Nearly twenty-three years ago my life changed forever. Early one morning I left our apartment with my wife. I was a young priest, a husband, a rather average person. Later that evening I returned home a young priest, a husband, a rather average person and a father. My wife had given birth to our first child.
Since then my life has not been, nor will it ever be. As most of us know, being a parent can be challenging. But being a parent can also be one of life’s richest experiences. We learn as much about ourselves and God from our children as we teach them.
Early during my son’s life I had a profound experience. His mother was away for the evening and I was left to walk our son through the rituals of going to bed. It was a process I hadn’t yet mastered and things were not going well. So I decided to put on some comforting music and rock and sway him until he was more relaxed. I chose a song called “I Don’t Know Why” by a woman named Shawn Colvin. It is a song that expresses the mysteries of love and life. I knew it to be a beautiful and moving song but, until I sang it to my son, I wasn’t aware of how moving it could be. I quietly and gently sang him the lyrics which include these lines:
I don’t know why
But somewhere dreams come true
And I don’t know where
But there will be a place for you
And every time you look that way
I would lay down my life for you
I don’t know why
I know these things, but I do
As I sang I began to cry. My son looked at me with such innocence, trust and potential, and I realized that I truly didn’t know why, or how, or where, or any of the other answers of life. All I knew was that I loved my son. None of life’s mysteries, trials, doubts and failures would ever change that. It was moment when faith and doubt stood side by side, when the strength of love buoyed the frailty of simply being human.
This morning we have heard such a story in the Gospel reading. Thomas, the apostle of doubt and skepticism demands proof of the resurrection. He proclaims:
Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.
Because of this we have come to know Thomas as a man of an almost callous lack of faith. But that is unfair to him and to us.
I have a great affinity for Thomas. He is not just my namesake, I was also ordained to the priesthood on the Feast of St Thomas. I also admire him because in him we can all find a kindred soul.
The power of the story of Thomas is not that it is a warning against doubt but that it is a portrayal of a man who will not settle on hearsay about God and a man who comes to know the power of the resurrection.
Thomas seeks--and receives—his own experience with the risen Lord. But if we look carefully, his response is not what we may expect from a skeptic. Thomas demands that he would probe the very wounds of Jesus to verify the claims of the other apostles. Yet when our Lord appears to him, and even offers to let him do this tangible investigation, Thomas only responds with a confession of faith, “My Lord and my God.”
A true skeptic, a person unconcerned with the true redemptive power of the resurrection, would still have not believed. The questions would remain a primary concern. But how was he raised from the dead? Why would such a thing happen? Where was his soul when his body was lying in death?
But Thomas’ faith and doubt stood side by side; the strength of his and his Savior’s love buoyed the frailty and limits of human faith and reason. In effect Thomas’ confession
echoes the lyrics of Miss Colvin: “I don’t know why I know these things, but I do.”
Oftentimes we may fall victim to the temptation that the life of faith means a certain knowledge of the things of God. In an age when we are mapping DNA, harnessing the power of atoms, probing deeper and deeper into the cosmos, we are still stymied by the things of God. We can explain the depths of the universe and yet can still only glimpse the hand of God. In the words of T.S. Elliot, “All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.”
In this tension we live as people of faith engaging our doubts. And this is exactly where we should be. You see, Jesus is not calling Thomas simply to believe but to a life of belief. Jesus is calling Thomas and us to live out our faith, to be trusting ,to engage his love and lordship into every single cell of our being. That is costly and self-consuming and it can only bring questions. who God is, why God does things or doesn’t do things, the truth is you are not fully engaging your beliefs. That may be why our Lectionary has us read this same reading every single year on the first Sunday after Easter.
So we come to this church and hear the stories of our faith. We pray for God’s blessing and guidance. We confess that we believe in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. We will leave with questions. We will leave with doubts. That means that we are leaving with a true and lively faith.
One evening I stood and looked at my son and saw hazily into his future. I found myself in the hope that he would grow into a man of integrity, faith and love. I looked upon him with pride and devotion and cried as I realized the future was outside of my control. But that did not change my love and devotion for him. I cried as I realized that God holds us in much the same way. I know that God seeks that we, too, will grow into persons of integrity and faith and love as he leads the way into the future. I know these things. I don’t know why I know these things, but I do.
© 2020, Tom Thoeni