From high to low

April 25, 2011

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which
includes Carter's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine
and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the
Century.

This week is the Second Sunday of Easter, aka "low Sunday." There
is in the life of a church a movement and momentum toward Easter Sunday, and
then inevitably a scattering, a rest after the intensity. And yet the gospel
lesson does wrestle with the implications of belief, unbelief and doubt. For
those who are with us on Easter Sunday and
the Second Sunday of Easter, the preacher has the interesting challenge of
going more deeply into the meaning of resurrection faith--and seeing all of John
20 as a whole.

The resources for such reflection are rich. North American
Christianity tends to associate Thomas with doubt (which Frederick Buechner
wonderfully and succinctly defines
as "the ants in the pants of faith" that "keep it awake and moving"). I have
explored as well the understanding of Thomas in Eastern Christianity. If Easter
Sunday is a day to proclaim the faith in bold and broad strokes, the following
Sunday offers a time and space to explore the nuances of such a faith. For the
close reader of scripture, those questions happen to be lodged within the
tradition itself, from the very beginning. This can form the beginning of a
creative (but not necessarily defensive) response to the new atheism.

The gospel reading also gives the preacher the opportunity
to explore the concept of religious experience itself. As a United Methodist, my
theological resources are scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Most Christians
come to faith or sustain their convictions by working with these four
categories in some way. Thomas seems to be insisting that he needs not only to
receive the faith from the eyewitnesses; he also needs to experience the faith
for himself.

He is not alone. We come to the resurrection story from many
different perspectives: we believe, we confess, we doubt, we bear witness. The
Easter faith moves from simplicity to complexity. Attendance may be down this
week, but there is good and necessary work to be done.