We Rise with Christ

Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year A || April 20, 2014 || Matthew 28:1-11

Easter2014Good morning and welcome to St. Mark’s church on this beautiful Easter Sunday. As I see some unfamiliar faces out there, please allow me to do a quick introduction. My name is Adam Thomas, and my wife Leah and I moved to Mystic three months ago today so that I could become the rector of this wonderful church. In that short space of time, I have been overwhelmed by the welcome we received from this parish, and I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this community. If this holiday of Easter brought you across our threshold for the first time today, I invite you to return again on a day of less fanfare, to join us, and to enhance our community with your presence.

On Good Friday two days ago, I didn’t finish my homily. Instead, I left those present with a cliffhanger. We were standing at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and beloved friend. The powers of death and darkness and despair and fear and shame and domination were careening towards Golgotha, were bearing down on us, were about to crush us. Jesus had just said, “It is finished.” Jesus had just breathed his last.

That could have been the end. “It is finished,” might have been the final words of one ready to take his curtain call, to take his bow, to exit stage left. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t be here today. Today, we celebrate the resolution of the cliffhanger. Today, we witness Jesus Christ rise from the grave and leave entombed the powers that seek to separate us from God. Today, we turn away from those powers and embrace the truth that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

We wait in suspense three days for the resolution of the cliffhanger. And in that time removed from the foot of the cross, we realize that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant, “It is accomplished.” It is completed. My work is fulfilled. He laid the trap for the powers that seek to separate us from God. He offered himself up as bait. And they took it. On this side of Easter, we look back on the dark events of Good Friday and see the full scope of the plan that Jesus only hinted at to his friends before his arrest.

On the cross, he lured those powers of separation in. He absorbed all our darkness and despair, our fear and shame, our desire to dominate, even the power of death itself. As he suffocated to death on the cross, they appeared to be winning. But it was all a setup. Their power died with him. And he left their wasted shells in the tomb when he rose triumphant.

Yet we still see the powers of separation active in our world today. They still seek to pull creation apart, to pull us apart. And so we might be left to wonder if Christ’s resurrection actually accomplished anything at all. We might be tempted to ask what good it did. These are fair questions to ask, and God knows we struggle with them. But in the midst of the struggle, God constantly calls us to look more carefully for God’s presence in all situations, to engage the suffering of this world on a deeper level, to see into the truth of things.

And when we do this, hope stirs in us. We see that while the forces Jesus lured to the cross still exist, their ultimate power is no more. They have lost. They just don’t know it yet. We live in a reality in which Christ is risen. The truth of the risen-ness of Christ permeates existence. Everyone and everything that can be redeemed, that belongs to God’s original intention for creation, rises with Christ. Everything else stays in the tomb.

In today’s Gospel reading, when the angel beckons the women to see the place where Jesus lay, I wonder what they see? A burial shroud in the corner, perhaps. But mostly just emptiness. Indeed, after the resurrection, the tomb was the burial place for emptiness. For nothingness. This emptiness, this nothingness is the eventual outcome of all those things Jesus lured to the cross. What the women don’t see is death and darkness and despair and fear and shame and domination all crowding for space, invisible in the emptiness of the tomb. There is no room for those things in a reality built on Christ’s risen-ness. Those things are being forced out of reality, forced to stay in the tomb where they belong.

So what does belong in a reality built on Christ’s risen-ness? All we need do is look at the opposites of the things left in the tomb.

Instead of death, we have life. We rise with Christ when we choose life-affirming paths, when we share our gifts and resources so that other may have life, and when we act sustainably so that all creation can enjoy the fullness of life.

Instead of darkness, we have light. We rise with Christ when we walk in the light, when our choices reflect values that prioritize strengthening relationships, and when we encourage others to shine with their own light.

Instead of despair, we have hope. We rise with Christ when we believe that the bounds of possibility are far wider than we can perceive, when we dare to dream of all the wonders we can do when we partner with God, and when we offer a grief-stricken friend a shoulder to cry on.

Instead of fear, we have trust. We rise with Christ when we surrender daily to God our fruitless desire to control the future, when we make choices relying on our faith, and when we ourselves practice trustworthiness and the keeping of promises.

Instead of shame, we have grace. We rise with Christ when we let go everything that keeps us from embracing God’s love, when we discover how graceful we are when we dance in concert with God’s movement, and when we look upon others and see the beautiful beings that God sees.

