Antipascha: St Thomas Sunday 2016
Doubt is a prominent feature of our society. We like to delude ourselves by promulgating the notion that we follow the evidence wherever it leads, which means that if there is an abundance of evidence—evidence that is comfortable for us to accept, mind—or a compelling argument then we are justified in a belief. We desperately want to be justified in our belief because we consider it the height of shame to be thought of as ignorant, or not-in-the-know.
Let us be clear about the nature of doubt. Regardless of what we like to tell ourselves, doubt is not rooted in reason, nor in the rational mind. Doubt is the opposite of reason because doubt finds its source in fear. We are afraid. Look at Thomas in the Gospel lesson today. He was with Christ throughout his earthly ministry. He watched Christ heal the lame, give sight to the blind, open the ears of the deaf, cast out demons, control the weather, and raise the dead on multiple occasions.
And even though Thomas was not with the Apostles when Christ appeared to his disciples the first time, he could certainly visit the empty tomb, and hear the reports of his brothers and sisters in Christ when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). In other words, there was an abundance of evidence to support the resurrection, but he could not believe it. Why? Was it reason that kept him from believing?
Let’s look at the people who were blaspheming Christ while he hung on the cross. Let us look at the scribes and the Pharisees whom Christ had embarrassed time and again. They too had seen Christ heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise Lazarus from the dead. Rather than follow the evidence as they claimed to want to do, they plotted to put Lazarus to death because people were following Christ on account of him. Think about this for just a second. Lazarus had gotten sick, suffered, and died. Christ raised him from the dead, and rather than marvel at the sight; rather than study Lazarus as a medical miracle; or even beg Christ to raise their own family members from the dead in a fit of jealousy, they plot to kill them both: Christ and Lazarus.
Was this rational? Was it reasonable? Or were they terribly afraid?
Looking back at Thomas, one can sense the fear in him. When he tells his fellow apostles, “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” (John 20:25) he can’t bring himself to believe because he is afraid to believe. Perhaps he is afraid of looking the fool as many are. Perhaps he is afraid of the pain of knowing that the whole thing was all in vain—that the Messiah he’d come to follow and love was really dead. Perhaps he was afraid of the implications of the resurrection, and Christ’s words to James and John, ““The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39). Perhaps he was afraid of knowing there are some things which are so real that they are so incomprehensible and glorious that the frailty and smallness of human comprehension becomes glaringly apparent.
St Hilary points out, If we assume that an event did not happen, because we cannot discover how it was done, we make the limits of our understanding into the limits of reality (On the Trinity 3:20). In our world, because we are afraid, we limit reality to the realm of our own understanding. Our version of reality that we’ve cooked up for ourselves in our unbelievable arrogance and pride can get in the way of our accepting reality as it really is. Rather than proclaim what is made manifest to us in the death and resurrection of Christ, we suddenly need more “evidence”. Rather than following the evidence that Christ is THE proclamation of God and man; rather than following the evidence (spiritual, emotional, and biological) that Christ’s Church proclaims the truth about the nature of man as created as male and female; rather than living the commandments of Christ that we love Him and our neighbor with everything in us, we exist in a state of fear and we call it doubt.
And we say that this doubt is based solely on a lack of reasonable evidence. We may couch this fear in language of reason and arguments. Let us finally call it what it is: fear. It is fear of pain; fear of sacrifice; fear of self-denial; fear of Life itself. It is fear of drinking the cup of Christ. It is fear of shame. It is fear of giving of the self on behalf of others. It is fear of grabbing hold of the Kingdom. It is fear of being ridiculed and mocked. It is fear of abandoning the disordered passions. If is fear of gaining our life through losing it. It is fear of reality and deification.
Beloved of God, our world doubts, not because the world is reasonable, but because it is unreasonable. Our world doubts because people are afraid. This fear does not originate with God. Christ does not make us afraid because Christ God is pure, unadulterated, love and as St John the Theologian tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). Christ does not come to condemn us, but to save us. He does not go to the cross for punishment. He goes to the cross so that he may free us from death. He does not descend into hell for punishment but to bring us back from its clutches. He rises from the dead to provide a path of resurrection for us.
We fear, and therefore doubt, because we have bought into the lies of the evil one. We are led away by our own desires and unrestrained passions (James 1:14). We have preferred that which is closer to us, even though it may mean our eternal destruction, rather than grab hold of the transcendent. We are so afraid of that Other that is promised, and indeed given, to us here and now that we choose a comfortable destruction.
Let us remember and enter again and again into the joyous Resurrection of Christ, and not fear. Christ appears to all of his apostles today and tells them, “Peace be with you.” There is no fear in peace. There is no doubt in peace. In Christ there is love. There is joy. There is peace. There is freedom from death and fear. There is light. There is life.
Christ is risen!