I have a “Doubting Thomas” question this morning and an imaginary answer from God. But that comes later.
What comes through loud and clear in these almost 2000 year old texts is a tremendous energy, an irrepressible enthusiasm. And, especially, an urgency to tell others about this extraordinary event of the resurrection of Jesus. (“These are written so that you may come to believe…” “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands…so that you may have fellowship with us…so that our joy may be complete.”) There is an irrepressible impulse in these writings, an urgency to share with others.
The thrust of the original event was powerful enough to launch movements in several directions at once. So we have the 1st century communities that produced the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; we have the writings of Peter and Paul and their followers; we have the letters of the community connected with John and the 4th Gospel and so on. Each of these traditions has its own slant on things, its own emphases.
We’ve inherited these multiple traditions emerging from the same originating, galvanizing event. The common denominator is an irrepressible urgency to share the experience of the resurrection of Jesus—an experience so compelling that they couldn’t not spread the news around, even at the risk of their reputations and lives.
Compelling because the resurrection addresses a universal fear: the fear of death. The resurrection of Jesus says that we need not fear death, because it is the beginning of a new kind of life. And, as Paul was to elaborate, nothing stands in the way between us and this new kind of life; Jesus’ death on the cross was the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, once and for all. There is a new life beyond this one and it is freely offered to all—we need not fear rejection on account of anything we’ve done or said or left unsaid or left undone.
This core message of resurrection is a fire that has leaped across every fence, every boundary of culture, language, ethnicity, class—precisely because of the dry tinder of the inevitability of death and our fear of it. I’m personally convinced that this core message of the church is grounded in events that actually happened. But there’s a bit of the Doubting Thomas in all of us, as is natural for thinking beings. And, for that matter, for a faith that is grounded in the Scriptures with all their ambiguities and inconsistencies. (Was the Holy Spirit given on the day of resurrection as we just heard, or fifty days later as we read in Acts?)
I think it was Frederick Buechner who once described doubt as the “ants in the pants of faith”. We can be convinced in our own minds, we can hold fast to what we believe, and still have a certain modesty about what we say we know absolutely to be true. There is a healthy interplay in the life of faith between our need to feel settled in our beliefs and the desire to ask more questions. Paul speaks of faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit. If that’s true, the kind of faith many of us have received is an interplay between belief and doubt, faith and questions.
Here’s my Doubting Thomas question for today: why doesn’t God do a kind of refresher incarnation every hundred years or so, a reincarnation so we can enjoy more certainty in our beliefs, so we can feel absolutely sure?
And here’s my imagined explanation from God (we should now all sing a few verses of “Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread”). I imagine that God wants to do something new—again. Actually, something old in a new way. And that something new is this: to raise up a new kind of body. To incarnate and raise up a new kind of embodiment. And that embodiment is the body of which we are members: we are, in one sense, the risen Body of Christ.
His love, his grace and truth are to be embodied in a new way, that is, in us. The First Letter of John speaks provocatively of this: God is love, but God’s love is perfected in us. God desires this new kind of body so that his joy may be complete, that his love may reach a new level of perfection, of fullness, of completion. 1 John 4:12: “…if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
And that perfection, that completion of love embodied in our humanity is “phase two” of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are that new body being raised up. So we begin to see the urgency of those first century writers in this light. They had to share their witness in order for Christ to be raised up yet again in this new way. The fire has to spread.
To the extent that we believe, we have confidence to face death in expectation of our own resurrection to greater life. To the extent that our faith falls short of absolute certainty, we are perhaps more inclined to embrace the reality of the new body being raised up here on this earth, in this world that God so loves. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten…” [John 3: 16]
Its in 1 Corinthians that Paul speaks of faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit [1 Cor. 12: 9]. The kind of faith many of us have been given is an interplay between belief and doubt, faith and questioning. The particular kind of faith we have, this interplay of seeming opposites, is itself a gift. The God we know has left a trail of crumbs for us, but remains to a great extent elusive and just beyond the grasp of absolute certainties.
And that in itself is a gift; we might say we have received the gift of doubt. Just enough doubt to take this world seriously, this world that God so loves. We are to fully embrace this world, in all its joys and sorrows. Although we may cherish the belief that we will enter into eternity fully alive, we are to embrace this life while we have it. The whole point of the great resurrection of Jesus is to address our fear of death, so that we may indeed fully embrace this life, its joys and sorrows, its possibilities for incarnating the love, grace and truth of Christ– without fear. We are to fully embrace “phase two” of the resurrection of Christ.
We are invited to live into this new body fully and not with our hat and coat on, bags packed by the front door and car warming up in the garage. (At least until it really is time to go.)
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