And instead of domination, we have freedom. We rise with Christ when we allow God to free us from everything that enslaves us, when we stop bowing down to modern-day material idols, and when we stop dominating others to ensure our own freedom.

Every time we choose life and light and hope and trust and grace and freedom, we resonate with the reality of Christ’s risen-ness. We leave the things Jesus lured to the cross where they belong – in the emptiness of the tomb. We become little pockets of Easter, outposts of the resurrection, beacons of true reality based on today’s proclamation: Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

*Art: Detail from “Harbingers of the Resurrection” by Nikolai Ge (1867)

The Living Among the Dead

NOTE: DevotiONEighty is off this week. It will return next Monday, April 8th.

(Sermon for Saturday, March 30, 2013 || The Easter Vigil || Year B || Luke 24:1-12)

I doubt they slept much the last two nights, the women who rose early on the first day of the week to minister to their dead Lord. Every time they shut their eyes, I’m sure they saw the silhouette of Jesus’ cross in the distance, his limp body all but unrecognizable because of his torturous hours hanging there. And because dead bodies never, ever look like the lives ones they were a moment before; especially Jesus’ body, he who was so full of abundant life that he was just giving of his abundance to anyone who asked. No, I doubt these women slept much, though if they did finally fall into fitful slumber, it was because they cried themselves to sleep. When all you have left is your tears, you’d want to hoard them; but that’s when they flow all the more freely.

"Women at the Tomb" (Jesus Mafa - click for more info)
“Women at the Tomb” (Jesus Mafa – click for more info)

I’m sure the tears began again when they awoke early on the first day of the week. New grief is like that. Each morning you wake and remember again that your loved one is gone, and again the pain stabs you anew, just as fresh as the first time. But even in the midst of their grief, these women took up their burdens of fragrant spices and trudged out into the darkness, so they could arrive at the tomb at first light.

But these brave women, who are ready to care for the body of their Lord, to do their duty out of love and compassion, are making the happiest mistake in the history of mistakes. They are prepared to wash and anoint a lifeless body, but what they find is no body at all. They find an empty tomb, save for a discarded burial shroud. Their grief threatens to overwhelm them because the duty they were planning to perform – the one they had been clinging to since his death – is gone now, too. They didn’t think they could be more desolate, but they were wrong. The empty tomb magnifies their desolation.

But into this scene of despair and grief comes the sudden presence of two gleaming messengers. They enlighten the woman as to their mistake: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has arisen.” Then they remind the women what Jesus had said about himself while they were all still in Galilee.

The women remember Jesus’ words, and first one, then another, then another breaks out into a tentative smile. “Could it be true?” they ask each other.

“Yes, yes, yes it could.”

“Jesus never lied to us.”

“How could we forget his words?”

Then one repeats the messengers’ question: “Why are we looking for the living among the dead?”

This question echoes down through the centuries, and we find ourselves asking it when we read the beginning of the final chapter of Luke’s account of the Gospel. Why do you look for the living among the dead? How often in our day-to-day lives could we hear the gleaming messengers asking us this question? How often do we trudge down the well-worn path to life-defeating things hoping this time – maybe this time – something life-affirming will happen?

Perhaps you’ve had a string of boyfriends who were real losers. Your friends tell you so at every opportunity, but you’ve got a blind spot for bad boys. They treat you with no respect. From time to time they’ve even called you a name that I can’t say during this sermon. And yet you meet another one and all the signs are there, but you dive in headfirst anyway. To you the gleaming messengers say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Perhaps you’ve been sober for three months. Your sponsor hands you your chip and slaps you on the back. You’ve got a couple of other three-month chips in a drawer somewhere, but that’s not on your mind right now. On your way home from the meeting, you run into an old buddy from back in the day. The next morning, you stagger to the drawer and toss the newest chip in. Maybe you’ll get another one in a few months time. To you, the messengers say, “Why do you look for living among the dead?”

Perhaps you work through your family vacation because you’ve got too many projects on your plate. Or you spend every waking hour mindlessly surfing YouTube and Facebook. Or you derive your self-worth only by what others say of about you. To you – to all of us – the messengers say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ spurred this question all those centuries ago. The women made the happy mistake of looking for a dead Christ, when the Risen One was alive again. They brought to the tomb their grief, their tears, and their emptiness. And they left them there because the power of the Risen Christ outshone any desolation left in them.

