Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:19-31
How do you get to that kind of faith where you can believe without seeing with an unshakeable faith that God is with us?
I’m willing to bet that most of us remember this story from John through the character of “doubting Thomas,” the one disciple who asks Jesus to see the wounds in his hands and side, as if that conveys more of a sense of doubt than huddling locked up in a room would. There was no Easter brass ensemble playing the “hallelujah chorus” that night. The soaring possibilities contained within an empty tomb must have felt shattered by the glaring reality that the one whom they had followed was convicted as a criminal, died, and whose body was now missing.
What I love about this story is that Jesus isn’t phased by the doubt conveyed by the actions of his disciples. He comes to them, even among locked rooms and fearful cowering, to show them his side and hands. He offers his body to them as proof of his death and resurrection before they even ask. He is not put off by their doubt, in fact, perhaps its the very reason he needed to come back to them in the first place.
The good news of Easter is that this too is when Christ comes to us. The question for each one of us is, where are the places in our own lives where we’ve barricaded ourselves in and locked the door in fear or doubt. What are you hiding from? Where are the places we do not believe Christ will come to us. These are the places that are ripe for transformation.
Doubt has this uncanny ability of taking root in our lives without us quite realizing it. Particularly for those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer or an ally to LGBTQ people, doubt can come in when we are afraid of the repercussions of sharing the fullness of our lives in our faith communities, afraid that by doing so we might ‘rock the boat’ too much with people who might be made uncomfortable by our presence. Out of fear or past trauma we protect ourselves by not speaking up about the hurts we’ve experienced from Christians, or our hopes for the future of the church. Conversely, we doubt that our one voice has the power to change anything. We doubt that one conversation can create a spark that helps heal hearts and minds. Our doubt that God would be so bold as to come to us and speak through us can creep in and choke the words right out of our mouth, so we remain silent. Locked in our rooms.
I believe the Presbyterian Church (USA) is also ripe for transformation. In some ways our Church has felt barricaded in with the door locked tight. The commissioners who will attend the General Assembly in June will not only seek to do justice as they consider updating the Book of Order to allow clergy to conduct same-sex ceremonies, but they will also try to do what they perceive is in the best interests of our denomination as a whole. This intersection is a place where fear can grow, namely extending justice to LGBTQ people will cause disunity within our presbyteries and denomination. This fear has immobilized some commissioners at past General Assemblies and caused them to minimize the wounds of LGBTQ people in our denomination which still refuses to celebrate all loving, committed relationships.
“My Lord and my God!” this exclamation from Thomas is like a new shoot breaking forth from the ground promising that spring has finally come again. As believers in things yet unseen we hold on to the promise that Christ will come even to the places where our doubt is strongest.
The miracle of Easter is: no matter where you find yourself—whether you feel like you are in a locked room, sitting in wide-mouthed wonder outside an empty tomb, or if the shadow of your doubt casts too far of a shadow for you to see any light—you might want to take off your shoes and socks, for the place you are standing on is fertile ground for transformation. Your everlasting Easter joy is borne out of the rich soil of the darkest hour the day you first believed. When you find it, hold on to that vision, and receive the Holy Spirit so that you might provide a beacon of hope and a balm to others for healing in this broken world.
Yours on the journey,
Alex Patchin McNeill, Executive Director