I thought, all of Lent. So I started describing the whole cross project, at which point, he interrupted me and said: “Hey! I’ve got a piece of glass on that cross!” Even though he missed most of Lent, he still felt a part of the project, a part of the community.
Did you notice the bulletin cover? Last week, I invited everyone to write down a word or two that describes their experience of the broken cross project. I copied the responses onto a depiction of stained glass. I did it that way so you can take it home and color it. J (There also are blank copies of the stained glass design on the narthex table. Feel free to take one home and color, or use it for a devotional practice…whatever you like.) I invite you to take your bulletins home today. Read through all the responses. Let those responses remind you that all of us together are the body of Christ…and whenever you’re feeling depleted in the belief department, find in the full hearts of the transformed disciples in this community proof that God–through Jesus–is alive and living among us.
Okay. I know. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Downright preacherly. But I’m guessing that if you’re struggling to believe, if you came here today burdened by doubt, if your soul has been longing for certainty about the whole God thing…if those things are true, I doubt this sermon has helped much.
Perhaps this song by Cynthia Clawson will. “A Doubter’s Prayer.”
Play, “A Doubter’s Prayer” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqbkZc8oVig
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016