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Bible readings:

2 Easter Year A (April 27, 2014)                                                               St James', Peace River


I think there's a lot of integrity in the lectionary arrangement of readings that puts the story of Thomas front and centre for us, on the Sunday after Easter, every single year. Not just because it's told as happening “a week later”, so it's kind of natural to think about. The encounter between Jesus and his doubting disciple raises an issue we just have to deal with, if we're going to be honest about what is really going on when we tell the Easter story of Jesus the way Peter did in our first reading – how “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”


You can't say something like that, you can't even think about Easter, without realizing how baffling, incredible, and too-good-to-be-true it seems to be. Several times over the last week, sharing the Easter story in sermons and reflections, I found myself talking to people about how Jesus' resurrection was unimaginable – something we would have had to say was impossible, if we didn't know differently. And that is the power of the Easter good news – it tells us that what we see as impossible, is not impossible with God: that forgiveness, healing, transformation and new life are realities coming towards us from God, not just wishes we might look up into the sky and dream about.


But each time I say something like that, I catch sight of something in someone's eyes, or in my own heart, that says what Thomas says: How am I supposed to believe it? How do I draw a line from words about Jesus being alive, words on a page, words read out in church, words of stories told by other disciples – a line from there, to trusting in my heart that God has actually done something that changes my world and my life?


Hearing this question coming from one of the twelve apostles reminds us that it's not coming from a place of unbelief, indifference, or lack of relationship with Jesus. Thomas gets a bad rap because we only seem to remember him for this episode of “doubting” - but you just have to turn back a few pages to see him being willing to risk his life with Jesus. When he sees the trap Jesus is walking into as he goes up to Jerusalem to be crucified, Thomas is the one who encourages the rest of the disciples, saying “let us also go, that we may die with him.” [Jn 11.16] So when we hear him say, unless I see the evidence, I will not believe – this isn't a skeptic talking. It isn't someone who doesn't want to believe. If anything, it's the voice of disappointment speaking – Thomas feeling that God let him and the world down by letting Jesus go to the cross, instead of making the real change that he had hoped for and risked his life for. “So why should I believe you now?” is the subtext I hear in Thomas's challenge.


And I think that's a question that each of us disciples, at some level, needs or wants an answer to. It's not a question we often give voice to. It seems somehow disloyal, lacking in faith, deviating from how a model follower of Jesus is supposed to act and feel. Somehow we don't apply to our relationship with God what we know well from our human relationships: that when there are bumps on the road, you have to address them. If you felt let down, disappointed or betrayed by a close friend – if you felt that you were becoming less able to rely on your spouse – you would do something about it, precisely because of what they mean to you. Reaching across the gaps that appear between you and another person like that, is a way of valuing your connection with them, and a way of expressing your fundamental trust that they value their connection with you too. That's how, and why, we work at repairing the gaps that emerge between us and the people we love.


So why do we hold back when the “other person” is God? Most often, I suppose, because intellectually we think we know where the growing gap between us and God comes from. “If God seems far away, guess who moved,” says the church sign. But that's a head answer that doesn't touch the heart. The hurts and disappointments of life, that leave us wondering what God is up to or whether God is listening, aren't soothed by saying, well it must all be my fault then. And if saying that stops you from sharing real feelings of betrayal and let-down in your walk with God, then that is the very opposite of faith. To really trust God is to know that God is big enough to take it when you shake your fist at him in anger, or cry out to him in despair, or ask him that question: Why should I trust you now? Not to ask that question is the one thing, more than anything, that will let faith and trust erode over time until there is nothing left, no reason to believe or doubt, only words and stories that have no reality.


Jesus demonstrates that in today's gospel. He accepts Thomas's challenge on exactly Thomas's terms. He comes to him and says, here, do what you say you need to do to trust that it's me: put your finger on the mark of the nails, touch the wound in my side. And it turns out that Thomas doesn't need that kind of evidence, even though he said he did. What he needs is to know that Jesus is there for him, as much as he had ever been, and now (incredibly) even more, and forever. And that's what he gets.


I can recognize something in that encounter that reflects the character of God, because I've encountered it in my story too, as I hope you have, and will. God is not embarrassed to come to each of us on our terms, to find the ways to restore our trust, to show us that he is still there for us when we realize that is what we need. As Jesus hints in the story we heard, it's not always in so obvious and visible a way, but it is nevertheless there. So once in a while you might see a rainbow in the sky at the right time to remind you that God is trustworthy and on your side. But more often I think you will be met by the body of Jesus, his physical presence, expressed in the hands and feet of the people sitting around you right now or your next door neighbours, or whomever it is that offers you their encouragement or a helping hand at the time you need it.


It's good to remember that we do that for each other; in fact, in one sense, that is what we are here for. We are the guarantees of God's trustworthiness to one another. We are the body of Christ, wounds and all, that can show each of us that God is here, God still cares, and that God knows and understands what each of us needs. Perhaps the hardest part of that is borne by the person who is waiting, waiting, not seeing where God is, trusting only as you do when it's your only choice because you can't see any way ahead at all. I imagine Thomas felt like that for a week, and a long week it must have been – but what he had during that time was the people around him, who were there for him and sustained him, who were Christ for him until he saw the risen Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps Thomas was the bravest of all the disciples in that week because he had nothing to go on – as those of us, and the people we know, have the most courage who struggle and yet persist with the challenges of trusting God. But we all have something to offer as we walk along that road together: we are here for each other, and that is the surest sign we have that God is here for us.


Thomas isn't too far from the story of any one of us. He encourages us to speak up in our relationship with God, to give voice to our hesitations as much as we do to our enthusiasm. Like a long line of God's friends before him – Abraham, Moses, David, Job, Jeremiah, and many more – he teaches us that it is not wrong to be honest with God. Not wrong to confront God with our questions, our challenges, our need to hold God to account in order to really trust and believe. And as we come to the altar week by week, to hear Jesus saying our name, coming to us in ways we can touch and taste and see, I hope we can see Jesus the way Thomas did. Not, perhaps, answering every question or resolving every issue – but as someone we can trust, someone who is there for us, someone into whose hands we can place our lives, our Lord and our God.