I love how the Revised Common Lectionary places the second half of John 20 the Sunday after Easter. It’s unfortunate for those regulated to always preaching the Sunday after Easter, when many senior pastors take the day off, and as one who has preached many times on that Sunday, it can get tiresome. Thankfully, it’s a day when even in some of the more formal Protestant traditions won’t bat an eye if you go off-lectionary.
But I love this day because I need it after Easter. Easter is often a time when long-held understandings (or misunderstandings) of the Christian story are upheld formally, even if every other Sunday strict blood-atonement theologies are challenged. It’s the Sunday when everyone’s family is in town and the C & E people come and so the same message is often shared. The tomb is found empty. Christ is Risen!
It’s not a bad message by any means. But where is the room to ask the questions? Where is the space to say, “Could that have really happened?” Where is the challenge to the old formulaic answer that because Adam sinned, we are born into sin and need Christ to save us, so Christ had to die as a sacrifice? Is it safe to question on Easter Sunday, either in the pew or in the pulpit?
Thankfully, we have Thomas, who was no different than Peter who denied Jesus or any of the others who fled. And we have this Sunday, when the C & E people have gone back home, when others are out of town and it’s typically a low attendance day, perhaps there is more space in the pew and pulpit to speak those challenges, those questions and doubts.
In my Christian Faith journey, the questions and doubts have flowed and ebbed over the years, going from the extreme of coming forward to accept/rededicate my life to Jesus about four times in my teen years, to considering forgoing Christ and exploring Unitarian Universalism and Judaism in my first year of seminary.
But Christ always calls me back. Despite my rejection of theologies presented to me in my youth and at times doubts of the resurrection stories in the Gospels, I have never been able to leave Jesus behind. Like Thomas, at times I want proof, I want answers, but it is through encountering Christ I am compelled to stay within the Christian tradition, and through relationship with the Body of Christ, I am compelled to stay within the church—even if that means at times facing traditional simplistic explanations and theories.
Christ is Risen! And praise God for the space and room to doubt, question, and challenge. And thanks to Thomas, who paves the way for questioning believers, who keep coming back even when the doubts and challenges pester our hearts.