'Peace be with you on the dark Fridays, the confused Saturdays and the joyous Sundays.' A talk by Sarah Roweberry on the Sunday after Easter.
'I grew up in a church, but I’m still getting my head around Easter. So when I heard that today’s passage was about doubting Thomas, my gut reaction was; brilliant! I’m an expert on doubt!
But since then I’ve started to doubt that too.
Thomas seems to me to have been unfairly branded…calling someone a doubting Thomas usually has a slightly insulting tone to it, when I can’t help thinking he’s more like perfectly reasonable Thomas.
Because let’s be honest, it’s a fairly incredible story, for Thomas, and for me. It was then and still is in now. We took the day where we commemorate pretty much the worst thing a group with power could do to a single person, and we called it ‘Good Friday’ either we’re cruel in the extreme, or we’ve given away the ending in the ultimate spoiler. We can only call it good because we’ve been told that Friday isn’t the end of the story. But what was it like the first time around? Imagine how it actually felt for Thomas – and I’m going to guess it wasn’t good.
What was it like to have put your complete trust in Jesus, give up life as you knew it to follow him, get excited about a revolution, a new world, a better way of doing things, only to see him so brutally, violently killed? Would you wonder whether the whole story was a big sham? That you’d put your faith in the wrong person, that this God you thought was by your side had instead forsaken you?
I think about Palestine most days, but particularly at this time of year. I spent 3 months living in the occupied West Bank as a human rights accompanier, being with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists as they struggled for a just peace, or just plain struggled to maintain their existence. All of these places that had somehow been part of our collective memory as Sunday school regulars; weren’t just scenes from a book anymore, they became places to me. Physical places full of real people that have families and hopes and dreams and despair. I was there at this time of year, and more than occasionally, the feeling of being forsaken by God was viscerally real.
Early one morning in the days before Easter, I visited families whose homes had been violently raided by the Israeli military in the middle of the night. The village had been picked on most likely because it still, to this day, holds a weekly demonstration against a road block that cuts them off from their main road, and against the occupation more widely which means that half of the agricultural land of the village is due to be lost behind the separation barrier. Some families had people arrested, but in many , heavily armed soldiers had arrived in the dead of night, literally turned houses upside down and then simply moved on to the next place. Some of the homes that had been raided had young children and the incident had obviously been traumatic for them. The mess and damage left behind were overwhelming to me, it seemed to be the most hopeless situation I had witnessed so far. I doubted what I was doing there, and in that cloud of despair, whether I would ever feel hopeful again about peace. A despair appropriate for Easter Saturday.
But in the midst of it, the first thing people would do is to offer us something. To make coffee whilst broken glass lay over the floor, or to run out to buy juice whilst their sofas still lay upside down.
I was stuck in Easter Saturday. And they were proving that kindness is always good news – that it might be possible to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. The women at the tomb didn’t know Jesus was going to be alive –but they went anyway. Thomas didn’t believe the other disciples, but he hung around anyway. They were fearful for their lives- perfectly reasonable given what they had just seen happen to Jesus. And for some reason he stayed around rather than running away. The Palestinian families I visited didn’t have a lot of reason to hope, but they shared theirs with me anyway. Small acts of hope that allow us to experience a glimmer of Easter Sunday. And so when I read today’s passage again, I thought of these families and realised that maybe it’s not about doubt at all, maybe it’s about life.
And this is why community matters – because sometimes you’ll be perfectly-reasonable-Thomas, and sometimes you’ll be his bunch of mates that caught a glimpse of a better world and carried on believing in it even when times were bleak.
What is your doubt holding you back from? What is your fear stopping you from doing? From believing that you are loved beyond measure? From saying hello to the neighbour that you think might be lonely? From reprioritising your life to do more of what’s important to you?
Jesus doesn’t say much in this passage, but ‘Peace be with you’ was important enough to say three times. The peace he’s talking about, it isn’t a quiet, absence of a quality, the slightly awkward greeting we make weekly in church as we try to decide whether to go for a handshake or a hug just before communion. Jesus is talking about shalom: a word that means wholeness….encompassing that abundance of a life that Jesus promises earlier in John.
We even get told that the whole point of this passage is that we get to hear it so that we believe, and that ‘By believing, you may have life in his name.’ Believing is no use in and of itself. But if we believe and that means we can capture a lot more life: Life – all of it, everywhere, in all directions. The Greek word used to describe the kind of life Jesus meant had extra dimensions of "superabundant," "overflowing," "a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect.”
That would be a life free from fear and doubt. But this passage tells me that God knew we wouldn’t manage that. So Thomas is proof that it’s ok to doubt if you have a bunch of mates who will tell you the good news anyway, and let you stay around even when you don’t believe it.
Of course we would doubt such a ridiculous idea that love can win, that another world is possible when sometimes it seems that all of the evidence suggests otherwise. But Thomas is there to say, you know what, I know it’s bonkers – I couldn’t believe it either. But I’m here to tell you that’s it true. Those families who showed me hospitality when the weight of the world was heavy on their shoulders. They were ordinary people doing ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances, to show us to stop getting hung up on doubt, and keep focused on life.
And just like with doubt, I’m certainly not an expert on life. But maybe between us we’ve got a pretty good shot at making it abundant.
Peace be with you on the dark Fridays, peace be with you on the confused Saturdays and peace be with you on the joyous Sundays.
Peace be with you on the days filled with doubt and the days overflowing with life. Peace be with you. Amen. '