Thomas, Doubt and Practicing Resurrection

[An Easter sermon on John 20.19-31 preached at Wine Before Breakfast on April 22, 2014. This service also celebrated baptism and the reaffirmation of Christian faith.]

Thomas wanted proof.

He had heard the story of the other disciples,
he had heard the witness of Mary Magdalene,
but he wanted proof.

He heard his friends talk with dumbstruck amazement
about Jesus appearing to them in that house,
even though the doors were locked.

He had heard their tale of resurrection
and nothing less than new creation.
He listened as they told him about Jesus breathing on them
as the Creator had breathed on that first human at the dawn of time.
He paid attention as they talked about being sent as missionaries
of this new creation.

And he may even have wanted to believe it all.
But it was too good to be true.
All of this may well have been the fulfillment of his deepest longings,
but when you have lived with disappointment for generations,
when you saw it all come crashing down with a hammer and a spear
just days earlier,
when you had seen with your own eyes the death of your greatest hope,
well, it is going to take more than words to turn things around for you.

I won’t believe it, unless I see it, Thomas insists.

And then … a week later.
The doors were shut.
And there he is again.
There is Jesus in their midst.

But it was a week later.

I wonder what that week was like.

What was it like for the others to be with Thomas,
when he didn’t believe?

What was it like for them to recount over and over
the amazing experience they had,
with someone in the room,
who hadn’t been there,
and who wasn’t believing a word of it?

What was it like for them to begin to piece it all together,
this resurrection,
this new creation,
this new commission,
this call to forgiveness,
what was it like for all this to be happening
with Thomas as part of the conversation?

What was it like to spend that week with a disbeliever,
with a friend who wouldn’t accept your witness,
with a fellow disciple who stubbornly wanted proof?

And what was it like for Thomas?

What was it like to be listening to a tale that
he desperately wanted to be true,
but just couldn’t believe it?

What was that week like?

How alienated did Thomas feel from his friends?
How guilty did he feel?
How upset were they with him?

How awkward was it all?

You ever been there?
You ever been with a friend who you love,
but who just can’t bring herself to believe
in something like the resurrection?

You ever been there?
You ever been the religiously odd guy out?
You ever found yourself with friends who believe
but you just can’t?

My hunch is we’ve all been there.
We’ve all been Thomas to someone else’s belief,
and we’ve all been with someone who was Thomas to our belief.

And you know, if there wasn’t anything much at stake,
we could just kind of shrug it all off with sense of cheap tolerance.
“You believe what you believe,
and I’ll believe what I’ll believe,
and we won’t get too worked up about it all.”

The problem is that too much is at stake to just shrug it off.
I mean this is life and death stuff that we are dealing with here.

Thomas wants proof before he is going to believe.
So Jesus gives him proof.
Take a look and come and touch, Thomas.
Check out the hands and the side.
I invite you to believe and no longer doubt.

Well, it works,
it works real good.
So good that Thomas realizes
for the first time in this whole gospel,
that Jesus isn’t just his Lord, but also his God.

But Jesus wants to push him on the matter of belief and seeing.
“You believe because you saw;
well, blessed are they who have not seen,
but have still come to believe.”

Umm … that’s us.

Here we are, some 2000 years later,
celebrating the resurrection of Jesus
and none of us have seen him.

And, truth be told, some of us,
many of us,
okay, pretty much most of us,
can relate to Thomas’s disbelief.

But for us it isn’t so much a matter of not seeing the risen Jesus in the flesh,
as it is a matter of not seeing the new creation that he inaugurated,
not seeing the resurrection life that was born on Easter Sunday,
not seeing a community suffused with forgiveness,
not seeing the shalom that he pronounced in that locked room so long ago.

This is a ‘not seeing’ that makes Thomas of all of us.
This is a ‘not seeing’ that means that we end up embracing the hope of resurrection,
against most of the evidence.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, I want to end this year of journeying with St. John,
by bearing witness to the reality of resurrection,
a reality that I have seen with my own eyes,
in this very room, week after week.

I want to bear witness to the reality of resurrection in our midst,
through the practice of resurrection in our lives.

Do you want evidence, do you want proof of the resurrection?
Then look at the resurrection practices all around you.

