19th April 2020
Rev. Cheryl Collins
These things did Thomas count as real:
the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone,
the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.
The vision of the sceptic mind
was keen enough to make him blind
to any unexpected act
too large for his small world of fact.
His reasoned certainties denied
that one could live when one had died,
until his fingers read like Braille
the markings of the spear and nail.
What makes people believe? Probably the reasons are as numerous as the people who give them. Today’s readings provide just a few examples. In the gospels we have two sets of responses. First of all, there are the disciples, gathered together, their misery and fear locking them in far more effectively than the door that they think is doing the job. They have heard rumours from Mary and from peter and the beloved disciple. But Mary is the only one who claims to have seen the Lord and even she has to admit that she didn’t recognise him at first. Would you believe under those circumstances? But then Jesus comes to them, unmistakably Jesus, full of extraordinary and unpredictable life, free to come and go as he pleases, but Jesus all the same, and they believe. But Thomas is still sceptical. He’ll trust nobody’s evidence but his own. Even his best friends can’t convince him. He lays out very precisely what he will accept as proof. And Jesus gives it to him, uncannily echoing his exact words. Only now, Thomas does not need it, after all. What he needed was for Jesus to hear and respond, and Thomas believes.
In Acts, the process is more complicated. Peter is offering his audience a mixture of reasons for believing. First, he is offering them a new way of seeing what they already know to be true. They have heard about Jesusand about the signs and wonders that he performed and they know what happened to him. Now Peter shows them, through their own scriptures, that this man they thought dead is actually alive with the life of God. As evidence of this, Peter then offers them himself and the other disciples as eyewitnesses. ‘Go on’ he urges, ask us anything you like.’ But lastly, and powerfully, Peter offers them a way of acknowledging what theyhave done. ‘You crucified him,’ Peter tells them. no beating about the bush there. Who knows how many of the people listening to peter were actually present at the crucifixion? But present or not, Peter has judged rightly in thinking that his listeners feel a sense of collective guilt. They know that they and their representatives invoked the ungodly power of Rome to carry out their dirty work, and that Jesus was killed for no good reason. Now they can confess, and hear that God’s purpose was not deflected by their unfaithfulness. They can repent and believe. It is no coincidence I think that both these encounters are collective. The church is born out of these encounters. And one of the things that the church does is act as a place of faith for those who are struggling to believe, and that includes most of us at one time or another. At different times, as the circumstances of our lives or the lives of others challenge our faith, we can be held safe in the faith of our brothers and sisters who will be at different places in their journey with God. And there is nothing wrong with doubt, the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. We are all journeying through the desert, a place of testing and discernment, but however it appears, God is here in the desert with us, and from our journey together come the new songs that we will sing to the Lord.
Whatever our reasons for believing, whatever our struggles with doubt; God meets us in the risen Christ.May we, O God, by grace believe and thus the risen Christ receive, whose raw imprinted palms reach out,
and beckon Thomas from his doubt. Amen