Easter 2- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
When I was in Middle School every 7th and 8th grader in confirmation at my church had the opportunity to attend summer camp. I loved camp. I attended every summer from first grade on.
Confirmation camp meant that you were able do adventurous activities at camp.
Instead of spending afternoons weaving friendship bracelets or making ice cream in an old style ice cream churn ,we were able to go repelling and do the high ropes course. We had the opportunity to scale the climbing wall. We got to ride the zipline through the treetops.
For me there was one major problem with all of these high adventure activities. I AM. DEATHLY. AFRAID. OF. HEIGHTS. My knees buckle and shake. My breathing becomes shallow. I sweat and my hands turn clammy. Anything over 6 ft is too high.
These high adventure activities were aimed at helping us build trust. We had to trust the belayers on the ground far below us. We had to trust that the ropes would not break and the knots would hold when we began repelling down the rock face. We
had to trust in our ability to climb painfully tiny pegs that were hammered into the side of the tree to get to the top of the zipline.
It’s not that I didn’t trust the equipment. There was no way I trusted myself to do any of these tasks. This level of mistrust went beyond the normal, “I’m doubtful I can do this.” I didn’t doubt my abilities. I flat out knew it was not going to happen. I was paralyzed by fear.
Every afternoon during that week at camp, the counselors would get out the climbing equipment and we’d head off to do some terrifying activity.
I attempted the high ropes one time, and I went repelling. For the rest of the activities, I sat on the ground below, played with fallen acorns and watched my friends.
It’s interesting how fear and doubt woredk together to prohibit me from participating in an activity that I’m sure had I done it, would have greatly enriched my self-confidence and ultimately my faith.
I’m also convinced that despite how we often use the word “doubt “as the opposite of faith, doubt is only ever harmful when it is combined with paralyzing fear. Doubt in and of itself is sometimes helpful, but when coupled with fear, it stunts our faith growth.
When we face doubt, we discover that it can serve as a doorway to deeper faith and understanding. This is because God can do something with our doubt. It’s fear that is the problem.
Maybe that’s why the most frequently repeated commandment in the Bible (365 times to be exact) is “Fear not!”
Fear hinders our growth by not allowing us to experience the full transformation into what God desires and hopes for each of us.
Doubt is different, with doubt there is always a glimmer that something may be possible, even if proof is required to validate it.
For this reason perhaps Thomas should be proud of his title “Doubting Thomas” He gives us a real portrayal of faith that God can work with.
His faith is not blind and taken for granted, but one that evolves and grows when he literally sees and touches the risen Christ.
Isn’t that something we all should aspire to – seeing and touching the risen Christ?
It’s also helpful to put this story into context to pull deeper meaning from it.
Given the terrifying, outright traumatizing events experienced by Jesus and the disciples, it would have been completely understandable for Thomas to express doubt and outright rejection of the news of the Resurrection.
Fear was certainly a factor here.
We are told that the doors are locked out of fear of the Jewish authorities who had Jesus put to death. Creating an additional stir by claiming that he came back to life after being crucified would most likely been met hostility from the authorities.
Thomas is doubtful, but he is also not foolhardy and reckless. He’s a logical guy.
So Thomas’ response “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
However, as I said, God can still do something with doubt. There is still leaves a tiny bit of possibility for Thomas to see and believe. Hope still exists, and God can do something with that tiny sliver of hope.
Jesus comes and offers precisely what Thomas needs in order to believe.
It’s with this gift of assurance and yes even tangible proof that Thomas is able to move beyond fear into a deep and profound faith. He proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
It might not be hard fast evidence, we all won’t have the ability to put our hands in the nail wounds of Christ, but if the Resurrection is truly making all things new and Christ truly is the all in all, there are opportunities to transform doubt into belief all around us.
Every act of love that reveals God’s presence becomes a nailhole that we may touch in order in order to believe. We just have to be willing to not let these signs be squashed by our fears.
This small, but meaningful opportunity came for me when I was hired to work as a summer camp counselor at Camp Frederick as a summer job during college. I loved it and spent two amazing summers there. I still didn’t like the ropes courses, only as a counselor, particularly as one of the heavier counselors on staff, I had the gift of not having to climb up the trees and walk on high wires. I was and still am terrified of heights.
This terror transformed one day when I had the confirmation students from my home parish. Like my friends were in middle
school the kids were so excited about the high ropes courses. As an adult, years later God gave me the ability to help a young, unathletic girl, timid young lady transform her own fear into belief.
This happened on the afternoon we were scheduled to attack the highest of the ropes courses. I prepared the belaying equipment and took my place on the ground. I unabashedly told the kids I didn’t climb trees, and that my feet would stay firmly planted on earth.
I belayed camper after camper. I noticed a camper, Cassady, sitting on the ground in the shade of an oak tree. She held a stick in her hand and batted around acorns with it.
Eventually it was her turn.
“Cassady you’re up!”
“Na, nooo thanks. I don’t think I can. I’m afraid of heights.” Her confirmation classmates cheered her on. I joined in.
It was a moment of holy affirmation, God presenting Godself, but she was still paralyzed by fear.
The cheering intensified and she got a sly grin on her face. She needed proof, an extra nudge.
My fellow counselor knew just what to say to seal the deal. “If Devin does the course will you give it a try?”
Knowing that there is nothing worse than being outdone by 15 middle schoolers, I had to do it.
I put on the harness and helmet, and for the first time ever, fifteen years later, I learned that I could in fact work through fear and my own doubt.
More importantly when Cassady’s turn came to climb, you could see the doubt in her melt away. This only intensified when the other campers began cheering her on as she climbed higher and higher into the canopy and then stepped out onto that thin metal wire stretched between two oaks.
Isn’t that what faith is for anyways?
We are not meant to stay grounded. God desires us to look beyond fear and climb higher and higher.
Reach out your hand, step beyond your doubt.