Faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. I’m a bit suspicious of those who claim never to have had any doubts, and I’m not entirely convinced by those who claim never to have had any twinges of faith, either. Even Bertrand Russell had a moment of believing that the ontological argument for the existence of God was valid, though tossing his tobacco tin into the air seems to have resulted in a change of mind soon after. The addition to Mark’s gospel that we read today, Mark 16.9–15, twice mentions the disbelief of the disciples when faced with the testimony of Mary Magdalene and Cleopas and his companion. What is going on?
One thing that is certainly going on is a very natural, human reaction to the death of Jesus on the Cross. The dead don’t rise again, and whatever Jesus may have said about it during his public ministry didn’t make sense then and was largely forgotten after the Crucifixion. It is only with the Resurrection that his words fall into place. Another thing that is going on is the transformation wrought by the Resurrection in Jesus’ body. The Risen Christ is familiar yet different. If we look at the other Resurrection stories, the disciples are variously described as ‘dumbfounded’, ‘disbelieving’, ‘hesitating’. Whether Jesus stands on the shore or in the midst of them while they are at table, there is a strangeness about him now; the disciples hold back a little, unable to take in what has happened. Only Mary Magdalene and Peter seem to be able to grasp the situation all at once — and how different their reactions are, with Mary wanting to cling to him, and Peter, in his confusion, wanting to jump into the water to get away from him!
Tomorrow Thomas will speak for all of us when he demands to place his hands in Christ’s wounds before he will believe, but today we are faced with making a choice based on faith — not our faith only, but the faith of the early Church. Once the choice is made, we are commissioned to go out and proclaim the Good News. How we do so will depend on our individual circumstances, but each one of us is, in some sense, a missionary, charged with building up the faith of others. That doesn’t mean ignoring doubts or questions, but it does mean allowing the Risen Christ to change us utterly.