You’re Right, This Doesn’t Seem Real

I didn’t want to believe what I was witnessing.  On nearly every television channel, I saw footage of young white men chanting the words, “Jews will not replace us”.  They were marching through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.  Carrying torches and shouting in unison, it was reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films of the mid 1930’s.  Except this wasn’t a documentary on the History Channel.  I was watching a live broadcast from the campus of the University of Virginia.  I was in disbelief.  The images did not seem real.  My mind was unwilling to tolerate the authenticity conveyed by the words and images on screen.  Nonetheless, this was happening.

Despite my doubts and incredulity at the unfolding events, there they were, on display, for the world to see.  So they remain.  The trauma caused by that one weekend in Charlottesville still lingers.  The emotional wounds of racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry have not healed.  Some people still doubt the validity of what they witnessed, the existence of the underlying issues that led to the march, or the growing threat from those who seek polarize America along racial and ethnic divisions.  Doubt is everywhere.

Yes, doubt is all around us.  And for some reason, Christians still have trouble accepting Thomas’ reluctance to believe, at first telling, the news of the resurrection.  Much like last summer’s protests in Charlottesville, the Passover festival which culminated in Jesus death and resurrection was a calamitous and violent affair.  As with those of us who watched the protests and news of violent clashes between neo-Nazis and anti-Fascists, no one wanted believe that the city of Jerusalem would turn on Jesus.  Few people thought Jesus would be arrested.  Who wanted to believe he would be arrested, tortured, or tried by the Roman authorities?   As these episodes unfolded, the reactions of the disciples show a reluctance to accept reality.  Jesus was going to die.

When a loved one dies, often the first thing we’ll say is, “it doesn’t seem real”.  That’s a form of doubt.  We’ve all done it.  Death is confusing, especially when someone dies a violent death at the hands of the state.  The unresolved anguish and fear adds further insult to the ordeal and shock.  This isn’t like someone passing away peacefully in Hospice care surrounded by a loving family.  The emotions Thomas is feeling are probably closer to those being experienced by Stephon Clark’s family.  What happened to Jesus is more like being shot eight times in the back while holding a cell phone.  Thomas wants answers.  He is angry.  Reality doesn’t seem real.  Thomas doesn’t know who to trust.  These kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen.  Doubt is all around him.

Thomas is not a convenient post-Easter whipping boy.  I am Thomas, you are Thomas, we are all Thomas.   Thomas is a human being who’s suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and responding like any normal person would in his situation.  Ultimately, Thomas makes the journey from “it can’t happen” to “it has happened”.  His response to the resurrection becomes a matter of trust in spite of the trauma.

If we can’t step into Thomas’ sandals, we’re going to have a hard time addressing the violent realities which Jesus’ resurrection calls into question.   We need Thomas, now more than ever.

Richard Lowell Bryant