Friday, April 10, 2015
On Doubt and the Week After
We folks of the Christian persuasion have all come through our High Holy Days, aka the Easter Triduum (the "Great Three Days"). I hear we ministers are all pretty tired, at this point, not just from a high-energy, somewhat high-pressure week, but also from the previous six weeks. In my case, that's six weeks of two services per week (I know, Episcopal friends... I am a wimp. Duly noted.). But more than that, that's preaching twice in each week.
Just to be clear, that's my choice. When I arrived at the church I love and serve, there was all kinds of openness to different ideas for Lenten series. For the past two years, I have decided to preach. A meditation, not a full-on sermon. Partially, I wanted to fill in the gaps in the gospels I have been preaching on Sundays, using the Narrative Lectionary (if you click the link, general info is on the sidebar). I have found this to be so rewarding, as I have struggled to preach through each gospel in a more intensive way for the first time.
At different points in my life I have felt a particular affinity for different gospels. This year, preaching Matthew, I have felt myself pushed and prodded to recognize and account for the sharp edge, the anger I read there-- anger borne of heartache, the tragedy of fractured community and fractured relationships. It's all over the place, but particularly powerfully expressed in the parables and the passion.
I'm not so comfortable with anger, but that's another blogpost.
To take a sharp left, what is on my mind this week is doubt.
The gospel appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday after Easter is always the story of the one dubbed "Doubting Thomas" by culture, but called "the Twin" by the gospeller. But the story isn't one of doubt, so much as it is the story of one who just happened to be out when Jesus dropped by. And, given the fact that the others were all hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Judeans, one begins to suspect that Thomas was the one appointed to go get provisions. He wasn't hiding. Once in a sermon I suggested he ought to be known as "Brave Thomas."
This year, preaching from the gospel of Matthew (and still with the Narrative Lectionary), imagine my surprise when that little word, doubt, appeared in this Sunday's gospel text.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. ~Matthew 28:16-17
Please note, the creators of this lectionary would strongly prefer that I focus on the "Great Commission," the "Go and tell and baptize" part of this passage. But I am captivated by the presence, the admission of doubt here. My honest, gut-deep response to this little revelation? Relief. I wonder whether these might not be among the most comforting words in scripture.
We walk by faith, as Paul has told us, and not by sight. So, for Christians of our era, we don't get the revelation at the tomb-- we don't get the earthquake, and the snow-white, lightning bright angel rolling back the stone majestically and then plopping himself down upon it with his good-news words, "Do not be afraid." And we certainly don't get Jesus, showing us his hands and side, and letting us cling to his poor battered feet.
So, for those who DID get all these things... everything from being called to follow, to witnessing his teaching and preaching and healings and exorcisms and feeding and parables and confrontations with the authorities, etc. etc. etc... for those folks to see, and worship, and doubt, is a kind of gift to us, a telephone line through time, as it were, telling us: it's ok. It's ok.
It's ok to wonder. It's ok to doubt. Even Jesus' nearest and dearest doubted. It's ok.
As a pastor, I wonder whether I say this enough? I know that the folks in my bible study have a sense of this, that they know scripture, in the very venerable tradition of our Jewish cousins, is to be conversed with, and struggled with, like Jacob with the angel, until it gives a blessing. Doubt is not a bad thing. It is a human thing, a product of our life experiences and our intellect, and it is not something to be ashamed of.
But it is also not something to be careless with. We can pray our doubt. (Maybe we should.) We can speak with our doubt, invite it in and sit down to tea with it. And we can acknowledge that doubt is not the antithesis to faith, but a very close relation, a sibling, to be loved and acknowledged, and not chased away, but treasured, because doubt has the capacity to lead us even more deeply into faith.
These are my first ponderings and stirrings on this gospel passage. It is a tired week to try to wrestle with something I feel is both very complex and very important in the life of faith. I doubt I can do it justice. (See what I did there?) But I write by faith, too. And so, I begin.