Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

I have a soft spot for people who have had less than wonderful experiences with the Christian church. I've been involved in a couple of different churches that, in my humble opinion, were rigid and unforgiving in their orthodoxy or adherence to their own dogma. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not speaking of adherence to the Bible. I'm referring to their set of rules that are, how shall we say, "extra-biblical." In a meeting with the leaders of my last church, it was suggested that I had issues with "submission," to which I responded that I was not against submitting to Christ and the Word of God, but that I would not ever submit to authority which was not biblical. For this, and other defiances, my membership in that particular church was revoked. The letter spoke of the spirit of reconciliation which in their language translated to my confessing my sin and submitting to whatever punishment they would administer, which I suspect would have included some public admission of my divisive behavior. With that in mind, on Easter morning, I give you my favorite story from the Bible, that of the Apostle Thomas.

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
   But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” ~ John 20:20-29

I have had dozens of opportunities to share this story with friends on their path to belief, or rededication of their belief. The religion of my childhood, which was followed by a long period of disinterest in religion, was one of few answers. Obedience to the Mass was understood; it just was. It seemed as if everyone involved in my Catholic upbringing didn't have answers to any of my questions. In fairness, however, I wasn't exactly thorough in my seeking. I sort of just drifted away. Over my early adult years, I had no interest in the church although I considered myself a believer. And finally, the thing that led me back to the Lord was becoming a parent - something I suspect is behind many people's return to their faith. 

This time, however, I began seeking in the Protestant community and learned through my first church to test the scriptures and take an active part in my spiritual growth rather than just sitting passively to one person's preaching. It was during this time that I heard the story of Thomas and he became my hero. All of my life and in conversations with others, one of the most confusing things was this idea that one does not question God. Yet, here at the end of John's Gospel, is a story not only of the questions and doubts of one of Jesus' disciples, but of a Savior who lovingly invites this disciple to test for himself that He has in fact returned in the flesh. Even writing this, I am overcome with emotion as I read (for the hundredth time) how Jesus tenderly approaches Thomas and says, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

And I can picture Thomas, so very, very ashamed, weeping as he simply says, "My Lord and my God." I imagine him clinging to Jesus as that moment and sobbing, "I am so sorry to have doubted." But Jesus isn't angry or upset. He probably hugs Thomas as he cries and says, "It's okay, it's okay." 

Oh, how I remember the moments as my belief became stronger and stronger. And how I was ashamed to have not only doubted but to have not even recognized the many obvious signs that my Lord and my God was right there, all along just waiting for me to pay Him the slightest attention. When I think back on the time that I was truly lost and alone, I imagine him just watching me stumble and wander. I think about my own child and how painful it would be to watch her make mistakes and hurtful choices knowing that I could not make her see that I was right there for her until she OPENED her eyes. It would have been like watching a blind person in a maze - wanting to reach out and help but knowing that they had to do this on their own. 

My message on this Easter morning to anyone who has any questions - God is big enough to handle any questions, any anger, any doubt you can possibly throw His way. And His arms are open for you to step in when you are ready. And He LIVES! When I turned to Him, I truly had no where else to go and I was so afraid. What if this was the last possibility and it did not work? I did not cross that line easily or willingly - but He has never held that against me. Not for a second. And this life is infinitely better than anything I had even dared to dream of.