I’d like to say again what a wonderful Easter we had, and to thank everyone who made it so: the Altar Guild, the Choir, Victoria our Organist and Music Director, all those who did a reading, or served at the altar, our acolytes and lay readers. A lot of work goes into these services behind the scenes, and it really paid off. It was a beautiful day.

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter, known in the church by several other names.

Holy Humor Sunday. This comes from an old text by an early Church Fathers who said that Easter was God’s way of playing a trick on the devil. On Holy Humor Sunday in some parts of the Christian world, the priest, instead of giving a sermon, tells jokes.

You’ll be glad to know I will not be doing that. 

The Roman Catholics call this Divine Mercy Sunday. Apparently if people come to church the Sunday after Easter, they get extra mercy. 

We Episcopalians almost take pride in skipping church the Sunday after Easter. We call today Low Sunday, as in low attendance Sunday.

And then there’s its more recent name, Doubting Thomas Sunday. Because our Gospel reading from John, always the same, every year, Features Thomas, the disciple who needed to see and touch Jesus for himself in order to believe in the resurrection.

Thomas was a disciple of some renown in the early church, though not for his doubt. Legend has it he traveled to India and took Christianity there. Many Christians in India still today trace their roots to Thomas. 

In last Sunday’s Easter Sermon I mentioned a trove of very old, never-before-seen manuscripts found in the 1940s at Nag Hammadi, a city in the Egyptian desert. Probably the most famous of these manuscripts was the Gospel of Thomas, an old and surprisingly intact early Christian text we sometimes call “the Fifth Gospel.” It consists entirely of very short teachings by Jesus, rather than stories of his life (as in the Gospels we know). Here are a few I like:

“If you do not come to know yourselves, then you exist in poverty, and you are poverty.”

“Love your brother like your life! Protect him like the apple of your eye!”

“If two make peace with one another in one and the same house, (then) they will say to the mountain: ‘Move away,’ and it will move away.”

And finally one of my favorites, about holding things lightly: “Become passers-by.”

Thomas’ Gospel was suppressed early on. It’s believed that the Gospel writer John cast Thomas in a negative light as the doubter, and in so doing, made his (Thomas’) Gospel unpopular to the point that some monks had to bury it deep in the desert to save it. 

Thomas, the doubter. 

“Yesterday’s heresy, is today’s Dogma.” I don’t remember who said that, but if Thomas, through much of Christian history, was frowned upon, he is, today, one of the most relatable and even admired of the disciples precisely because of his doubt. 

Doubt deepens our faith. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to let ourselves call comfortable assumptions into question. The 20th century German theologian Paul Tillich, who was one of the first university professors to be fired by the Nazis (which brought him to Union Seminary here in NY), Tillich said that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty. And he, living when he did, would know. Certainty closes minds. Doubt, opens them. Certainty crowds out other ideas. Doubt creates space for them.

For many years before I came to St. James, on this Low Attendance Sunday I used to read the preface to the play (entitled) Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. I think I did this once here, but I don’t think anyone ever minds hearing this again. The play is back on Broadway now, this month, and it’s incredible, but I especially love his preface to the published book of the play. It’s about what inspired him to write it.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Let me ask you. Have you ever held a position in an argument past the point of comfort? Have you ever defended a way of life you were on the verge of exhausting? Have you ever given service to a creed you no longer believed? Have you ever told a girl you loved her and felt the faint nausea of eroding conviction? I have. That’s an interesting moment. For a playwright, it’s the beginning of an idea.[...]

“What is doubt? Each of us is like a planet. There’s a crust, which seems eternal. We are confident about who we are. If you ask, we can readily describe our current state. I know the answers to so many questions, as do you. What was your father like? Do you believe in God? Who’s your best friend? What do you want? Your answers are your current topography, seemingly permanent, but deceptively so. Because under that face of easy response, there is another you. And this wordless being moves just as the instant moves; it presses upward without explanation, fluid and wordless, until the resisting consciousness has no choice but to give way.

It is doubt (so often experienced initially as weakness) that changes things. When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he’s on the verge of growth… There is an uneasy time when belief has begun to slip, but hypocrisy has yet to take hold. It is the most dangerous, important, and ongoing experience of life. The beginning of Change is the moment of Doubt. Doubt requires more courage than conviction does... [Doubt] is a passionate exercise.”

I would say to him, and to All you Thomas Christians out there, and I suspect many of us are, today is your day. If Easter Day seems too full of certainty and conviction, the Second Sunday of Easter reminds us that behind every meaningful thing we believe, lies a welter of confusion and doubt. And that’s as it should be. Doubt is the “passionate exercise” that makes our faith stronger, more solid, more worth the effort. 

Happy Doubting Thomas Sunday, and may God’s peace be with us all.