Easter 2: Thomas Asks Questions
The Sunday following Easter is observed by the White Plains Presbyterian Church as Emmaus Sunday. Remembering the disciples who recognized the risen Jesus in the breaking of bread, we invite our third and fourth grade students who have been receiving education in the meanings of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to serve the congregation. This is also kept as an inter-generational service, with all of the church school children present for the whole of worship.
On Sunday I told a story called “Thomas Asks Question” from Ralph Milton’s The Family Story Bible. The story presents Thomas as a young man who can’t help asking questions:
“Don’t ask so many questions, Thomas.”
That’s what Thomas’ teachers told him at school.
That’s what Thomas’ parents told him at home.
That’s what Thomas’ friends told him.
But Thomas couldn’t help it. When the Rabbi, a teacher, taught them things at school, Thomas would often ask, “How do you know?”
Thomas is later drawn to Jesus because “Jesus never told Thomas to stop asking questions.” In fact, again and again Jesus is shown smiling at Thomas and welcoming his questions.
One time Jesus was trying to explain what was going to happen. “I am going away,” said Jesus. “I am going to prepare a place for you. God’s house has room for you and for everyone else. You know the way to God’s house.”
“No we don’t,” said Thomas.”What is the way?”
“That’s a good question,” smiled Jesus. “I am the way. If you really love me, and love each other, you know the way.”
“I still don’t understand all of it,” said Thomas.
“That’s okay,” said Jesus. “Just keep asking questions.”
After finishing the story with the children, I reminded the congregation that the term “Doubting Thomas” is a particularly western one, whereas in the east Thomas is remembered as a great missionary who brought the good news of Jesus Christ to India. I said “Thomas is often called a doubter, but Thomas had questions. We have questions too.”
Still using the language of doubt, the twelfth century theologian Peter Abelard once said “Doubt leads to inquiry. And inquiry leads to the perception of truth.” But not all of us grew up in a church that welcomed our questions. So first of all I wanted to say to the congregation that “God welcomes our questions and we can ask them in this sanctuary.” I then distinguished several kinds of questions. “Some of us have questions of fact which can be answered (Where is Galilee? What kind of food did Jesus and his disciples eat?). Some of us have theological questions (Why is the resurrection important?) or questions of meaning (Why do we baptize children? What does this particular biblical story mean?) that have many answers. Other questions are the kind that the poet Rilke referred to when he said we must “Live the questions”: (How do I become a more loving person? How do I become a more generous person. Why must I love my enemies?). Saying that God welcomes all of our questions, we then took time to write down on 3×5 cards a question we would like to share, and then gathered in small groups to listen to one another. We did not try to answer or respond, but as we might at a twelve step meeting, we simply allowed the questions to linger for a bit and then thanked each person for their question. Some of the questions collected will appear in worship and sermons throughout the Easter season. What question would you like to ask?