Easter 2: Blessing our doubts

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "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." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." (John 20:19-29)
If you look at the front of your bulletin this morning, you will see that today is Easter 2. This means that it is the second Sunday of the Easter season, and the first Sunday after Easter Day.

For whatever else happens on this Sunday, Easter 2 is sometimes called “low Sunday” in church-work circles, referring to the low attendance in worship – the smaller number of people in the pews – relative to the crowds on Easter Sunday. I would certainly call this Sunday “low Sunday”…but for a very different reason. I would call it “low Sunday” because today is the let-down after all the hype of Easter. Lent is a season of build-up that intensifies during Holy Week, all leading up to the thrill of Easter, when we proclaim “Christ is risen!” and where we shout “Alleluia!” for the first time in six weeks. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate resurrection. And celebrate we did last week – drinking champagne after the Easter vigil, celebrating with the butterflies and the lilies as we sang our praises to the risen Christ.

But then, on Easter Monday…

…the world went right back to the way it was. Work was still work, school was still school, the unseasonably warm weather still raised eyebrows about climate change, politicians still puffed themselves up and put their opponents down, there was still bad news on the news, and plenty of people still suffered around the world.

It’s a week later now, and we are back in this place to worship together, but a week past the resurrection, we gather knowing full well that even though Christ is risen, we aren’t so sure that our world is risen just yet.

And so today is “low Sunday,” or “let-down Sunday” or “resurrection is exciting but the world still looks the same” Sunday. And we gather for worship today a little less certain about resurrection than we were last week. On a Sunday like this, we do well to keep company with the disciples in today’s gospel.

Their story in today’s gospel starts on Easter evening. After a long day of running to and from the tomb, passing along the unbelievable news that Jesus is risen, and feeling very fearful both of the authorities and of what Jesus might say to say to them since they deserted, denied, and betrayed him in his last hours, the disciples aren’t feeling overwhelmingly joyful about the news of the resurrection. They are afraid.

So at the end of a rough day, they do the only thing that seems logical: they gather together with all their cohorts, sneak away to a house where no one would think to look for them, and they lock all the doors.

Jesus is risen, but the disciples see a world that is not yet risen. They have faith, but they also have fear and doubt.

And then Jesus comes among them – and by the way, that must have scared the living daylights out of the disciples when he showed up despite the locked doors. It occurs to me that the disciples might have considered the newly-risen Jesus to be the Biblical-times equivalent of a zombie, and they were afraid that he might have shown up in that locked room to eat their brains...and let me assure you, Jesus doesn’t eat their brains. And he doesn’t chastise their fear. And he doesn’t criticize their doubts.

He comes among them and he blesses them.

“Peace be with you,” he says. “Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and go forth to bear peace and forgiveness and good news to the world.”

Doubting disciples are blessed, commissioned, and sent.

But a week later, after seeing the risen Jesus, after being given the power of the Holy Spirit, after being blessed and sent and ushered into the world…the disciples are right back where they started, inside a closed room in a closed house. Even having touched the hands and feet of the resurrected Christ, the disciples still have fears, still have doubts, still look at the un-resurrected world, and nothing much has changed for them, except that on this evening, Thomas is with them.

So for a second time, Jesus shows up among them. And for a second time, Jesus doesn’t chastise their fear or criticize their inaction. For the second time in a week, Jesus stands with them and says, “Peace be with you.” Once again, in front of Thomas and infront of them all, Jesus stands there, hands outstretched, to say “See me, touch me, do not doubt, but believe.”

We might live in a post-resurrection world, but like the disciples, we aren’t always one hundred percent convinced that resurrection has come to us. God’s new creation has been promised and his kingdom has been ushered in, but when we look around, we know that we aren’t there yet, that we are still waiting to see the fullness of these things. On this “low Sunday” after Easter, we feel the disconnect between the hope of the resurrection and the “real life” that spins madly on around us. And aren’t there plenty of things in our lives that keep us fleeing back to our locked rooms inside our locked houses?

It’s a good thing, then, that we have today’s gospel and this well-meaning but still messed-up group of disciples, because they have a lot to teach us.

They teach us that it is okay to be a mix of doubt and faith. It’s okay to show up in front of Jesus with our doubts. There is room inside all of our gatherings of faith for doubts and questions and fears and uncertainties.

