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We began our service this morning with the Easter affirmation of the Church: “Christ is risen; the Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”  But that first Easter, the disciples still had a lot of doubts about the truth of the resurrection.  Sure, Mary Magdalene had brought them word that she had seen Jesus alive again.  But the good news hadn’t motivated his followers into action immediately.  They weren’t out on the streets of Jerusalem looking for their leader.  Nobody was preaching on the steps of the Temple.  The followers of Jesus had locked themselves into their meeting house for fear of the Jewish authorities. Maybe they were hiding just as much from the memory of Jesus.  They had run away when he was arrested and sentenced.  Now they were grieving his death and just wanted to be left alone.  So when the Lord scares them by showing up that evening in their midst, the first word out of their mouths probably wasn’t “Alleluia!”  More likely it was “Eek!”. Jesus has to calm them down with his greeting of “peace be with you.”  They rejoice in his appearance, but the “Alleluia” comes a little later, when they accept that the Lord has risen indeed. 


There is a trust problem.  They weren’t about to take each other’s word as gospel truth.  The disciples didn’t believe Mary.  And Thomas, who wasn’t present at that first visit, doesn’t believe his companions.  He does want to be persuaded, but he needs something more than their hearsay.  All he has is his own senses to evaluate the truth: his sight, his hearing, his touch, his organs of taste and smell.  Something is needed to help him bridge the gap of uncertainty.  His friends got to experience the risen Jesus among them; he too wants tangible evidence to overcome his doubts.


It could be worse.  The disciples could be so certain that they condemn everyone who doesn’t agree with them.  Atheists and fanatics are two ends of a spectrum, but they are the same in that neither group is capable of listening to God.  One is sure God doesn’t exist.  The other is sure that they have God all figured out, and therefore God will be on their side to do exactly as they say.  Certainty is a locked door that is very effective in preventing truth and wisdom from entering the heart.  When we think we know it all, why should we listen to anything outside ourselves?  Sadly, we see this in our wider society when we refuse to take in new learnings. Instead we label things that don’t fit our worldview as “fake news”.  When we ignore dissenting or diverse voices, we may miss hearing something important.  We still have to evaluate information according to our values, but to refuse to engage eliminates the possibility of any learning at all.  Thomas doesn’t understand or accept the experience of the other disciples as proof, but at least he is open to be corrected.


A week later, he gets that opportunity.   Into the house where the doors are shut, the risen Lord comes again among the gathering of the disciples, including Thomas this time.  Addressing him directly, Jesus says, “put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”  Doubt does not mean the individual is totally without faith, but rather incredulous, not yet persuaded or convinced.  Thomas no longer hesitates.  He needs no further confirmation of his senses now that he is faced with the reality of resurrection.  His affirmation “my Lord and my God” is his alleluia moment.  It doesn’t mean he is certain about everything.  But the gap has been bridged by his trust in the One who is standing right before him.  In fact, his faith goes beyond where the other disciples have reached.  The risen Jesus is the one true and living God.


This good news is not only for that first generation of Christ-followers.  It extends to us today.  We are not called to be certain.  We are called to faith.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).  The testimony of these witnesses is for each of us who look for Jesus in the pages of scripture. The gospel of John affirms: “these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).  The truth about who Jesus really is can be found in the sacred story. That is why the Bible is such a dangerous book.  It will change you if you dare to read it. 


There is an old saying that the devil loves a dusty Bible.  Those who think they have everything already figured out will not bother to actually crack the covers.  A certain politician down south is currently selling his own edition, handsomely bound with some political documents and a catchy patriotic jingo.  I have no idea what the book really contains, but I shudder with the blasphemy of attempting to co-opt God’s Holy Word in this manner.  Our only defence is to pull out a recognizable translation of Scripture and engage it with our heart and mind and soul and strength. Faith will trump certainty in the end.


But don’t just take another disciple’s word for it.  Jesus Christ meets us in our questions and our yearning for meaning.  Our “alleluia” moment comes in relationship with him who lovingly reaches out to wherever we are in our struggles.  Faith is not simply an intellectual assent to the truth, it’s a lived experience.  Leonard Cohen expressed what Thomas knew in his song “Alleluia”.  It took five years and many verses and versions for the songwriter to put into music what he describes as “my desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way, but with enthusiasm, with emotion.”  He speaks of relational struggle and the yearning for intimacy and hope.  He is part of a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, each of us on our little uncertain journey of hope.  We are trusting in a God that reassures us that it is okay to both question and affirm.  The risen Christ gives us the benefit of doubt to bring us to belief. Amen.