The other night, Leslie and I were watching an episode of “The Crown,” the hit Netflix series on the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II. (A disclaimer: I don’t know how true to fact the series is – parts must be fiction.) We’re in the second series, when Elizabeth and Philip have been married over 10 years. Their relationship has been a struggle. They have drifted apart. Both of them have contributed to the troubles in a variety of ways, although Philip’s implied infidelity seems more glaring than Elizabeth’s stubbornness and use of the power of “the crown” to control things.
There is a scene where Elizabeth has retreated to her Scottish estate, Balmoral, for peace while Philip is traveling around Europe. He returns to England, and then ventures to Scotland to be with her. She is frosty upon his arrival – she feels bereft. She says she needs to know if he is “in” or “out” – if he wants to continue in his role as prince-consort or not. Philip rises to the occasion. He does not defend his past behavior, and Elizabeth does not accuse him. Philip declares that he loves Elizabeth, that he is there for her no matter what, that he is “in,” not “out.” They end the scene holding each other tenderly, with the Scottish hills in view out the window.
Why do I recount this in a sermon – an Eastertide sermon, with a baptism? The emphasis of the Gospel is on belief – belief in Jesus’ resurrection, which Thomas struggled with. Many sermons on this passage urge Christians to believe in the resurrection of Christ, like it’s a project where you just have to try harder. But trying to believe is difficult, if not impossible. It might even be counterproductive. It’s a bit like trying to fall in love with someone. It won’t work. Falling in love is not something we attempt or work at, it’s something we experience – it happens to us. And when it does, we don’t worry about believing it. What matters is that we recognize it.
Thomas, always burdened with the adjective “doubting,” was simply an honest man. (Maybe we should be calling him “honest Thomas.”) He heard the stories about Jesus, but he didn’t experience it, so he couldn’t be sure. Then, when he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, he did experience it for himself. The friend Thomas thought he had lost had returned, and Jesus’ love and care for Thomas was clear. Thomas didn’t have to try to believe, he just knew. He declared “My Lord and my God!” Even more than belief in a miracle, this was an exclamation of love, the recognition that relationship thought lost which was now restored.
So, the reason I thought of Elizabeth and Philip in “The Crown,” is that moment of recognition, for both of them, that their relationship, though imperfect, was enduring; their marriage had a strong core, a firm foundation. They were both committed to it; they were “in,” not “out.” It wasn’t about trying to believe certain things, or not believe certain things. It was about love.
So it is, I think, with our relationship with God, with the Jesus we know through the Gospels. It’s less about believing certain things, and more about experiencing love, recognizing that God loves us and we long to love God and return. Rather than achieving belief, it’s about recognizing what we’ve experienced. That’s what made the scene with Elizabeth and Philip so powerful.
Today we baptize an infant into Christ’s Body, the Church. Connelly
Not belief to work for, but Recognition of what is real, what we’ve experienced
Not a miracle of good fortune or protection from harm, but one of love