Good Life

Clergy Column: St. Thomas, the doubting disciple

I’m sure I can speak for my ecumenical colleagues when I say that this has been a quieter week. These seven days after Easter are — for clergy — a chance for rest, retreat and respite — in theory at least. After a busy week of waving palms, washing feet, gazing at crucifixes and proclaiming Christ’s resurrection with fire and water, it’s time to stop and breathe.

For this priest, it has been business as usual. The ministry of the church never pauses, let alone stops, whatever the season or occasion. Yet life “on the other side” of Lent is different. Bad habits (perhaps) resume, and the air feels light and easy. Easter has been celebrated once again — Jesus Christ is risen from the dead — and the church proclaims the Gospel of joy and new life.

But while it feels time to take a break, this is, in fact, where our real work begins — sharing the news of Christ’s resurrection. And this means proclaiming peace to the broken-hearted, liberation to those in bondage and forgiveness to all crippled by their sins.

The Anglican tradition typically names today “Low Sunday.” I recall being taught at seminary that Low Sunday generally means low attendance, so keep the sermon short. It’s hard to maintain Easter’s excitement when the world slips back to business as usual — back to hectic lives, back to busy families, back to tax returns. Today’s Gospel passage is always taken from John’s Gospel, and we will hear the story of St. Thomas, the doubting disciple.

Remember that Thomas was missing when the other disciples first met the risen Jesus. When he heard their reports he refused to believe, refused to blindly follow. After the horror and desolation of Good Friday, their news seemed too good to be true. So Jesus appeared once more, inviting Thomas to touch his wounds and his side, calling Thomas to share in his Passion. Suddenly Thomas sees and Thomas knows, proclaiming with new eyes and new faith: My Lord and my God.

So soon after Easter it seems strange to stand in an emptier church and preach about the man who doubts. Yet over and over I’m convinced that somewhere, deep within his strange story, is a parable of living faithfully today, for all of us who do not yet see, but seek and strive to believe. I’m struck by the fellowship of these disciples; when Thomas refuses to accept their testimony, they do not banish him from their number; in fact, they make space for his questions and his doubt, and he does not leave. And, despite Thomas’ fear and reluctance, Jesus still appears once again and repeats his word of peace and life.

Like Thomas, we too place our faith in detail and empirical proof. Perhaps it’s appropriate that he missed Jesus the first time round. During this “low” week, let’s pay attention to beauty and wonder that God places under our noses and the miracle of resurrection that blows all around, if only we too will open our eyes and see.