|Caravaggio, "Doubting Thomas", 1603|
The other night we were sharing stories around the dinner table, and Andy shared with Maisy a story Owen has known but she had never heard before. It happened when Andy was six years old. He was playing outside, and had been warned by his Mommy to stay away from the giant hole next door, where a foundation had been dug for a new house. He could play anywhere else, but do NOT go near the hole. Of course, he did, leaning over the edge just to peek, and his feet slipped on the gravel and he fell into the hole.
For what felt like hours he tried to get out, tried to climb, run, scramble, and found he was stuck. From his spot in the bottom of the pit he could see that the sun was beginning to go down, and he knew he was supposed to be home by now. He began to get very afraid.
Finally, he stopped in the middle of the hole and he prayed. “Jesus, please get me out of this hole.” Then he ran to the side and right out – feeling as though he were being lifted, pushed, as he whirled his way up the wall. From there he ran home and immediately told his Mommy what had happened.
When we talked about the story, the kids noticed two things (with a little help from their parents) – one was that Andy prayed. He asked Jesus to meet him where he was afraid and stuck. But they also noticed what he did when he got out – he ran and told someone, he shared how God had been with him, how God helped him.
Like Mary, who runs to the disciples and throws open the door and shouts, “I have seen the Lord!” Like Thomas, unable to keep silent when he touches the holes in his living savior’s hands, yelling out in faith, “My Lord and My God!” these moments when God meets us are not ours alone, they turn us into witnesses of the resurrection. They are meant to be shared, spread, to help others recognize their own encounters with the Risen One, to testify to hope and life.
Resurrection happens, in big and small ways, and we are called to tell the story.
But the funny thing about resurrection…
We never actually see it. All four gospels are pretty explicit about the death of Jesus, lots of details, lots of words and images, we can see, painfully, his death progressing, and when it is over, when “It is FINISHED,” we know he’s dead. It’s been verified and proven with a spear in the side, an earthquake and darkened sky and a temple curtain torn in two. Death is a hard, cold fact. No doubt there.
But the resurrection… now there’s a murky moment. We don’t get a word about it, the actual resurrection itself, I mean. Did he just suddenly open his eyes? Did angels resuscitate him, unwrap him, help him to his feet? Did he suddenly begin breathing or was it a gradual process? We have no idea at all what went on in the darkness of that tomb that day. We have no sense whatsoever of the moment when death gave way to life.
Death we can prove, death we can even cause. But Resurrection we take on faith, and can only be caused by God. Resurrection is an enormously doubtable thing.
While we don’t have a single eye-witness or description of the resurrection itself, what we do have in abundance are stories of encounters with the Risen Lord. Run-ins with the Resurrected One. Moments of meeting Jesus, life-changing, world-shaping moments with the one who was dead and now lives, drawing life out of death as he goes. But how it happens remains a mystery.
In my own life, I have known this to be true. There was a time in my life when I was drowning in grief, caught in despair and could see no way forward, God was dead to me. I was in what 16th century Christian mystic John of the Cross called, “The dark night of the soul”. It didn’t matter what I did, who I spoke to, what went on around me, I could not change where I found myself. Locked in the dark tomb.
I was living in Southern California at the time, and one day I was jogging around the Rose Bowl, trudging along in the same gray fog I had been in for months, and suddenly the wind stirred the leaves above my head, and I looked up, and for a split second it was like someone turned the color on in the world. I saw in startling contrast the bright green of the leaves above me, and beyond that the brilliant blue sky, dotted with gentle white clouds, I saw the sun shining down and heard the birds and the breeze and voices of those around me and I stopped running and stood there, astonished by it all.
I hadn’t realized until that moment that it was as though I had stopped seeing color, or that my hearing had dimmed. But for a split second it was all vivid again – just for a second.
And that moment, it’s as though a voice spoke right into me, through the colors and the sounds and the life: ‘You’re going to be ok.’
This will end, life is coming, and even now is creeping back in.
