In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.
Have ever had the experience of being on vacation and running into someone you know from back home?
You’re walking the streets of San Francisco, for example, and you see someone you work with. She decided to vacation on the West Coast at the same time you did.
Such a coincidence isn’t unusual in a world of tourism and travel. Still, you’re amazed to see a familiar face so far from home. You believe the evidence in front of your eyes—and yet, you can’t believe it!
In today’s second lesson, there is also a surprise encounter. The story takes place shortly after Easter; the disciples are discussing how Jesus had appeared to some of them after the resurrection. Suddenly, the Scripture says, “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
The disciples “were startled and terrified”. They thought that they were seeing a ghost. “ Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’” After Jesus said this, “he showed them his hands and his feet”—which still bore the scars where he had been nailed to the Cross.
Jesus said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Now embedded in this intriguing story is a description of the disciples’ ambivalent response to Christ’s appearance. The Scripture says that, “while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”
The disciples had abundant visual evidence that Jesus had returned to life. Yet despite this direct personal experience, they still found it difficult to comprehend.
Not only were their thoughts confused; they had mixed emotions as well. Joy, wonder, and disbelief were all jumbled together in their hearts.
The disciples were happy that Christ was back. Yet they weren’t overjoyed because, at the same time, they couldn’t stop “wondering” what had happened, and what the consequences would be for them.
Yet, don’t we also find that feelings often appear in our own hearts in confusing clusters? A pleasure can be so unexpected that doubts immediately occur. I wonder, am I really as happy as I think I am? Or is this joy only the prelude to an impending disappointment that will end up making me more miserable than I was to start with?
Say you meet someone, and you seem to be natural friends. The relationship strikes you as so warm and interesting that you can hardly believe your good luck. So what happens?
You don’t believe it! You begin to wonder whether the person might have some ulterior motive for being nice to you?
Eventually, you’ll probably sort out your feelings and end up either trusting your friend or looking for a new one. But–as the disciples saw–mixed emotions about religion can be more persistent.
For instance, you can have doubts about “organized religion.” You may love church music; at the same time, you may not enjoy the company of someone you see at church. There are times when you may wonder if your life wouldn’t be easier if you just prayed by yourself.
These problems can be explained by the simple fact that the church, like any organization, is made up of imperfect human beings. But a much more serious problem arises when your conflicting feelings, like those of the disciples, include belief itself.
So at some point in your life, you may be wondering what God wants you to be doing? You may need to make an important decision and you feel stymied. If only you knew where the Spirit was leading you; what choice you ought to make.
In such cases, it’s worth remembering that eventually disciples were able to overcome their disbelief. After a time of uncertainty, joy won out in their hearts, and they felt the confidence they needed to follow the Risen Christ.
Yet the disciples also learned the lesson that faith is a challenge. Religion doesn’t only bring moments of joy and peace. And if we think about it, we realize that’s a good thing, for the challenges can ultimately lead to a deeper spiritual life.
After the disciples overcame their confusion, they went on to share the teaching of Christ with anyone who would listen. The fearful Peter led the early Church and gave his life in defense of the Christ whom he had once denied three times.
Of course, some mixed feelings can simply be ignored as when we have conflicts about a neighbor who is equally amiable and annoying. In such cases, we take the neighbor as he is, and we put up with the good along with the bad.
But most of the time, when we encounter mixed emotions, we should recognize that we will only go forward when we are able to take the bad with the good–the distrust with the trust–the questions with the blessings.
The Anglican monk, Harry Williams once commented, “St. Paul tells us that we walk by faith, not by sight. Sight stands for complete certainty, the absolute inability to doubt.
“People sometimes confuse faith with sight…as though perfect faith would consist of complete certainty, that absolute inability to doubt which belongs to sight alone.”
In fact, as the disciples discovered, we often get to the eternal only when we pass through the temporal. We get to belief through doubt—by directly confronting our skepticism, instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist.
And when despite our best efforts we don’t know which way we are being directed in life, then instead of feeling lost or ignored by God, we can see the present time of uncertainty as simply a bump on the road, a traffic jam to be endured.
And these times of what the spiritual writers call, “dryness,” can remind us to be grateful for past occasions when the light did dawn and we were led by the spirit. We can think of occasions of wonder and delight, times of confidence and trust when God came through for us in the past. And so God remains our hope in the ages to come.
As you sit, let us pray.
“O God, by whom the faithful are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
“Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of those who slept.”