We call him “doubting” Thomas as if he had done something wrong. But maybe it is healthier for faith if we do maintain a questioning-ness? Might doubt be the flip side of faith? The best faith always carries doubt within it. And there are moments when doubt is strong and you have to find your way back to faith once again. This keeps faith fresh and new minted. Without the challenge of doubt, faith can all too easily become stale and dull.
This year Easter Day was on 1st April, coinciding with April Fools Day – a day when tall stories are told to see who will fall for them. From the start some have thought that the Easter story fell into this category. The apostle Paul called himself a “fool for Christ”. He spoke ironically for he knew that the Easter story is the very opposite of an April Fool – it turns out to be truer and deeper than we could ever have imagined.
The holy week that leads to Easter is one that involves many different emotions: anxiety, excitement, anger, fear, sadness, amazement. Almost every human feeling is on display. We can find our own experience reflected in this story – both our lowest moments and our highest. It becomes our story as we discover that it is for us that Jesus took this path; for us that Jesus died and rose.
Lent, the period that leads up to Easter, is traditionally a time not just to give up some indulgence but to undertake some self-examination. We all get it wrong at times and it is good to come clean when we have. The deeper reality can also come into view – there is an underlying problem with the human condition that causes these persistent failures. Then we are prepared for Easter and the radical steps taken by God to put things right at the deepest level.
Just a few years ago we passed a significant milestone in human history – there are now more people living in cities than in rural areas. But which is best? As Argyll residents who enjoy visiting cities or have lived part of our life in a city, we know that there are pros and cons to city life. Just as there are with life in the country. When the Book of Revelation gives us a vision of heaven it evokes both. There we will not have to choose between city and country. We will have the best of both.
As west-coasters we might be disconcerted to read in the biblical vision of the new heaven and the new earth that “there will be no more sea”. We love being close to the sea. In the ancient near east, however, the sea was regarded very differently. It represented chaos and threat and danger. To say that there would be no more sea was to say that in this new order there would be no place for the chaotic forces that have wreaked havoc on the earth. We know all about them and we can well do without them.
The global free market (the Babylon of our time?) shapes a system that brings great prosperity to some but deals death to many others. Our faith gives us the capacity to “come out”, to step aside from the prevailing system, to view it all in the light of a different reality – the enduring reality that Jesus is Lord. Then there are many things that we will see differently and do differently. One of them is supporting Fair Trade Fortnight – starts 26 February.
A great way to cheer up the winter is to go to a pantomime. A familiar tale spiced with lots of jokes with local flavour and plenty of audience participation. Behind all the high jinks there runs an epic struggle between the hero (hurrah!) and the villain (boo, hiss). Might this be a light-hearted way of coming to terms with something deep in our human reality – the battle between goodness and evil. This is something brought into focus by the Book of Revelation (which can read like a pantomime in places) with its extraordinary twist that the victory is won by the Lamb who is slain.
The Book of Revelation sparkles with spectacular imagery but all aimed to bring us back to the simplicity of who God is. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come.” So simple, yet so often forgotten. So simple, yet so often obscured. This is what we aim to come back to Sunday by Sunday, starting the week by getting our bearings again by focussing on the holiness, power and eternity of God.
Laodicea was a city with two sources of water. From the north an aqueduct brought water from hot springs that cooled down on the way. From the south-east a channel brought cool mountain water that heated up on the way. As a result it was a place of lukewarm water. For John, writing the Book of Revelation, this was a fitting picture of the tepid, half-hearted character of the faith of the Laodicean church. Apathy, indifference, complacency are not the way of faith. The call is to love wholeheartedly and to live with full commitment.