It didn’t fix or solve anything, and looking back I am not certain when or how resurrection happened, surely it unfolded somewhere amidst the love of those on whose shoulders I cried; I suspect it must have been through the support of those who stood by me through the months as I adjusted to what was dead and gone, as forgiveness began creeping in unannounced, surely those were the times Jesus was with me, even when I did not recognize him. But in the fog of it all I have no idea that resurrection was happening, or how it began. I do, however, have that moment. When the silence and absence of God seemed to break open and I knew that God was still there. I believed suddenly what I had doubted for some time: that God still held it all – that I was still alive. I have the moment Jesus whispered to me, “You’re going to be ok." and my faith returned and so I know Resurrection happens.
Last week we saw Mary’s Resurrection story. Which is to say, we saw the moment Mary encountered the Risen Christ. Jesus spoke her name; Jesus called to her and she saw him, and it changed everything. This week we have Thomas’ story.
I have always liked the story of Thomas. The one who wont be satisfied with heresay. He had given his all to this Jesus and now that Jesus is dead, gone, Thomas isn’t going to blindly believe on the word of others. He wants his own encounter, to see Jesus and touch him, just like the others got.
We call Thomas “the doubter,” but the Gospel of John never calls him that. In fact, he serves, for John, as a model of faith. “Faith without doubt is dead faith” said Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno. Thomas’ savior is dead; he wont tolerate a dead faith too. Thomas doesn’t crave answers, he isn’t looking for foolproof facts, or persuasive arguments. He needs the person of Christ to say his name, like Mary, to take his hand and speak to him. He needs his own resurrection moment with the Word made Flesh.
So when Jesus comes again, the first thing he does is speak to Thomas, “Reach out your hand, put it here, Thomas. Do not doubt, but believe.” He meets Thomas right where he is, in his need and his doubt, and even his stipulations, and invites him to meet Jesus.
Resurrection isn’t about pulling ourselves out of holes, it isn’t about mustering up faith or resuscitating our own life or fixing our brokenness or guarding against doubt. It is about the Risen Christ meeting us in the places where we are dead. The person of Jesus, showing up in the places we are trapped and stuck, where we’ve let go and given up and where there is no hope of recovery. Jesus, appearing behind locked doors and outside empty tombs, calling our name, reaching out and reconnecting us, turning the lights back on, and the color and the sound, bringing hope.
When Thomas has his encounter he doesn’t get an infallible answer to his doubts – “See? He has risen. That PROOVES this one is the Lord, THE God.” No, when Jesus speaks to Thomas he believes – which means, he trusts, he abides in, he finds his very life in, Jesus. And he cries out in resurrected faith, “You are MY Lord and MY God!”
Our journey of faith begins at baptism – at the moment our future death and all the little deaths in between are taken into Jesus’ death, and our life – in all its fullness and possibility - is hidden with Christ in God. This journey is filled up with pain and loss, brimming with doubt, and chock full of Resurrection. But not resurrection as a doubtless dogma, or a provable principle. Resurrection as that which causes your breath to catch in your throat and your eyes to well up and your heart to cry out in recognition, “My Lord and My God!”
Too often, we’ve thought faith means that we come to a building and sit in a pew and listen and absorb what someone else tells us. We take their word for it and try not to doubt. We forget that the Risen Lord walks among us, that we see and hear him in the love of those around us, in the doubts that push us, in the moments where we reach out to others in their need, or pray desperately from the bottom of a hole.
And when we do see him, when we hear him call our name and he becomes for us MY Lord and MY God, we forget that from there we are to share the story. To tell others what we have seen, how God has met us, what God is up to in our lives, what we see God doing in our world. We forget that we are witnesses to the resurrection.
And so, to help us remember, and help us to recognize the Risen One, we tell the stories. Last week it was Mary. This week it is Thomas. Next week it is the despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus, and encounters from lives of some in our own congregation.
There are many other stories, John says, so very many! But these are shared with you, so you may learn to recognize the Risen One, and that by putting your trust in him you might have life, abundant and relentless life in the one whom death could not contain. Amen.