Our Christian Calendar tries to stay as close as possible to the story of Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection. In that way, we participate in the yearly pilgrimage through Jerusalem, in Christ’s last days, in the resurrection, and through this season, the post-resurrection stories of the disciples. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appeared in the Pentecostal celebration on the same day as the resurrection, not fifty days later as recounted in the Luke/Acts Gospel. On the day of resurrection the Disciples were huddled in the house, and he came and stood among them and breathed Peace into their wondering hearts. And today, a week later, we listen to their story as they gathered in that house again. I imagine that the startling news has been discussed and has settled in each person. They have slept on it several nights, and each has taken the news in their own way. Thomas, embodying the voice of doubt, becomes the lesson of what faith really means. And here we are, gathered again just a week later ourselves, after that amazing worship and celebration of resurrection last Sunday. We are gathered again; the crowd has dispersed; the peanut butter and chocolate eggs have been reduced 70%; and the exhilaration and joy have subsided in the aftermath of a holy week long gone. It didn’t take long for it all to pass.
As soon as Easter was over I went to Target. I gave up Target for lent because it was a place I was spending too much time and money, and I had several spiritual experiences there thinking about life walking down the aisles which was kind of scary to me about what it said about the depth of my life. So, since I had completed my lent and proved that I didn’t need Target, I headed back in, stopped and got some green tea at the Starbucks in front, sent my son Moses down to go look at toys, and preceded to wander the aisles before I picked up a few things that I needed. I was happy and still full of the great Easter and holy week feeling when I ran into the sheets section and noticed they were selling 600 thread count sheets that were so soft and the interior dialogue began. “These are great, you should get them.” “Don’t get them, think of all the people without sheets, you are just fine with 250 thread count that you have.” I backed away toward the main aisle, sipped on my tea, and before I made it to the dishwashing liquid, right there on the main aisle was a huge display of mascara. There was one called Colossal that said it made your eyelashes 9 times bigger for only $3.98! I had to get that, and when I put into the cart that is when I knew. I was back to where I started as if there hadn’t been a holy week, a fast, or hours of prayer. My own funny or not so funny issues take up space, and it makes me mad at myself. It’s funny because you know what I am talking about, and there are a lot of other issues we all struggle with that we can substitute for target. Maybe unless something dramatic happens like touching an open wound on a risen body, my life won’t look that much different, and I will keep worrying about the same things; I will keep getting distracted in the same ways.
Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away
Whoah and I know a man, he came from my hometown
He wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown
He said dolores, I live in fear
My love for yous so overpowering, Im afraid that I will disappear
So, on Friday morning I decided to head back to Target and write a sermon for you about doubt and faith. After settling in with my notebook and visiting some friends I ran into, I sit down and I began to quiet myself. I could feel that doubt was about believing or not believing, it was being unable to believe given my feeling of unworthiness. Doubt is about us, not about God. In my quietness all the conversations around me sounded louder than usual. There was a group of nursing students talking about another student not present, two older women nodding and talking and holding onto their carts, a grandmother eating pizza with her two-year old grandchild who couldn’t quite talking, and two men laughing at the very same moment when out of a young mother’s over-crowded cart a metal trash bin banged onto the marble floor. In becoming an observer, I felt compassionate and generous towards all the people, and it gave me some sympathy for my own shortcomings. I see myself in a sea of people mulling about, hoping that something might help them organize their lives, or make them feel a little more beautiful. I could see how all the stages of life come down the aisle and stand exposed in carts infront of strangers.
Whoah God only knows, God makes his plan
The informations unavailable to the mortal man
Were workin our jobs, collect our pay
Believe were gliding down the highway, when in fact were slip sliding away
Sitting there I could feel my doubts and distractions were the agents leading me toward a compassionate faith. I was loving Thomas and wanted to tell him that his doubts freed a lot of people and kept them coming back. He teaches us that mistakes and lenten blackslides are the communion of compassion towards humanity. He reminds us of the need of mercy more than justice. In that feeling I knew there was nothing in the store that I needed, and I wanted to walk away and go out into the sunshine and catch the last days of the larkspur. I wanted to go out into the parking lot and help the woman with the thinning hair and hospital bracelet get into her car. But instead I stay seated until I learned my lesson.
The proclamation Jesus offers to the disciples is Peace, and it is coming to terms with our shortcomings with compassion that brings us closer to belief, and through that belief we are able to walk again in faith. Target, my lenten backslide, is my humble reminder that I am a cousin of Thomas, and that while I cannot understand the whole gift of faith, I can celebrate it with the community and come back. I am as frail and needy as any other customer at the Target. I am as faithful and giving as well. This resurrection journey is a call to keep walking with both in peace.