And they teach us part of being a community of faith means embracing our fellow doubters…and being a community that welcomes and welcomes back. Thomas wasn’t with the others the first time Jesus came around, but they took him in anyway, even with his doubts and fears. The question for us is how do we care for the Thomases in our midst? How do we embrace those who have been away, or who are new, or who have the strength to show up but not yet to believe? How can we be open with our own questions so that others can be open with theirs?

But maybe the most important thing that we can take from today’s gospel is the good news that Jesus blesses our doubt even as he blesses our faith. He blesses our weaknesses even as he blesses our strengths.

To the doubting disciples, he showed up in flesh and blood to reassure them of his resurrection and theirs. To our doubting souls, he still shows up in flesh and blood – in the bread and the wine – to reassure us of his resurrection and of our own. And more than that, he finds us where we, even if we are locked away and hidden, so that he can whisper “peace be with you” into our trembling hearts, and so that he can bless and send us, doubts and all.

And it makes me wonder, what good is our faith if we can’t bless our doubts?

I mean, our world isn’t quick to bless doubts and doubters; flip the channels on TV and you’ll find an overwhelming number of police and detective shows that tell us that the only virtue is to mount up evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and if there’s any doubt, then we might as well throw the case and the baby and the bathwater out the window. And this reflects a pretty common idea that there is certainty or uncertainty and it’s all or nothing, and you’d better make your case well, or you have no ground to stand on. And there is a whole strain of Christian thought called “apolegetics” that focuses on collecting evidence to mount a watertight defense of Christianity against critics and skeptics.

Our world isn’t quick to bless doubts and doubters.

But doesn’t Jesus tell us otherwise, that we are loved and accepted and promised resurrection in spite of our doubts? And doesn’t he show the disciples that when he loves and blesses them, he loves and blesses all of them, even their uncertainty and fear?

The preacher Rob Bell says, “Any healthy spirituality will have to leave plenty of room for doubt and despair and honesty and tears and questions and rage and anger and every other human emotion and response to the insanity and pain of the world.” There is always room inside of faith for doubt. Doubt makes us question and makes us grow and makes us fight for the hope that is inside of us.

And so I ask again, what good is our faith if we can’t bless our doubts?

God calls us beautiful and beloved. Every part of us. The parts that long for healing, the parts that are in need of serious redemption, the parts of us that rejoice, the parts of us that fear, and even the parts of us that waver and doubt.

And so, my beautiful and beloved sisters and brothers of Christ, if we can believe that Jesus blesses our doubts, then we would do well to bless them as well. Our doubts and the doubts of those sitting next to us. They are all beloved.

I think about the times that we do blessings here in our congregation. We’re say prayers of blessing for our youth as they embark on summer mission trips, and we bless Sunday School teachers at the beginning of the school year, and we bless members as they leave our congregation and move around the country. But today, let's do something different. Let's take the next minute and a half to do a short service of blessing for our doubts, our fears, and our uncertainties.

I invite you to stand.

An Order for the Blessing of our Doubts and Fears
Friends in Christ: Today we give thanks to God and we seek God's blessing as we gather to bless and dedicate our fears and our doubts to the praise and glory of God.

We take a moment now in silence to lift up to God the doubts that linger, the fears that remain, and the uncertainties that make our hearts waver.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe. You made the whole earth for your glory; all creation praises you. We lift our voices to join the songs of heaven and earth, of things seen and unseen.

You stretched out the heavens like a tent; you divided the day from the night; you appointed times and seasons for work and rest, for tearing down and building up. You blessed your people through all generations and guided them in life and death.

We give you thanks, O God, as today we dedicate our fears and our doubts to your glory and praise. Bless our uncertainties. Bless the times that we make excuses not to believe. Bless the days when we can’t quite muster up strength to believe. Bless the gaps between hopeful hearts and skeptical minds.

Grant us faith to know your gracious purpose in all things, give us joy in them, and lead us to the building up of your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

And now may the blessing of almighty God, the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit, bring peace to our doubts and send us forth into the world to walk by faith, even when we cannot walk by sight.

(adapted from the "General Order of Blessing," Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Pastoral Care, p. 331)

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