Luke 24:36-48 (NRSV)
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Everything changed for the disciples on Good Friday and Easter. First, their friend and teacher was arrested and brutally executed on a cross. The disciples were locked in fear. They didn't know where to turn or what to do. Jesus was gone. Suddenly, Jesus was there! Unfortunately, His appearance did not produce calm, it elevated their fear. So, Jesus stepped in among then and said, "Peace." As hard as Jesus tried to calm their uncertainty, our scripture tells us that they were still frightened and doubtful. Jesus invited them to touch His body. He showed them His hands and feet but they were still not sure if He was real. They were scared and skeptical.
Fear and doubt doesn't end with the disciples. It continues to pull at our sleeves turning our gaze downward and drawing us away from purpose and hope. Even the most secure and grounded among us have our fears and doubts.
The great preacher and author of The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, almost gave it all up in his early thirties. He had just been called to Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. When he arrived, things weren't so good. There were only 200 people worshiping in a 1600 seat sanctuary.
In 1933, Peale and his wife took a vacation in England. Peale wasn't happy; the church situation seemed hopeless. He poured out his frustration and discouragement to his wife. Finally she grew tired of his whining and said to him, "You aren't only my husband, you are my pastor, and in the latter department I'm becoming increasingly disappointed in you. You talk about faith and trust from the pulpit but I hear no faith or trust from you. What you need, Norman, is a deep spiritual experience. You need to be converted."
"I have been converted," Norman protested.
"Well, it didn't take, so you had better get really converted." They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, his wife said they were not going to leave the bench until he found the Lord in such a deep way that it made him a new man.
"How do I do that?" he asked.
"Tell the Lord you are lost, without strength, that you have no power within yourself, that you are humbly throwing yourself on his divine mercy, and that you are asking him to change right now." At that moment while they were praying, something marvelous happened. "It's wonderful" he exclaimed. Suddenly his doubt and frustration fell away and he said, "Nothing can defeat me, not that church or anything. I want to get back to work. Let's go back to New York right now and tackle the job with the power of Christ!"
I'm sure Peale's wife wasn't expecting her vacation to be cut short but once they returned, things begin to change. Certainly Peale had his times of doubt after his experience in England but things were different because of Christ's powerful presence in his life.
I love the words of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, the Jesuit Paleontologist who was a soldier on the front lines of World War I. In the midst of the stench of war and death he wrote,
Above all, trust the slow and quiet work of God . . . We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay . . . Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you through this obscurity . . . and accept for love of him, the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
May the Lord give you patience. May you believe. May He give you acceptance so you might love. May He give you trust so that you might follow. Think about it.