Do you remember when you learned to tie your shoes? I don’t remember how old I was, probably 5 or 6, but my sneakers were blue. That was a big deal! It sure felt like a big deal, and developmentally it is a big deal.
Think of all children have to do to tie their shoes. They have to listen to instructions. They have to be able to manipulate the laces with their little fingers in the right pattern. That could be the traditional method or the bunny ears method. That’s 3 of their 5 senses; sound, sight and touch, that have to be coordinated. And it takes imagination. They have to conceive of a result, from memory, that is not apparent from the laces themselves. They wouldn’t know they could do that except someone has told them. Better yet, someone has shown them. And it still takes a lot of effort, which is why we tend to remember such moments so well.
That is a microcosm of life. From the moment our senses develop, even in the womb, we are continuously absorbing billions of data points from our 5 senses. Our ego, our sense of self, has to fashion a framework to interpret that data. Much of is apparent and obvious, much of it can be very complex, even more than tying your shoes. Have you tried riding a bike? Algebra? Someone has to show us, and even then it can be hard to get it. And sometimes we get breakthroughs, discoveries that build on what others have shown and taught us.
Today’s Gospel presents a real challenge to the disciples as they are trying to process all the data points they are getting. This is the night of the first Easter. And it is dark. They lock the doors because the chief priest and others have just crucified Jesus and the disciples expect to be next. Now they get a whole new set of data points.
They have heard the report of empty tomb and then what each of the disciples including Mary Magdalene have seen. It is too much to understand. They don’t yet have a vision to see how all these pieces fit together.
Jesus comes. They see him. They hear him. He breathes on them. Just as God breathed life in to Adam, Jesus breathes new life into them. Now they see the result of faith, the result of God’s power - in Jesus. Now they can start to tie all of the strings together: All that they knew of God from their upbringing in the faith. All that they’ve heard Jesus say. All that they’ve seen Jesus do and his example. All that he said to them the night before he died. Jesus fulfills all of it.
Without the benefit of those sensory data points, Thomas doesn’t buy it. Here’s a deep truth of the Gospel. This is wonderful news, glorious news, life-giving good news! And it is natural to want proof, especially when the news is incredible. Don’t tell me, show me! The Gospels do not avoid the bare fact that not everyone believed right away. There is a lot of struggle among them to tie those shoes and keep them tied. Many need a double-knot!
Belief is not easy. It isn’t a matter of flipping on a switch and away we go. Christians, devout believers, go through times of struggle. There are the peaks of mountain-top experiences, and there are valleys of doubt and even despair. When we come to such a place, and if you are in such a place right, that’s a time to dig in through prayer and study and conversation.
Among the most fascinating experiences of faith comes when you’ve been through one of those dry desert patches where you aren’t feeling it, aren’t seeing it and aren’t especially living it. Then you discover that he was walking right there with you the whole time. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe.”
And then there are the demands that belief put on us. Once we truly grasp who Jesus is, what he did and how he is active in our world, avoiding him is just silly. It’s as though, like Thomas, we touch his hand and suddenly, “Oh, snap!” Now I’ve got to start tying all the loose threads and loose ends of my life to this reality of Jesus Christ loving me and breathing his spirit on me.
And that is the life into which we are baptizing baby Avery. We celebrate all the joy of binding him to Jesus forever. We are proclaiming his eternal salvation rooted in God’s promises, not our wishes. And we are proclaiming God’s responsibilities for him, responsibilities that grow out of love of God and of Jesus and of his people.
Which brings us back to tying your shoes.
Eventually tying one’s shoes moves from an activity that requires a lot of attention, thought and effort to one that is automatic. It becomes habitual. So much so that when an adult teaches a child how to tie his or her shoes, you typically have to slow it down, stop and think your way through each step. Which is good because you may not be able to walk and chew gum but I bet you can tie your shoes and think about your grocery list or carry on a conversation.
The life of faith can be like that. When our faith gets to be habitual, it can become like tying your shoes. Our liturgy especially can feel routine. So it’s important to slow down, remember why we say what we say, why we do what we do and why we live as we live – and strive to live how we hope to live, for the sake of our own grounding, and for the sake of our role as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that he means.