Sunday, April 03, 2005

Sermon for Low Sunday

Homily on Doubt and Faith
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban's Church, Arlington, TX on 3 April 2005

Something extraordinary has happened. Of all people on earth, we as Anglicans, as Catholics, as Christians, as people of faith, should appreciate the vital significance of Jesus of Nazareth. We know that his life, and death, and resurrection has a crucial meaning for us here and now.

In our Lenten journey, the theme of refreshing waters came up time and again. The goal of our pilgrimage was to walk with Jesus through the dry wilderness of our hearts; to look at the barrenness in our lives and turn to Jesus, the wellspring of eternal life and grace and goodness—to thirst for that living water that is Christ himself. In Holy Week we watched and waited with our Lord in his final days of life. And in the end he chose the Father’s will—to go where we could not follow. It looked very bleak for the disciples that Friday, but the tough times didn’t last.

In the Act of the Apostles we read that S. Peter, standing with the other apostles, proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a magnificent sermon to the Jewish people (Acts 2:22-32). He goes further than that. Listen to what Peter says: "God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it." What an amazing thought—that it was possible for Jesus to die, but not possible for him to stay dead.

S. Paul adds in that Easter hymn of the early church we call the Pascha Nostrum: "Christ being raised from the dead can never die again; death has no more power over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives, he lives unto God" (Rom 6:9-10). It was impossible that the Author of Life could fail to triumph over death. Death was the gloom that hung over man’s head since the beginning, when it was said of the forbidden fruit: "The day you eat of if, you shall die" (Gen 2:17).

We often hear it said that Jesus died to save us, but that sentiment can only be true if he also rose from the dead to save us. The mystery of the Incarnation is that in the union of God and man in Christ Jesus a marvelous and miraculous exchange has taken place. He died in sharing in our human life and rose that we might share in his divine life. Christ takes away our sting of death and replaces it with the joy of eternal life.

There are many events of history that are interesting to study, but many have little relevance on our lives. For example, did Alexander the Great, after the last of his military campaigns actaully stop and weep because there were no more worlds to conquer? We don’t know for sure, but it really doesn’t matter. Did George Washington actually chop down that famous cherry tree? We don’t really know, but it really doesn’t matter. But did Jesus Christ, body and soul, rise from the dead and walk out of his own grave? With confidence, let us say yes, we do know and it does matter.

S. Paul stresses this point greatly in his epistle to the Corinthians. Some of them were saying there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul points out, "If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile; and are you are still trapped in your sins. And we are found to be lying about God, because we testified that he did raise Christ . . . Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished." Think of it; it staggers the mind. All of our loved ones are perished, lost, gone forever, if Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead.

"If in this life only we have hope in Christ," Paul adds, "we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of those who sleep in death" (1 Cor 15:12-20). The apostle points out that Jesus’ resurrection is the promise and preview of our own.

Our guilt from sin, our loved ones, and our own lives in this world and the next all hinge on the resurrection of our Lord. But we can rest assured; our faith is not in not in vain. It stands on a sure foundation. We are no longer trapped in our sins, without hope. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have not perished. The power of the resurrection is the power of ultimate transformation.

It is the power that transforms death into life. It transforms sin into holiness and moral purity. It transforms doubt into belief and belief into faith and faith into hope. And hope does not disappoint because of the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).

There are some very interesting details in our Gospel reading. Did you notice them? We are told that last Sunday evening, disciples were in hiding in a secret place with all the doors locked shut—perhaps in the Upper Room where they had shared the Last Supper. Is your life running into closed doors? Does every turn seem to be an obstacle that looks impossible to overcome? Has you’re door to hope been closed by disappointment? No disappointment could match that of the disciples who fled from Jesus at the crucifixion. Their hopes had been dashed to pieces.

The disciples were hiding in fear behind closed doors. And yet, all of the sudden, Jesus stands in the midst of them. They feared it might be a ghost, but he shows them his wounds and greets them saying, "Peace be with you." He was a real solid human being, but not the same as before. After the resurrection, those old bodily limitations no longer seem to apply. Closed doors where the disciples were gathered are now open pathways. He shows his anguished followers a man that has also suffered. But now his wounds are marks of identity, not of pain.

The exchange of peace is a very personal kind of sharing. And in sharing his peace, Jesus beacons the disciples to share in his work. "As the Father has sent me," he says, "so now I send you." Their mission will be accomplished through this power of the resurrection. He breathes on them to symbolize a giving of his own essence, the breath of life that conquered death, and says "Receive the Holy Spirit," and gives them authority to forgive sins.

Notice that it is only after the resurrection that this power of absolving sins is given. Since sacramental absolution is a sacrament of renewed life, it is accomplished through God’s transforming resurrection power. Therefore, after rising from the dead, Jesus gave to the ministers of the Church authority to act in his name in healing sinful souls to share with them his new life.

One disciple, Thomas, was not there when these events occurred. The others came to him to share the news that the Lord is risen. But he only had their testimony to rely upon, and he feared this news might only be the result of wishful thinking. Thomas was in the position that we often find ourselves in, at least at some point in our life.

In one sense, we could say that Thomas was somewhat open-minded about the story. After all, he did seem to say that he wants to believe them, and would, if he could only have been there to see it for himself. Yet, we could also say that Thomas was a bit too skeptical and non-committal. Unless he could see it for himself, and touch those wounds with his own hands, he would not believe it, whatever they told him. We see in Thomas, not so much a lack of belief as a lack of willingness to trust. And this is where so many souls hang in the balance. Many are lost in the chasm between doubt and faith.

A real key to faith is that element of trustworthiness. Coming to faith involves the assumption of truthfulness based upon the integrity of the source of information. Thomas’ hopes had been dashed—it was hard even to find his closest friends trustworthy at this moment in his life. Now there is a certain amount of skepticism that is healthy. Without it, we would have no curiosity. It is our drive to understand and prove things that leads us to discovery and new knowledge. But skepticism can also keep hope and faith at arm’s length, as it did for Thomas.

The eighth day after Easter Sunday—today—the disciples are again gathered in the house with the doors shut. This time Thomas is with them. But he is still trapped in that gulf between doubt and trust. If you are trapped between doubt and trust, pray that another witness may come to offer you testimony. That’s what happened to Thomas. This time the Lord himself came to offer testimony of his own resurrection. Jesus appears again, saying, "Peace be with you." Immediately Jesus goes to Thomas, who must have been overwhelmed. He asks Thomas to touch his wounds for himself, and have faith in God.

It is the power of Jesus’ resurrection that transforms Thomas. It transforms his doubt to faith, and Thomas responds in words brimming over with confidence and love, "My Lord, and my God." Jesus tells him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." We ought to note here that Jesus does not say that Thomas is cursed for having seen it for himself. But Jesus does say the blessings are wondrous for those who trust in the Lord.

How often we think to ourselves, If I had been there I could really know. Or, If I could look ahead and see heaven, I could really know. And we miss the blessings of God that are available to us right now in knowing the Lord by faith. Faith is what brings hope through the closed doors of doubt. We can never know this joy until we begin to love Jesus Christ. Divine comfort can elude us until we start to love Jesus Christ. A certain hope begins when we decide to love Jesus Christ.

What is the great blessing for those who cannot see, and yet believe? S. Peter wrote in today’s epistle, "Without having seen him you love him, though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet 1:8-9).

In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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