Second Sunday of Easter
April 8, 2018
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Doubting Thomas! We hear this story every year on the Sunday after Easter. Most pastors are on vacation, so pulpit supply pastors have a Thomas sermon that they get to recycle every year. But seriously, folks…..My Gospels professor wrote a commentary on John’s Gospel through the eyes of Thomas, because he thought that the conversation between Thomas and Jesus and the other disciples was key to understanding what the Evangelist wants us to know about who Jesus is, for history and for us.
What Thomas wanted to be certain of was that this new Jesus was the same jesus that was crucified. He wanted to see the wounds. He wasn’t about to settle for a Jesus that didn’t bear the wounds of his willingness to suffer. And what John, the Evangelist tells us in this story is that after his resurrection, Jesus still bore the evidence of his sacrifice and suffering. The wounds are everlasting, as is the life that Jesus now lives. I expect that when I meet Jesus, he will still bear those scars, the ones that prove his love for me and for all people.
I mean, stop and think about what really happened. God came to meet us in person, in the flesh that is identical to the flesh of all humanity. Jesus is not only our brother through faith, he is our brother through his human body, too. He came to show us how God’s love works on earth. He was focused on justice and peace for all humans: inviting the lepers and the blind and lame into a fellowship they were denied and healing them to restore them to their families and their communities. He invited everyone to table fellowship, ignoring the purity rules that had become iron-clad, and feeding everyone who was hungry. He let those who followed him support him, providing shelter and sustenance to his students and to himself. His willingness to embrace the marginalized, sinners, rebels, and thieves set him against the church and the government. And they killed him, in the same way that the world turns against all people who try to change ‘the system’. What works for the people in power is what we live with, whether it provides for the needs of all citizens and humans isn’t the question. Those who advocate for the poor, people of a minority race, immigrants and refugees, and others with no representation, become marginalized themselves and they usually die, often by assassination. When Jesus claimed he would die like all the prophets, he was right. And the tradition continues to this day. So his believers were right to assume that the game was over. Jesus was dead, the body was gone, they were sure to be blamed for his disappearance. How would they possibly be able to continue the teaching and preaching that he had begun? And then Jesus appears to them. Out of nowhere. Through a bolted door. He shows them his wounds, so they know it’s really him. And he breathes his Spirit on them to give them to courage and inspiration they needed to go out and do what he had taught them. This is John’s version of the Pentecost story – Jesus giving his Spirit to his followers the night of his resurrection, and sending them out to do his work.
Thomas wants to see for himself before he believes that is the real Jesus. Don’t we all need to meet Jesus ourselves before we come to believe in the power of God’s love for us and the change it can make in us? Our faith grows and deepens as we gain our own experience of God’s love for us and Jesus’ presence with us. We change from our Sunday School faith of believing that Jesus is real and God loves us through our suffering and our setbacks. When we confront how life falls apart and we are not able to keep our promises, or when tragedy strikes and we find our lives changed beyond imagining, we dig deep into our trust that God is still able to make a life of meaning out of the ruins of our expectation. Those become our wounds, the deep lacerations of our hopes and dreams. Our prayers for healing include the healing of the wounds we have been dealt in our life of faith, and gratitude for the strength we have gained through the mending of our broken places.
Perhaps our scars, too, last throughout eternity on our bodies, as Jesus scars are part of his resurrected body. Maybe our scars are what make us human in the holiest way. Maybe our scars are what show how our love has grown and changed as we have come to know better the love of Jesus in our own experience.
“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples…these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is…the Son of God, and through believing you may life in his name.” So that’s it. This story is the final one the Evangelist has to tell us so that we, too, can believe in Jesus presence, through wounds and scars and death and resurrection. Thank you, Thomas, for insisting that we must experience the wounds and scars of Jesus’ suffering before we can truly know what God’s love looks like and what it can do to heal our pain, and the pain of all human kind. Thank you, Thomas for making Jesus show us that real love is scarred and battered, and that death is not the end of a life of love. Thank you, Jesus, for coming back to answer the questions that haunt us when we’ve lost everything, and for your everlasting presence with us in good times and in terrifying times. Amen.