Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
I suppose one thing that might come out of all of this…is that we all might have a new and different—and maybe deeper—understanding of scripture.
I’ve heard from many of you how different and yet moving the Holy Week services were. How those scriptures opened up in new ways for you. It was different to be sure, but not simply because we were doing them in a strange new way…but because the texts themselves are speaking to us in a very different way.
Holy Week was particularly poignant, but I’ve noticed this many times over the past month. When we do Morning Prayer or Compline during the week, I find that phrases that I always heard as poetic or metaphorical have suddenly taken on very different —more literal—resonances…
“For behold, darkness covers the land; deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.” (Canticle 11)
“Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause…” “Many are saying, ‘Oh, that we might see better times!” (Psalm 4)
And today…”Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;” (Psalm 16). Those are no longer merely poetic appeals to some kind of piety…they have become heart-wrenching cries from a people who are hurting, and scared, and grieving, and doubting.
Doubt. Even that term from today’s gospel strikes a new chord deeper in my soul than ever before.
In the past I’ve read the doubt in this story as merely theological…and it’s something I’ve always treasured. I was ordained a priest on the Feast of St. Thomas, and he’s always been a favorite of mine—largely because of his doubt…I’ve always treasured doubt because I believe it’s integral to faith. You might have heard me say, that faith and doubt are not opposites. The opposite of faith is not doubt…The opposite of faith is certainty. Faith requires doubt…faith emerges from the crucible of doubt.
But, the doubt we have today…is so much more than theological…it’s visceral…we’re facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty…when I hear the story of Thomas and his doubt today…it’s not just some theological exercise…because there’s a deep, unsettling, profound, existential layer of doubt that has settled over everything in our world.
Doubt is not some occasional background nuisance…it’s the air we breathe, it’s the scrim we peer through as we veil our faces to venture out into this world of unprecedented uncertainty…doubt is the currency of our realm…what’s going to happen?…when will this end?…what will the world look like when it does…? God knows…but none of us do.
And because the doubt we’re experiencing is so much more visceral…so much more profound…so much more embodied…I have to think that the faith that is emerging from this crucible…will likewise be more tangible…more ardent…more instinctive. That’s the lesson of Thomas for me this year.
For Thomas, neither faith nor doubt was ever just an intellectual exercise—for him it was always embodied… Thomas is the first to want to throw himself bodily into the fray…After Lazarus dies, and Jesus wants to return to Judea, the others are afraid, but Thomas says, “”Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). Thomas’ faith is instinctual…earthy…rugged…it shouldn’t surprise us that Thomas has to see with his own eyes…has to touch with his own hands…the physical reality of the resurrection.
And that’s what this Easter—in the midst of this pandemic…this extended Lenten quarantine—can create in us… a deeper…more embodied…more resilient faith…Because, like Thomas, none of us are satisfied with mere assurances that things will get better…No. We want to see the resurrection for ourselves…We want to see—with our own eyes—people healthy, and whole, and back at work and thriving. We want to hold out our hands and embrace our long lost siblings. We want to experience life…in its fullness…life in communities not bounded by fear and loathing, but communities that are open, generous, gracious…We believe in the resurrection, absolutely…but this Easter we also need to see it…we need to touch it…we need to experience is…so that with Thomas, we can cry out in joy and gratitude, “My lord and my God!”
Several years ago, Bishop Gene Robinson, made a helpful distinction between optimism and hope. The difference between optimism and hope, he said, is that, “Optimism is having confidence that human beings, on their own, can and will do the right thing. Hope is having confidence that in the end, God will do the right thing, and with God’s help, so can we.” [source]. He concluded that he was opting for hope rather than optimism.
Not many of us these days can truly claim to be optimists…there’s too much doubt…But we can have hope. We do have hope because we have faith. And this Easter, we have an opportunity to grow into the kind of bone-deep, instinctual, Thomas-like faith that comes from the crucible of doubt…that comes from a refining fire of tribulation…from the embodied reality of suffering. The Apostle Paul says, “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God…and not only that but we know that…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint…because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” (Romans 5:1-5)
Thomas is not an optimist. He’s seen…with his own eyes—just as we have—how humans too often fail to do the right thing. Thomas is not an optimist…he’s a realist, and he has hope…he has the confidence that in the end God will do the right thing, and that with God’s help, so can we…From his deep and instinctive faith…he insists on seeing and touching the reality of the resurrection…and with hope…he reaches out his hand…and touches the imperishable, undefiled, unfading wondrous love of God…in this season of trial…and isolation…doubt…may we have the courage—the hope—the faith—to do the same. Amen.