The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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10.30 Worship at Home      19th April 2020
Doubt
Jan Rushton

Readings:  Acts 2.14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1.3-9;  John 20.19-29
Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!
The gospels are written in such a way 
that we may become participants in the story ourselves!
We are there at the cross - and we feel its desolation.
We are there with the women as they discover the empty tomb ... and run!
We are there with the men 
who cannot quite believe what the women are telling them ....
There with them when the risen Christ appears to the men also!
We are there when Thomas dares to return, come back, 
join up again with his friends.
Always on the first Sunday after Easter,  
the Church in its wisdom speaks to us that doubt is part of faith!
We hear this story of ‘Doubting Thomas’!
And as ever, the gospel story leaves us, with myriad questions!
Why did Thomas not stay around with his friends? 
Why is he not there when Jesus first appeared to the now Ten?
And for me personally, why is Thomas called the Twin?
Who is this twin? Many of you know that I myself, have an identical twin!
So what is going through this disciple’s troubled mind?  
How was he feeling?  
How are we feeling?  Locked down already three, four weeks, 
and with at least another three weeks to go, possibly, probably, more. 
And for too many, the profound grief of mourning 
those lives ended prematurely by a hidden silent foe
- not all of them elderly.
Then as livelihoods are lost, severe anxiety about what the future holds, 
and perhaps for the first time for the vast majority of us, 
fear that food and other necessities of life, may simply run out ....
So are we also, in these circumstances, questioning the goodness, 
the faithfulness, of the God in whom we have trusted?
Jesus comes again to the Eleven disciples.  He blesses them with peace.
And immediately, specifically addresses Thomas ....
Jesus understands:  Thomas cannot just believe these stories 
the other disciples, men and women, are telling him 
without evidence of his own!
They all know Jesus’ battered body was utterly broken on that cross!
So how can his friends have seen him powerfully alive?!
Jesus speaks: Touch and see! Experience this truth for yourself Thomas! 
In the face of a global pandemic that will surely change our world for ever, in the horror of many deaths not unlike Jesus’ death: 
a gasping for breath, friends, family, not present - is God present with us?
We already know that suffering is part of life.
If historic suffering around the world has not already challenged our faith, 
then why does this current crisis do so?
Innocent suffering and the tragedies of fear, greed and violence, 
have always been part of human society.  
So is there an answer to the existence of evil and the goodness of God?
Most of us will probably not find the answer to Job: 
Who are you to question God? much of an answer!
The enormous potential of created human life, our big brains, 
our astonishing capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, to survive, the freedom to choose, all these things come at a price.
A measure of suffering is how life is.  
The chick must himself struggle to break his own way out of the eggshell - or he will not survive. He will not have exercised his muscles sufficiently to sustain his life in his big new world!
Would we fully appreciate the wonders of life if we have not also experienced something of the depths of sorrow and grief ......
What remains for each one of us, 
is how we choose to respond to failure, to evil - to doubting God.
Grateful for the good things we have known,
we can choose to trust God through the darkness, 
trust that the dawn will come, is coming.  
Trust that resurrection awaits us! 
We cannot work it out intellectually.  
No one has ever solved the problem of evil.
Neither can we ever know the precise historical events 
of those days following Jesus’ death.  Each gospel tells its own story!
What we do know is that something extraordinary happened - 
which has changed the course of history.
And if we will wait in prayer, stay a while in that secret garden 
Jim Walters spoke of on Easter Sunday,
then little by little we will experience 
increasing light as the dawn does indeeed begin to break upon us.
As resurrection becomes real in a myriad different ways!
I love the poetry of  R S Thomas, his honesty about his doubts, 
and his ability to see more, open those cracks of light for us:  
This poem is called ‘Suddenly’.
As I had always known he would come, unannounced,
remarkable merely for the absence of clamour. 
So truth must appear to the thinker; 
so, at a stage of the experiment, 
the answer must quietly emerge. 
I looked at him, not with the eye only, but with the whole of my being, 
overflowing with him as a chalice would with the sea. 
Yet was he no more there than before, 
his area occupied   by the unhaloed presences.
You could put your hand in him without consciousness of his wounds. 
The gamblers at the foot of the unnoticed cross went on with their dicing; yet the invisible garment for which they played
was no longer at stake, 
but worn by him in this risen existence.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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