“So the other disciples told [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”” (John 20:25)
We begin this week with the familiar words of ‘doubting’ Thomas, as recorded in John’s Gospel, chapter 20. It’s a story that most of us will be familiar with. Indeed, if you are part of a church that follows the weekly Bible readings laid out in the Common Lectionary (as most mainline churches do) you hear this story read every year on the Sunday after Easter.
Very few passages of Scripture appear like this every year. Indeed, the only other one I can think of is everyone’s favourite psalm – the 23rd (“The Lord is my Shepherd”)
Both Psalm 23 and John 20 are passages that connect with us on an emotional level. When I’m in hospital with people on the edge of life, we always end up reading the 23rd Psalm together. The words, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me” (Psalm 23:4) take on a special meaning when you are dying. Similarly, when we are struggling with doubt and disillusionment, the bitter words of Thomas resonate with us – “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
I think we’ve all been there (if not on the edge of life, at least on the edge of unbelief). We want to believe that God is good and that we are loved, but then things happen that make us question everything. We are betrayed, or we get horribly ill, or we are involved in some terrible tragedy, and everything we thought we believed in is shaken. We no longer know what to believe.
The story of Thomas reminds us that this is all a part of the journey of faith. Doubt, disillusionment, disappointment, and even bitterness were all a part of Thomas’ experience of discipleship, and none of these made him any less of a disciple. Jesus also did deal with Thomas’ doubt and frustration, but not immediately. Jesus allowed Thomas to struggle with his issues for a week before giving him resolution. For some of us, it goes on for a lot longer than a week!
Paul Tillich spoke of the death-resurrection cycle of faith. The old, childlike faith must die, eaten away by doubts, to make way for a new, more mature faith. This is not a one-time experience. It’s a cycle that moves from faith to questioning to disbelief and, ultimately, back to belief again, but to a more evolved form of belief.
There is much in our world that makes me shake my head in disbelief.
- Why is the Palestinian Occupation allowed to continue?
- Why can’t our brother, Julian Assange, come back home?
- What is happening to my country, to my family, to me?
- Why isn’t the church standing up and doing something?
I have questions. I have doubts. Life would be much easier if we could all simply rest in the serenity of unquestioning trust. Even so, it is our questions and our struggles that make us fit for battle.
Our Sunday Eucharist
It was wonderful to have Rev. Joy Steele-Perkins with us again for last Sunday’s Eucharist. As you know, she is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment and doesn’t always feel strong enough to take a leading role in our worship time. It was great that she felt up to the challenge this week, and I’m sure you’ll agree that she made an invaluable contribution.
This coming Sunday I have two amazing men joining me, both of whom are well known for their role in the Freedom Movement – journalist, Joel Jammal, and activist and boxer, Mack Marchegiani. As ever, we will come online at around 11.45 am for a catch-up before starting our liturgy at midday. Tune in via:
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Keep me in your prayers please as we enter the championship rounds of this election stoush. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful team of hardworking and idealistic young men and women to partner me in this work. Much prayer and hard work have been put into this campaign. I am trusting that much good will come of it.
Your brother in the Good Fight,