Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

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

This week we get our annual reminder of poor “Doubting Thomas.” In previous sermons on this text I said 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.

So 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 to say anything definitive about it. Some would reckon doubt of any sort a serious moral failing. Unequivocally denouncing all who would question their 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, and I think new insights often depend on our being open to admitting we were mistaken about something. 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. I happen to believe the deposit of faith is trustworthy because it developed by the direction of the Holy Spirit over the course of hundreds of years. Even if one doesn’t believe that, it seems to me manifestly obvious that I am not as smart as the Church Fathers, and edgelords on the internet sending tweets and making youtube videos are far less circumspect and careful in their analysis than those who wrestled with the finer points of the theology of, say, the Incarnation and the Resurrection within communities of faithful inquiry and Christian practice.

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 the seed of faith, no matter how small, 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.

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.