Like many priests and Christians, Easter Sunday is my favorite day of the whole year. One of my top two reasons for wanting to be ordained was so that I could proclaim “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” on Easter morning. (If you’re interested, the other reason was so that I could say “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” These remain two of the best parts of the priesthood for me).
As much as I love Easter Sunday, I love the Sunday after Easter just as much. Considered a “low” Sunday in the church (because after everyone exhausts themselves with Holy Week and Easter services attendance is often low the week after) Easter II provides us with what I consider the only appropriate passage of scripture to follow the news of Christ’s Resurrection.
On Easter II we hear the story of Thomas, who had evidently stepped out of the room where the disciples were locked after Christ’s crucifixion, and upon his exit misses the first appearance of the Risen Christ to the disciples. He comes back from wherever he was and his buddies try to tell him that Jesus is back. Like any clear-thinking, rational, and sane human being, Thomas replies with a variation of: “Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it”.
The telling of this story is such a gift to all of us the week after Easter. As much as I love proclaiming the Resurrection, the reality is that this story is unbelievable. Resurrection is impossible – the idea outrageous. And as humans we struggle to wrap our heads around the fact that Jesus comes back to life. So I always appreciate that Thomas responds to this event with a hefty dose of skepticism and disbelief. He was a disciple, after all. He saw Jesus do all kinds of crazy things. And he still isn’t buying Resurrection.
I encounter a lot of doubt in my work with teenagers at ECC. Many of the teens that come to camp are exploring their faith, asking questions, and trying to figure out what they believe. When I ask them straight out what they believe I get a variety of responses, but what I can generally glean is this:
– most of them believe in some kind of higher power
– some of them believe in Jesus
– few of them believe in the Church
These are hard truths for me to share, especially as a leader in a church that is facing fears about our viability in a secular world. We talk a lot about wanting young people to be more involved in the church, and we brainstorm how to get them to come to church. Admittedly, teenagers are in a particular stage of life where doubt and questioning are really common parts of development, but I think it’s important for us to acknowledge this reality.
I work with teenagers who devote their whole summer to living and working (for hardly any money) in Christian community. We celebrate the Eucharist every day. We talk about God all the time. And even these most involved and committed young people can’t make a definitive statement about whether they believe in Jesus. They are extremely skeptical about organized religion. And with good reason! We haven’t always have the best reputation.
I can get a little freaked out when I talk to these teens. I can be tempted to do a whole song and dance about how great the church is. I find myself wanting to make a hard sell about why they should believe, and how real Jesus is in my life, and how much the church has done for me and so many others. But instead I have to take a deep breath and just keep listening to them. Which is when I hear this:
– “This place is a second home for me.”
– “When we sing the songs at church in the barn I always feel my heart swell.”
– “The friends I have made here allow me to be completely myself with no judgement.”
Then I consider the second part of Thomas’ story. The part when, despite his disbelief, Jesus appears before him and reaches out his hand, allowing Thomas the very thing he said he needed: a chance to put his finger in the wound in Jesus’ hand.
This story could have ended a lot differently. It could have ended with nothing. Thomas could have been punished for his doubt, and because of it could have been robbed of the opportunity to stand in front of the Risen Christ. But he is not punished. Instead he is given the experience of the Divine. He gets to stand in the presence of the Resurrection. He knows new life, and God the Son reaches out to him in love.
It’s so freeing to know that we aren’t punished for doubting. I don’t struggle with doubting the existence of God in my life, but when I’m not inappropriately hyper-focused on someone else’s spiritual journey (or lack there of), I can pay attention to my own enough to realize that I certainly doubt whether or not God is going to show up for me. I’ll give over some aspect of my life to God, praying for God’s will to be made clear and then I’ll change my mind and try to take back the control because probably my ideas for my life are better anyway. Yeah, right. I’ll pray for God to transform something in my life and then, convinced transformation won’t happen, I’ll try to manage it myself (which always totally works…). Or one I’m really proud of, I’ll decide since God has come through for me so many times before I’ve probably used up all my chances and he’s getting bored with me and has better things to do. So I’ll be convinced that the bottom is about to fall out of whatever life thing I’m trying to navigate.
But here’s what I’ve learned: God always provides. God does not give up on us. God does not punish us for doubting. We are invited, again and again, to stand in the presence of the Risen Christ and put our finger in the wound. We are given the opportunity over and over again to experience the transformative love of God. We get to feel our hearts swell when we sing songs together. We get to find a second home with people we love. We get to be our authentic selves and be celebrated. No matter how much we question or doubt or fail to show up for God, God shows up for us. And that’s an Easter message I can get behind.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
John Granville Gregory’s Still Doubting