When we look for life-affirming answers in the midst of life-defeating things, we replicate the women’s happy mistake, but with none of their good intentions. When we look for the living among the dead, we are trudging the well-worn path to the newly hewn grave where a dead messiah awaits. That way is full of tears and lifelessness.

But the good news of the Resurrection is this: when we arrive at the tomb, at rock bottom, at the ends of our ropes, we will find the Living Christ shining radiantly in the midst of our dead messiahs. We will find his empty tomb, which is ready to receive all of our muck, all of our bad choices, all of our life-defeating tendencies. When we deposit all of our dead ends there, we can leave the tomb unencumbered, and chase off after the Risen Christ, fresh, free, and born anew.

So why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here, but has arisen.

Four Names

DevotiONEighty will be taking a break during the week following Easter. It will return next Monday, April 16th. In the meantime, here is my sermon for the Easter Vigil from Saturday evening. –Adam

(Sermon for Saturday, April 7, 2012 || The Easter Vigil || John 20:1-18 )

If you’ve ever been to a Bible study that I’ve led, then you know that I have a lot of favorite scenes in the Gospel according to John. But the one we just read is easily in the top three. What always strikes me about the scene is the movement from Mary’s desolation when she weeps at the empty tomb to her utter elation when she recognizes the resurrected Christ. John paints the scene with a special tenderness he reserves for only the most intimate of moments between Jesus and his followers. John focuses our attention on this intimate moment, the first reaction to Jesus’ resurrection, because the moment of the resurrection itself is far too mysterious and far too momentous for John to attempt to narrate. That moment belongs to God alone. And so John gives us a sliver of Mary Magdalene’s story – her move from desolation to elation when she realizes that Jesus is still with her as he promised he always would be. And the pivotal moment of this story is Jesus calling her by name.

Names are rare in the Gospel according to John. I went back and counted, and in the entire 21 chapters of the Gospel, Jesus calls exactly four people by name. There’s Simon Peter, first among the disciples. There’s Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back to life. There’s Philip, who had been with Jesus from the beginning. And then there’s Mary, who heads to the tomb before dawn on the first day of the week. In each of the special moments when Jesus calls these four people by name, he is somehow affirming or strengthening his relationships with them.

The first thing Jesus does when he meets Simon is give him the nickname “Peter,” which means “Rock,” which is a pretty cool nickname. We invest all kinds of theological motivation to this name because of Peter being the “rock” on which the church is built. But if they were any two people besides Jesus and Peter, we would see the nicknaming as a sign that their relationship is moving into the territory of good friendship. At the end of the Gospel, Jesus says Peter’s name three times, and this naming reasserts the relationship that Peter had denied three times during Jesus’ trial. In the end, their relationship is repaired because Jesus calls Peter by name.

The Gospel describes Lazarus as “one whom Jesus loves.” When Lazarus dies, Jesus is days away, and Lazarus’s sisters make the faithful accusation that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died at all. So Jesus goes to the tomb and shouts out, “Lazarus, come out.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Lazarus, I raise you from the dead.” Rather, he says, “Come out.” Jesus calls Lazarus by name, but does not give Lazarus the option of remaining in the tomb. The naming is joined to Jesus’ command to return to his family and his friendship with Jesus.

Jesus calls Philip by name after Philip says to him, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” Jesus replies, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus calls Philip by name in the midst of wondering how Philip could possibly not know him yet after being with him from the beginning. With this, Jesus calls Philip into deeper, more committed relationship with him.

And then there’s Mary Magdalene, who is weeping at the empty tomb. She is desolate, thinking that her Lord’s body had been stolen and possibly desecrated by the people who put him to death. With tears and the fog of despair clouding her vision, she sees the gardener, who asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Could this gardener be in collusion with the body-snatchers, she wonders? And she accuses him of being in on the plot. But then he says the all-important word: “Mary.” And she turns and the desolation vanishes in an instant of delight. And new elation, new hope, new life surges in to fill the void. “Teacher!” she shouts, and I imagine her jumping into his arms. Then Jesus gives her a task – to be the first to proclaim his resurrection.

So why does Jesus saying her name change the story? Why is this the pivotal word? As with Peter, Lazarus, and Philip, saying Mary’s name proves Jesus’ relationship with Mary. Her name is the outward sign of her inward identity. In this way, names are quite sacramental. Know a name and you know something of the person. Who among us didn’t feel elation when we found out our high school crush did, in fact, know our names? On the flip side, take away a name and you begin to take away the humanity of the person. How many Jews had their names erased and exchanged for numbers in the concentration camps?

