Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. — John 20:25b
I recently wrote a short reflection which opened with a two-line sketch of the night my first husband died. A friend who read a draft at first thought I was writing about a bad dream, then when I assured her I was recounting a real event, still could not bring herself to believe I had been a widow. It seemed impossible to her, looking at my life now, that anything so terrible could have happened.
It made me think of Thomas in John’s Gospel. He, too, can’t believe what he is told by the others, despite all that he saw and experienced in Jesus’ company. He saw Lazarus raised from the dead, yet when he is told Jesus has returned, he still cannot grasp the reality. He doubted, so much so that 2,000 years later he can’t shake the name, “Doubting Thomas.”
We don’t doubt. Each Sunday we profess our faith, stating firmly that we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified, died and was buried, only to rise again on the third day. But I wonder if I shouldn’t doubt a bit more.
Has my faith in this extraordinary event become ordinary? Can I put myself in the place of the disciples after the resurrection, marveling at the impossibility of this, that someone could die on a cross, lie in a tomb for two nights, then appear to share a meal with me? Do I really grasp the enormity of the resurrection? The reality of Christ’s presence, here and now?
“Doubt,” said theologian Paul Tillich, “is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” We risk something essential when we put our faith in it. Not the risk of mistaking a fact — that Jesus, God and man, rose from the dead — but the risk that we might mistake who we are, who we are called to be. We risk ourselves.
Welcoming doubt into my faith lets me experience again the magnitude of Christ’s gift, invites me to say again, “My Lord, and my God,” and demands that I risk it all again, allowing myself to be made over in the image of Christ. This is my faith, one that transcends cold reason, a faith that is not just about knowing, but about being. I believe that Jesus rose, but I am a dwelling place for God in the spirit, a part of his resurrected body.
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,
God shall o’er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.
— From Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., “Easter Communion”