Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We get the story of our risen Lord appearing to St. Thomas and the apostle’s doubt on this Sunday every year, and I’ve noted before that we miss the point of the story if we turn Thomas into a charicature – the icon of incredulity – whether we lambaste his doubting ways or affirm them as the saint par excellence of modernity and scientism. His life as a whole and his response to this Risen Lord in particular is more rich and nuanced than that straw Thomas.

This year I want to focus not on the doubt itself, but what grew out of it- viz., a stronger belief and a commitment to living out that belief as an apostle after the Resurrection. The more I consider doubt as a part of the believer’s life, the less ready I am to make a normative judgment about it. This goes both ways, you might say. Some would reckon doubt of any sort a serious moral failing. I don’t think I’ve ever been of that opinion. Unequivocally denouncing all who would question their own beliefs can lead to a shallow sort of faith or, even worse, to the kind of unquestioning obedience to a set of beliefs and actions which strikes me as an element of cults rather than true religion.

On the other hand, there are those who would elevate doubt itself to a kind of article of faith, as ironic as that may sound. Such an approach might hold that one must question everything to come to any kind of certainty about anything. Now, I love wrestling with hard questions (it’s the philosophy major in me, I guess) and I think new insights often depend on our being open to admitting we were mistaken about some article of faith. That said, if doubt is the primary mode of religious imagination, it seems to me we’ll never be able to find our footing. We’ll be captive, it seems, to infinite regress. What’s more, such an approach is helplessly individualistic, finding no recourse to the community of the faithful, the communion of saints of which we are a part, and, thus, more-than-a-little arrogant. No, it seems, if we’re to have any foundation at all, it must be upon convictions which have by some process and at least to some extent been inoculated against doubt.

What if, however, we didn’t view doubt and faith as moral antipodes, but rather as spiritual givens? Each, no doubt, abides alongside the other. Thus the father of the epileptic boy in Mark’s Gospel can without self-contradiction proclaim, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

The blessedness (or happiness to use the more literal translation of the Greek Μακάριος) of those who have not seen and yet believe, then, does not make them morally superior to Thomas, but simply spiritually better off in the moment. It is what is done by that small seed of faith, no matter the concomitant doubt and fear, by which we are judged. That mustard seed of faith was enough to raise Thomas from doubt and despair to a heroic life spent, even to the last, in service of the Gospel.

Even so must we acknowledge our misgivings, our uncertainties, our lack of perfect confidence and ask the God of all confidence to give us the strength to persevere in belief and in trust that he will not leave us comfortless. We’ll not be on the wrong path so long as we keep praying for that assurance, so long as we can honestly say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.