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Texts: Acts 4: 32-35, John 20,:19-end

Today we hear in our readings about two seemingly very different personalities. The first being Thomas, the apostle almost invariably labelled with the epithet ‘doubting’ and then we have Barnabas, whose name we are told means ‘Son of the Encourager’. The name Barnabas is now associated with not just encouragement but also companionship and prophetic qualities. Whereas the name Thomas simply mean the ‘twin’ which does beg me to ask the question as to what the other twin was called or were they simply twin one and twin two? But such idle speculation apart the idea of Thomas as being a twin has come to symbolize his journey from doubt to faith and the constant human struggle to find an equilibrium between reason and belief.

Thomas, the disciple who refused to believe in the reality of the risen Christ unless he could actually see him. Thomas who was not going to be convinced by the protestations of his fellow disciples, however vehement, that they had seen Jesus, seen the Lord. And let’s be quite honest with ourselves here, would we not have harboured exactly the same doubts as Thomas did? Dead men do not reappear; dead men do not walk through locked doors. Was this a claim Thomas could really take on trust alone? Was this a claim we would have taken on trust alone back then? Oh, now we do, or we say we do, but we have had the huge advantage of two thousand yeas of continued retelling of the stories of those first few witnesses to the physical appearance of the Lord in their midst, be it in that locked room, on the road to Emmaus or by the seashore. 

These stories for most of us are almost imbedded in our DNA. Almost every week we proclaim the words of the Creed ‘He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again’ Are we so dulled by repetition that we hardly know the sheer enormity of the truth we are professing or are we always properly conscious of repeating with unquestioned conviction the core belief of the Christian faith that yes, ‘Christ is risen. He is risen indeed? Can we with complete honesty hold to that faith when there are so many now who have no religious belief whatsoever and among those non- believers many who would utterly ridicule and even despise us for pronouncing such a belief, such faith in a God who not only takes on human form but then is unquestionably killed before apparently rising again and making a number of appearances to his devoted followers before, according to more of their testimony, ascending to heaven. Put so bluntly, so crudely, even the most devoted Christians just might have pause for thought, for entertaining at lease a smidgeon of doubt. Are we completely deluded or on the other hand is our faith in a risen Christ completely justified? Is our faith in effect a well-worn comfort blanket or does it mean far far more to us? Is our faith truly central to our life and all that we strive to be?

And here I think one of the lessons to be learned from Thomas’ doubting is that we too are thereby given permission to express our doubts and then to actively and reflectively work through them and to seek for ourselves the living Christ in our midst as Thomas did. I think his doubting does in a way encourage us to explore our faith and thereby ensure that it truly is a living faith.

To doubt is not a sin; to doubt is something we all do at certain times, and it is then that surely, we need the encouragement of Barnabas to take time to question our doubts and to look for answers. Doubt can I believe be a very powerful tool and a stimulant in helping us to explore and to cement our faith, our belief in the risen Christ. And here I found some wonderfully apt words of, believe it or not, Winnie the Pooh: ‘Sometimes you have to rethink the things you thought you thought through.’ In other words, to re-examine some of our ideas in the light of the gospel, the light of experience and the light of the witness of others plus most importantly of all the light revealed by the presence of the Spirit of God among us.

And from someone a little more erudite perhaps than Winnie the Pooh the Bishop of Chelmsford has these wise words: ‘God is a God of surprises who, time and again, shatters our expectations, broadens our narrow vision and beckons us towards a whole new way of understanding.’ That is surely what happened to those first disciples who experienced utmost surprise, a shattering of all their previously held expectations as to what Jesus would do for them, a great broadening of their narrow vision as to God’s purposes and a whole new way of understanding just what God had done for us in sending His Son to live and die among us before becoming the risen Christ in whom we are called to have perfect faith, perfect trust. And I think Barnabas would encourage us, firstly, to allow ourselves to be surprised by God for he surely is the God of surprises. Secondly to allow our often limited and ego centred expectations as to what God might do for us to be shattered. Thirdly to make a very real effort to broaden our vision of God which again if we are honest may not have progressed that far from the childish image of a man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud. And fourthly to have a

completely new way of understanding of the faith we claim is ours. And if this all sounds a bit daunting and rather too challenging more words of the bishop can surely encourage us: ‘And God is patient and gentle too, giving us time to catch up with divine purposes. Resurrection may have happened in a moment but its realization for the disciples dawned slowly, over time. So it can be for us today.’

So do not be afraid of doubt but use it to learn if nothing else a fraction more understanding, a wider vision of the almost unfathomable mystery that is God and to be surprised by joy in what you learn. And always be ready to both seek encouragement in your faith journey by the example of others and at the same time always be ready to be an encourager yourself.

I pray that for all of us we can in all sincerity of faith re-echo Thomas’s words: ‘My Lord and my God’ and recognise the truth of the words of our second hymn: Lives again our glorious King; where O death is now thy sting? Dying once, he all doth save; where thy victory, O grave?

Soar we now where Christ has led, following our exalted head; made like him, like him we rise; ours the cross, the grave the skies. Hail the Lord of earth and heaven! Praise to thee by both be given: thee we greet triumphant now; hail, the Resurrection thou.

Lord, we pray that we may learn to have implicit trust in your unfathomed love for us your children revealed by the life, death and resurrection of your Son and to recognise the eternal truth that neither life nor death can ever part us from that love.

Rev’d Virginia Smith / 7th April 2024

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