An open letter to Thomas the Twin

Dear Thomas: It seems the church is never going to let you off the hook we created for you when you first encountered the risen Christ. Two thousand years is a long time to live with a misunderstanding like that, a misunderstanding so big it renamed you, so now nobody knows you as Didymus (the Twin) any longer; Doubting Thomas is what we call you, though it’s not doubting you were, only hungry to have what the others already had, a face-to-face with the risen Lord.

A lot of us today need what you needed and yearn for what you finally had, but we don’t often talk about it. We turn out for an Easter worship service to hear the music and sing the words and maybe, if we’re lucky, to brush a tear from our eye. Then we rise stiff-jointed from our seats and walk back into a world that has changed little or not at all from the pre-Easter world we knew. By the time we finish with the evening news and get ready for work the next day, it’s hard to tell there even was an Easter, and we can understand the impulse of those first disciples to hide behind locked doors for fear of what might meet us out there.

And there’s plenty to fear these days. There are wars and rumors of wars all around the world, and like it or not we’re involved in them because we’ve got so much at stake in all of them, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding being an all-or-nothing thing – unless everyone has it, no one has it. Today “all around the world” turns out to be not so far away. Some of the worst things done to us are done by our neighbors, and that thing Jesus said about one’s enemies being members of one’s own household turns out to still be the way things are. Pogo was right: we have met the enemy and he is us.

How do we live in a world like this? It makes me wonder how you lived in a world like yours where life for you and the rest of the early church was a whole lot worse than it is for us in our world. You demanded to see evidence of the resurrection before you’d believe in the reality of the resurrection. A second-hand faith, something reported by others, was not enough; only something first-hand would be credible enough for you, and gee do we want that today. As life around us gets more difficult, more and more younger folks seem to feel the church is better at reporting faith than at living it, and maybe they’re right. Sometimes even I feel that way. It seems we’re good at dressing up in the faded faith of previous generations and not so good at practicing an original, living faith that transforms the world starting with our own neighborhoods – addressing hunger and homelessness and systemic poverty and racism and homophobia, and intolerance of differences, to name just a few examples.

You were there, Thomas, when love was hung out to dry; when goodness and hope were put to death; when the one who embodied in himself our highest aspirations for good and a love for every human being was rejected, crucified, and thrown away. And when you heard the news that those things were alive again, you didn’t believe at first. Who really believes it today? Show me, you said. Prove it to me. Let me see some evidence, you said. Then maybe I’ll believe, you said. A lot of folks are saying that today, including some in the church. It’s hard to stay uplifted by Easter Sunday when the world and life in it seem to be doing all they can to press us down and keep us down. How did you do it? How did you move from doubt to faith?

I don’t need to ask that question, of course; the answer is right there in the story. You started by confessing your doubt and uncertainty. Nothing hurts us more or causes more hurt to others than our certainties. When we organize and make sense of life, when we try to nail down all of life’s uncertainties and ambiguities, we lose touch with everything about life that’s beyond our poor powers of comprehension. When we build our lives and our faith only on things we know and try to keep at bay everything unknown, we fragment life and sever or anesthetize our relationship with most of life and creation.

But when we express our doubt as you did, we open up the possibility that something beyond our understanding will step out of the shadows and call our name. You taught me, Thomas, that confessing my doubt keeps me open to possibilities I’m unable to imagine. You taught me that doubt and uncertainty about life and the world around me are not the end of faith, nor are they signs of its absence. They are part of true faith, they are the beginning of faith, and they remind me that only the truly faithful have the courage to doubt their faith, explore its dark recesses, and hold on to the hope of finding the light that no darkness can overcome.

Of course, I don’t know if I’ll ever have an experience of the risen Christ like yours, Thomas, one that leaves me tongue-tied, able only to stammer something like, “My Lord and my God!” Nor do I know if I’ll ever have a faith like yours, which according to legend led you to establish the church in India and possibly in China and Indonesia. Maybe my best hope will be to hunger for your hunger, to simply show up with others who have what I want because that gets me as close as I can come to rubbing elbows with eternal love and goodness here in this life, and you taught me it’s enough to keep that company. You were blessed to see the risen Christ first-hand, and just so, the risen Christ said, will those be blessed who have not seen and yet believe. With that, I can live a life that’s full and abundantly blessed. Because of all we share, I remain your friend always. —Rich ▪

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