First Sunday after Easter
May 1, 2011
John 20: 19-31
“We have seen the Lord.” This simple declaration binds together the story of Mary Magdalene, who was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection, according to John, and the story of the disciples in the upper room on that first Easter evening. Jesus appears with the greeting of “Peace.” They are gathered in fear, but Jesus comes as he has promised – he does not leave them orphaned or desolate. Instead he gathers them. His very presence brings them peace.
He shows them his wounds and he breathes on them – giving them his Spirit. It is the same Spirit breathed into Adam, after God had so carefully molded him from the clay of the earth. It is the same Spirit as raised that valley of dry bones into an army of the LORD in Ezekiel’s vision. This is John’s version of the Pentecost story – the bestowing of the Spirit and sending of the Apostles to continue the mission that Jesus has begun in the world. It is a mission of sharing the forgiveness that is now possible through God’s guarantee of life with God forever. They are all here but Thomas, who when he hears “we have seen the Lord” wants to see the wounds for himself.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and hand in his side, I will not believe.” He is not saying he doesn’t believe that Jesus is back, or that he doesn’t believe that they have seen him. He doesn’t say he wants to grab Jesus’ wrist or ankle to be sure he is not a ghost. He doesn’t ask for a particular saying or breaking of bread. He wants to see those wounds. And Jesus obliges. When he appears again, completely without censure or scolding, Jesus goes straight to Thomas and tells him, “put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
How important is it that Jesus resurrected body should still bear the marks of the nails and the spear? Isn’t his ‘glorified body’ now flawless and perfect? Changed and imperishable? The Evangelist focuses our attention on Jesus’ wounds, those marks left on his resurrected body. They are the source of Thomas’ doubt.
In his commentary on John’s Gospel, my NT Professor Robert Smith reads the Gospel through the eyes of Thomas, claiming that Thomas’ hesitation to believe is an important clue to understanding Jesus’ life and work. These wounds are the badges of Jesus’ victory over the finality of death. What Thomas wants to know for certain is that the glorified Jesus is identical with the crucified Jesus. Throughout this Gospel, John presents to us a Jesus who is always in control of his destiny and strides across the narrative with power. “I have the power to lay down my life for the sheep,” says Jesus, in one of his sayings, “and I have the power to pick it up again.” But in this focus on the wounds of the risen Jesus, we hear a slightly different story.
We see that Jesus’ resurrection cost something. We see that God did not win the victory over death by bludgeoning evil or with a flick of the wrist or a snap of the fingers. God conquers instead by means of the cross, a painful humiliating death and by the self-giving love that propelled his presence among us. God conquers finally with a love stronger than death. And the proof is the paradox of those wounds on a resurrected body. The resurrected Jesus continues to be the crucified Jesus. Confronted with those wounds Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God.”
The Gospel writer announces in this story that the “universe is upheld in wounded hands of unimaginable deep love and compassion,” says Smith. God’s victory for us was not done carelessly or from far away. It was done with the deepest communion with our own flesh. Jesus suffered with the same pain as all those who have suffered unfairly and undeservedly. He loved and lost with the same love that we have for those who are lost to us. He was rejected by those he came to love, and abandoned by those who swore their love to him.
The hands that hold the universe are the wounded hands of Jesus. As we take him into our lives and look out at the world, we see suffering and pain and joy and sorrow with the eyes he has given us. We are moved to Jesus’ own love for the world, love that we now know has the power to wrestle life from death, to forgive all our inadequacies, and finally to call us home to be with him forever. No matter how hard your life has been, no matter how much you have failed, Jesus has invited you to participate in the life he has won. You don’t ever have to worry that you are not good enough, or have not done enough to be part of God’s household because Jesus has won a place for you through those wounds, which cost him his life. They are the marks of his triumph over death, our final enemy. We often think of the Gospels as telling us that Jesus is like God, but the story of Thomas tells us rather that God is like this Jesus, complete with his wounds. Blessed are you who have not seen those wounds, and still believe what Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds and keep them in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.