May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.
Thomas is a troubled soul. He and his friends – the disciples left behind when Jesus was crucified and buried – have been holed up in hiding for fear of further persecution. The one time he leaves the safety of their room, he comes back to the news that not only is Jesus somehow still alive, but he visited the other disciples and blessed them, showing them his wounds. Imagine being Thomas, hearing these things, heart still aching for the loss of his beloved teacher. How could he not say in response, “I cannot believe until I see these things too”?
Jesus soon shows himself again and invites Thomas to touch his wounds so that he may be convinced of the truth of the Resurrection. While doing so, he says to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.”
Now, our translation, the New Revised Standard Version, uses the words “doubt” and “believe” here, but the Greek from which it draws its translation is the neat pair apistos and pistos. Pistos is usually assumed to mean belief or faith in an idea or proposition, but New Testament scholar Dr. Celene Lillie has contended that pistos would be more appropriately rendered as “trust.” Instead of asking a follower to intellectually agree with the fact of his Resurrection, Jesus is asking his friend to trust him.
If only it were so easy, right? Trust is not a light switch, or the proper result of just lining up the right facts in the right way. Trust is a living thing that is cultivated between people; it can thrive and it can be starved, and it can be torn apart by things like great trauma. Thomas had, just days prior, watched in horror as the Roman authorities had his friend executed in the most humiliating way possible. Imagine the shattering that must have occurred that day in the minds of Thomas and the other disciples. We can look back from our time and see that Easter is coming after the tragedy of the crucifixion, but for days after Jesus’ death, his friends and followers are reeling from the loss, in hiding out of fear that they will be next.
For the last thirteen months or more, we have been in our own kind of shattering. The trauma of the pandemic is fresh and ongoing, and the news has all been bad. Even when good things finally come to us – vaccines, slower infection rates, even something as simple as the weather being warm enough to visit with a friend in their driveway – it can be hard to trust the flicker of hope that comes with such things. Our new normal is to keep distance from each other, spend lots of time at home. I’ve reached a point where I feel strange looking at someone’s unmasked face if I don’t already know them well. The healing will come slowly, not in one fell swoop. It will be in bits and pieces, and in the meantime, we will have to wait. How can we trust that things will get better at all, as we sit in the waiting? Even when friends and family who are protected begin gathering and returning to activities they have gone months without, how can we believe that the good will come for us too when we have yet to see it?
After a year like this, in times like these, how can we even begin to trust that the Resurrection is real and means anything for our own lives? How can we believe in life when all around us seems to be death?
Jesus says to Thomas, “Do not be untrusting, but trusting.” 1 John also reminds us that Jesus is worthy of our trust. We may be able to agree intellectually, saying to ourselves “Yes, I know this is real and I can trust it…” but then the clouds gather again and the small voice in the heart says “But, how can I really know? How can I really trust?” If this is you – if you feel like Thomas out of the room at the wrong moment, if you want to trust that the hope is true even in the midst of death and trauma, but you do not know how – I offer something we Episcopalians love to say to each other from time to time: “Let me believe for you.”
There have been weeks where I have sat in the pews and been driven to distraction wondering how Jesus and the church could offer anything for me amid my sorrow. I have stewed with anger and I have been numb in the depths of my anxious thoughts. Maybe this is you these days, and I say to you: You are not alone. You do not have to be anywhere other than where you are. God loves you where you are, and the church community will support you where you are. Jesus invites us to trust, but he will let us wait to decide until we have touched the wounds with our own hands and seen that it was not the end.
To let others – our siblings in Christ – believe “for us” can take many forms. It can be sharing the strain of the doubt with a trusted friend or clergyperson and asking them to pray for or with us. It can be getting involved in the service or in the ministries of the parish and seeing the fruits of grace in the collective work of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into our neighborhood. It can be as simple as showing up, saying the prayers or not, and just being part of the weekly rhythm of worship until you feel the ground beneath you become solid.
I have been Thomas, absent from the action at the worst moment and unable to trust that good can ever come again. I probably will be Thomas again. Maybe you are Thomas right now, visions of death in your eyes and only rumors of Resurrection to rely on, if they’re reliable at all. If that is you, hello. Jesus invites you to practice trust, even when it’s hard, even when it feels impossible. You are not alone. The community will hold you and help you get pulled back together. For as long as it takes and even beyond that, we will trust for you.