The Spiritual Task List
In an odd quirk of church history, we have inherited a legacy of faith development that is linear. In a linear understanding of faith development, growing in faith has a beginning point, an endpoint and certain milestones along the way. This mindset may very well be influenced by our public education system. We begin at a certain age, every year we have benchmarks we are expected to reach and after a specified number of years, if we meet the criteria, we get a diploma. The expectation at that moment is that we get on with life. Any further education we seek becomes very narrowly focused on job/career training. This Western Enlightenment paradigm may work for some educational disciplines. One area that it most definitely does not work is in faith and our relationship with God. Scripture reminds us and discipleship illuminates the reality that faith development is not linear. We never stop learning about faith and that our experience of God will always open new dimensions of understanding about how we live faithfully in the world. There are always new facets to explore.
Not So Doubting Thomas
In the post-resurrection stories in John’s Gospel, we are introduced to Thomas. For most of the history of the church, he has been referred to as Doubting Thomas. Remember that Thomas was not present when the other disciples had their experience of the risen Christ. On that day, they were in a locked room, because they were afraid of being discovered and meeting the same fate as Jesus. Jesus is not deterred by the locked door, he enters into that space, proclaims peace and breathes on them the Holy Spirit. When Thomas hears, he has a particularly strong response. He wants what some would describe as concrete, empirical proof. At least that is how it is portrayed. What he really wants is the same level of experience that the other disciples have. He wants his own experience of the risen Christ. It’s not that he doubts. In fact, not believing is not the same as doubting.
Easter Isn’t Over
The irony of the Doubting Thomas story is that the next week, when the disciples are meeting, they are portrayed as still being behind a closed door, instead of being out in the world witnessing to what they know. We can only speculate as to the reason. This is the point in the story where Thomas leapfrogs the other disciples. When Jesus comes again into their closed-door room, he offers to Thomas the proof that Thomas thought he needed…to touch Jesus. Jesus invites Thomas to believe and in response Thomas makes a powerful witness, without event touching him: “My Lord and my God.” In the Gospels to this point, there is no record of any of the 12 making such a statement. Beyond the oft considered details of this story, there is a deeper, even more important truth that emerges. This image of the story is both a call and a word of grace for us today. Even for the closest disciples, Jesus’ resurrection appearance was not ‘one and done’. They didn’t have complete understanding the first time. In fact, there is evidence that Jesus showed up in their lives again and again. With each experience there was something new to learn, some dimension to explore. There were even times when it seemed like Jesus was reworking an issue with them with which they still struggled. The expectation was that their growing faith and trust would finally take them beyond the cloister of the locked room into the world that was deeply in need of their work and witness to resurrection and new life. The same is true for us; Jesus can and does show up in our life, again and again, as we seek deeper understanding and experience. Join us this week for worship as we explore and celebrate this gift and this call to take the Easter promise beyond the safe and comfortable spaces in our own life.