Walk with members of this community
as they are on street patrol in the middle of the winter,
caring for our most vulnerable neighbours.
Go with some of our folks to the Gateway
where homeless neighbours are treated with respect,
and doors are opened for a life beyond the streets.
Check out Switchback cyclery or Gateway Laundry,
social enterprises that WBB folks have launched.
Follow an undergraduate member of the community
who founded the Out of the Cold program with other students at St. Mike’s.

This is resurrection power in our midst,
this is called practicing resurrection.

Listen as our wordsmiths dig deep to craft words that are worthy of our prayers.
Watch as some of our members limp after wrestling with the Word
so that it will bless us in a sermon.
Tap your toe as the bandhood of all believers finds gospel in the music of
Ani DiFranco, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Pug and Joni Mitchell.
Receive bread and wine from each other,
served up by our faithful priests and servers.

This too is resurrection power in our midst,
this is called practicing resurrection.

Come out on a Thursday night and meet a vibrant community of students
who know how to ask the big questions with respect and love,
while also knowing how to make every night into a resurrection party.

Sit in the study with one of our sisters writing an ethnographic study of the Gateway,
scholarship in service of the staff and residences of that community;
and then look over the shoulder of another sister
writing on healing in the lives of female political prisoners and refugees.

Read a thesis on the Occupy Movement as an alternative social imaginary,
check out some research and therapy with struggling adolescents,
follow one of our members into the high school classroom.

Now watch our law students struggle with the meaning of justice,
while others are advocating for the rights of Roma refugees.
Then join the campaign of another WBB member, now running for city council,
or get on board with the social justice advocacy directed by another in our midst.
Resurrection, friends, that’s what all of this about!
Follow one member as he forges new paths in an ecological spirituality,
while another studies energy consumption and systems of conservation,
and then come on up to Russet House Farm.
Take a look at another member’s work towards a theology of disability,
then go with a WBB member to L’Arche
where the disabled are core members,
and then witness the alternative and holistic care of our nurses
and occupational and music therapists.
Everywhere I look, I’m seeing resurrection.

I see it at the Church of the Redeemer and St. George the Martyr.
You can see resurrection flowering at the Dale and the Jeremiah Community.
I see it at All Saints Sherbourne Street with sex trade workers.
I see it in the courage of two of our members accepting the call to ordained ministry
in the profoundly dysfunctional institution of the church.
I see it in the youth ministry of some of our folks,
and in the work to revitalize the church.
I see it in the Christian Reformed Church’s commitment to this campus ministry,
and to so many others who partner with us.
Resurrection, my friends, that’s where all of this comes from.

It can’t be missed in this year’s Lenten study group,
it is powerfully confessed by David and Ruth reaffirming their fiath,
and it takes on flesh in our sister Tian’s baptism this morning.

I tell you, my friends, there is resurrection power

in this room and in this community today.

But there is no resurrection without wounds.
There is no resurrection without death.
There is no resurrection joy without the tears of sorrow.
There is no resurrection peace without violent enmity.
And there is no resurrection faith without profound doubt.

There’s been a lot of death this year.
I’ve lost track about how many have died in the Sanctuary community.
There was Mark, and Fred and Cliff.
There was a member killed in a fight, and the incarceration of his assailant.

No wonder Iggy asks whether God must really hate this community.
Iggy, who sat and did bead work during WBB some months ago.

So where is resurrection in all of this?
How do you practice resurrection in the face of such an avalanche of death?

You go to a hospital room or to the hospice and sit with the dying.
You go on the street and let your tears
and the tears of your friends mix with the cold rain.
You organize another funeral with dignity and care.
You rage at God because he is the God of life and this is too much damn death!

And all of this,
with tears and anger,
with pain and sorrow,
with rage and doubt,
all of this … is practicing resurrection.
Against the odds, against the evidence.

And so, if I may be very personal for a moment;
to Chris and Iggy, and Thea and Simon,
to folks on the street and in the Sanctuary community,
I believe in the resurrection because you live it.
I believe in the resurrection because you practice it.

Thomas wanted proof.
Jesus said, blessed are those who believe but do not see.

Well, my sisters and brothers, I believe and I actually do see.
I see the resurrected body of Jesus every Tuesday morning.
I taste it in the bread and the wine.
I am embraced by it during the passing of the peace.

I see resurrection practiced in this community in so many different ways,
and that is why I can still say, sometimes through my tears,
Alleluia. Christ is risen.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

Leave a Reply