Saying Mary’s name is Jesus’ shorthand for saying that he has returned just as he promised and that life would never be the same again because their relationship would never end. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus foreshadowed this when he said, “[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice.” Later in the same passage, Jesus talks about the command from his Father that he “give up” his life in order to “take it up again.” Thus, Jesus links the power of the resurrection with the power of naming, which is really shorthand for the power of relationship.

This is the good news of the resurrection: Christ rose from the dead to show us that nothing, not even death, has the power to keep him from remaining in relationship with us. Christ knows each of our names. They are written in the book of life. They are written on his heart, just as his name is written on ours. As Jesus called Peter, Lazarus, Philip, and Mary to deeper relationship by saying their names, he calls to each of us. He calls to each of us, speaking our names, and thus ourselves, into being.

These names of ours are special things – they carry within them the promise of eternal relationship with God in Christ through the power of the resurrection. So the next time you find yourself in a moment of silence, a moment of peace at the center of the maelstrom of busyness that marks our lives today, just be still. Be still and listen. Be still and listen for the resurrected Christ calling you by name.

The Sheepfold

(Sermon for Sunday, May 15, 2011 || Easter 4A || John 10:1-10; find it also on Day1.org as part of the series “Young Leaders of the Church” series.)

Having the flu changed my life. The day was Thursday, March 13th, 2008, and I was sitting on my futon with my computer on my lap. Quite suddenly, I realized how clammy and hot I felt. Half an hour before, I had felt just fine, but in just thirty minutes my insides decided that they needed desperately to become my outsides. I put my computer on the floor, leapt up, and staggered into the bathroom. I was ill for five days, and during that time all I did was sleep and watch my recently acquired complete series of Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD. For those five days, I did not open the lid of my laptop. I did not press the power button. And I did not log in to the computer game that had dominated my life for nearly two years.

The following Tuesday, when I felt that I could walk around without gripping the furniture for support, I stumbled over to the computer and deleted World of Warcraft from the hard drive. I tossed the game discs in the trash. And in the three years, two months, and two days since contracting the flu bug, I have never logged back into the game. The flu acted as the catalyst for the breaking of my addiction to the computer game. The illness put me on the disabled list for a week right before Easter, but no matter how awful the flu made me feel, I thank God every day for the not-so-gentle push away from the stagnant life I was living. I thank God every day for yanking me out of the comfortable sheepfold that I had built up around me. I thank God every day for pulling me kicking and screaming through the gate, away from my dormant life and toward a life full of God.

This not-so-gentle shove out of the sheepfold happens in today’s Gospel reading, although I doubt you noticed any mention of being kicked through the gate in Jesus’ words. We’ll get back to this shove in a moment. First, notice that in John chapter 10, Jesus employs the imagery of first century shepherding practice in an attempt to reveal his own identity and his relationship to us. Now, the most experience I’ve ever had with sheep was in southern England, where I spent one windy afternoon dodging the sheep’s ubiquitous droppings while trying to appreciate the mystery of Avebury’s standing stones. If you’re anything like me, you have no clue about shepherding practice of any sort, ancient or modern. Therefore, in order to access what John calls a “figure of speech,” we first acknowledge our lack of personal contact with Jesus’ choice of image, and second we embrace the opportunity to use our imaginations.

So imagine with me a rolling plain, dotted with humps and hillocks. Dusk descends, and the shepherd leads his flock into the sheepfold. One of the hillocks has been hollowed out, and the sheep huddle inside next to the sheep of several other shepherds who share this particular fold. A pair of piled rock walls extends out a few feet from the sides of the hill. The shepherd lies down in the space between the low walls, effectively sealing the enclosure. Thieves and bandits and wolves will have a difficult time getting in with the shepherds on guard. The sheep are safe in the sheepfold.

When the shepherd arises the next morning, Jesus explains, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” The sheep can’t spend their whole lives in the sheepfold, no matter how safe the enclosure may be. There’s no food in the fold, after all. The sheepfold may be comfortable and safe, but the sheep must follow the shepherd out of the fold in order to find sustenance, in order to live.

Jesus’ choice of words here is telling, but our translation into English hides the special word that Jesus uses. “When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them,” says Jesus in the version we use in church. In this verse, there’s a fairly weak rendering of a Greek word that appears over and over again in the Gospel. We hear this word every time Jesus casts out a demon. We hear this word when Jesus makes a whip and throws the moneychangers out of the temple. We hear this word when Jesus speaks of driving out the “ruler of this world.” In every instance of this word in the Gospel, Jesus is doing some sort of battle: he is pushing, pulling, throwing, yanking, driving, exorcising, casting out. But in this instance about the shepherd and the sheep, the translators decided a nice, safe, neutral translation was better. The shepherd simply “brings” his sheep out of the fold.

Now, perhaps those dimwitted, wooly animals trod placidly from the fold every morning at the beckoning of the shepherd. But Jesus is, of course, not talking about real sheep. He’s talking about us, about you and me. He’s talking about calling out to us, about speaking the word that will bring us forth from our own sheepfolds, from those places of comfort and safety that we have built up around us. The seductive force that pulls us into these personal sheepfolds tells us that everything will be okay as long as we keep quiet and stay put. Play another hour. Have another drink. Watch another show. I don’t know about you, but I need to be pushed, pulled, thrown, yanked, and driven out of that place of stagnation and dormancy every time I start settling into my comfortable enclosure.

For two years, my sheepfold was the virtual world created in the computer game World of Warcraft. I lived there more than I did in the real world. I played every day. Often I ate all three meals in front of my computer. But during those stagnant months that stretched into years, I didn’t live. I existed. I simply settled myself in my sheepfold. My mind numbed. My heart hibernated. My spirit deflated. But I didn’t notice because I was safe and I was comfortable. Then the flu hit, and I was too weak to resist the pulling and yanking that God had been doing for who knows how long. God drove me out of my sheepfold. And my life began anew.

This is the message of the Resurrection: life cannot be conquered – not by death, not by sin, not by the powers of darkness. Life happens – fully, intensely, eternally. Indeed, Jesus tells us this morning: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ ripples out to touch every life, everywhere, for all time. The wonder of Easter morning shows us the utter lengths that God goes to offer us abundant life.

And yet, while life cannot be conquered, life can be delayed, put on hold, made dormant. When we retreat to the safety and comfort of our own personal sheepfolds – whatever they may be – we refuse to participate in the fullness of a life lived in God. Of course, existing in the sheepfold is easier, less demanding. But existence is not life. Ease does not bring joy. And less demanding often means less fulfilling.

We cannot import into our sheepfolds the abundant life that Christ offers us because the very fullness of that life cannot fit inside a safe, comfortable enclosure. Christ drives us out of the sheepfold so that our lives have the opportunity to expand, that we may embrace God’s unrestrained abundance. During this season of Easter, join God in the expansive life found in the Resurrection. Listen for the voice of the shepherd calling you by name, calling you out of complacency. And give Christ the chance to cast you out of your sheepfold so that you may find the fullness of a life lived in the abundance of God.

Faithful Thomas

(Sermon for April 11, 2010 || Easter 2, Year C, RCL || John 20:19-31)

I’ve always had a special affinity for Thomas. Perhaps, because we share a name, I feel fraternally responsible for defending him against those who label him with one of the most enduring epithets of all time: Doubting Thomas. (Curiously enough, I’ve never felt much like defending Adam for his stupidity in the garden, but that’s another tale.) So, we have this fellow uncharitably nicknamed Doubting Thomas. We remember him for exactly one reason: he doesn’t trust the words of his fellow disciples when they tell him that they have seen the Risen Lord. Their witness is not enough for Thomas. He needs to see and touch Jesus, just as the other disciples had done when Jesus came to them the first time in that fearful room behind a locked door. Thomas needs the visual and tactile proof of the resurrection for himself. And for this one, simple reason, Thomas has been stricken with his unfortunate nickname, much maligned for his obstinacy, and readily dismissed for his doubt.

But this caricature misses the subtle interplay between doubt and faith that we are going to explore the next few minutes. Notice that Thomas never actually follows through with his stubborn ultimatum. He tells the other disciples, “Unless…I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The next weekend, Thomas is with the other disciples when Jesus comes to them again. And when Jesus invites Thomas to fulfill his requirement for belief, Thomas no longer needs to. Rather than reaching out his hand to touch Jesus’ side, Thomas lets loose from his lips the highest affirmation of Jesus’ divinity in the entire Gospel: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas is a man of deep faith.

This is the same Thomas who, when Jesus decides to travel near Jerusalem to raise Lazarus, says to the other disciples, “Let us go with him, that we might die with him.” Thomas is a man of deep conviction. This is the same Thomas who, when Jesus tells the disciples he goes to prepare a place for them, asks of his Lord, “How will we know the way?” Thomas is a man of deep questions.

When you add faith, conviction, and questions together, oftentimes doubt results, at least for a time. Faith gives you the reason to ask questions, and conviction gives you the perseverance to allow doubt to temper faith into a stronger whole. Too frequently, trouble happens when we mistake doubt for the opposite of faith, and therefore as something to be avoided at all costs.

One of the reasons for the persistent mistake of thinking that doubt is the opposite of faith comes from this very Gospel text (and indeed, this particular English translation of the Gospel text). When Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, Jesus says, “Do not doubt but believe.” This sets up a dichotomy between doubt and belief and puts the two in opposition to one another. You can either doubt or believe, but you can’t do both. However, “Do not doubt but believe” is not actually what Jesus says. I don’t say this very often, but the English translation we read in church gets this sentence horribly wrong.

Because the New Revised Standard Version messes this verse up so badly, we need to have a short lesson in ancient Greek, the language in which the Gospel was written. I promise that I won’t make a habit of giving these lessons from the pulpit. But I also promise that you already know more Greek than you realize.

You're probably wondering why this picture makes sense in this context. I promise it does. Go watch the recently cancelled Dollhouse to find out why.

In Greek, to turn a word into its opposite, you add an alpha, which is really just an  “a,” to the front of the word. We do the same thing for English words that come from Greek. Try this one: Bios is a Greek word that means “life.” We get the English words “biology” and “biotic” from it. “Biotic” means “relating to living things.” If we add an “a” to the front, we get “abiotic,” which mean “relating to non-living things.” Or how about this one: Theos is the Greek word for “God.” In English, “theism” is the generic word for belief in God. So, add the “a” prefix and we get “atheism,” which is the belief that there is no God. We could come up with a dozen more examples, but I think you get the point.

Now let’s go back to our verse, which, if you recall, this morning’s reading translates as “Do not doubt but believe.” The Greek word translated “believe” comes from the word pistis, which means “faith.” The word that is translated as “doubt” is simply the word pistis with the “a” prefix – apistis. Therefore, the word should really just mean “unfaith” or “unbelief,” rather than “doubt.” With this new translation, the verse becomes, “Do not be unbelieving but believing.”

“Do not be unbelieving but believing.” This is a far cry from “Do not doubt but believe.” Jesus never tells Thomas not to doubt. Rather, Jesus tells Thomas not to jettison his belief all in one go. There is a huge difference between the two. This supposed “Doubting Thomas” is still incredibly faithful, even in the midst of his doubts. Remember, Thomas is a man of deep faith and conviction, who has the nerve to ask tough questions. Doubt arises in such a chemical makeup. But having doubts does not signal the loss of belief. Having doubts does not signal the abandonment of faith.

Doubt happens when you have enough conviction about your faith to question it. Thus, doubt gives you a reason to reexamine your faith and to sign up with Jesus Christ over and over again. Of course, too much doubt can lead to unbelief, just as, conversely, too much certainty can lead to stagnant faith.

Okay, now that we’ve established that doubt is not something to be avoided at all costs, let’s use our Easter celebration to bring the power of the resurrection into this discussion. Our faith finds its home in Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus triumphed over death in order to keep his promise that he would be with us always, despite the end of our physical existence. Resurrection happens with eternally vaster scope than death ever could. Because of this, death exists within the power of the resurrection. The resurrection subsumes death into itself, making death a piece of the reality of eternal life. In the same way, belief is so much more expansive than doubt; belief subsumes doubt into itself, making doubt a part of the pathway of faith.

Jesus tells Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving but believing.” And Thomas responds with such grand words to express his belief: “My Lord and my God!” Rather than dismissing Thomas as that good-for-nothing doubter, embrace Thomas as a faithful, thoughtful, courageous follower of Christ whose doubts ultimately lead him to a wondrous confession of faith.

God knows that we, too, have our doubts. We wouldn’t be human without them. But belief in God gives our doubts purpose, shape, and context. Do not be ashamed of your doubts. Shame only works to erode faith. Rather, see doubt as a sign of your conviction, as a sign of the fact that you care enough to ask tough questions. Then use that conviction, that perseverance to push through the doubt to the deeper faith beyond. And with those five glorious words of Faithful Thomas, praise the Risen One who is the beginning and end of our belief: “My Lord and My God.”