As Lima has already mentioned, this week’s scripture reading picks up where last week’s left off. If you tuned into worship last week you will recall that the action in the story took place on the evening of that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene when to the tomb and found that it was empty. The disciples that evening were in lockdown for fear of the threat of death lurking just outside their doors, namely the authorities who had just killed their leader. Suddenly the Risen Christ appears in their midst, his pierced hands and side in plain sight before them. He speaks a word of peace, breathes on them with a breath of life that surely felt like the first gasps of spring that we ourselves have been inhaling in these days, offers them the assurance of grace that there is nothing that can ever separate them from the love in which they were first created and is on his way.
But Thomas, the one they called the Twin, was not there with them.
Now what’s interesting about Thomas’ absence is that in the original Greek, the verb tense that is used to describe his absence suggests that he had not just slipped out to the store for a litre of milk, he had left the community for good. We don’t know why that is but if we were to speculate we might wonder if it was because he was feeling remorse for his failure to stay with Jesus, to stand up for and protect life in the face of death. If you have contracted Covid-19 or somehow let down your guard or broken a rule and allowed the harbinger of death that we are contending with these days to come close to you and your loved ones, then you might be familiar with feelings of remorse. You might feel guilty for messing up. If that’s the case you will know the way that guilt makes you feel like you are somehow less than others, makes you want to isolate or withdraw and not talk about how you feel. Maybe in the aftermath of Jesus death Thomas is feeling guilty or remorseful.
Or maybe Thomas has cut ranks with the others because he no longer thinks the group is living by the values to which they had once ascribed. The church has lost almost an entire generation to people who think that we are hypocritical. Maybe you yourself have departed from a group you once belonged to because you thought it’s members were losing their integrity or wavering on their original commitment.
We don’t know why Thomas had left the community for good but if I had to guess I would choose the latter over the former and here’s why. There’s only a couple other places in John’s Gospel where Thomas is mentioned. The first is when Jesus receives word that his friend Lazarus has become ill and died. What follows is a bit of a back and forth conversation between Jesus and his disciples about whether or not they should go to be with Lazarus. Thomas alone says “let us go, that we may die with him.” Later, when Jesus is at table talking about his own death, Thomas indicates that he doesn’t exactly know where Jesus is going but he wants to know the way to get there.
What’s possible is that Thomas has so deeply appropriated his faith in the matrix of death and resurrection that he is unable to keep company with his friends who appear not to understand at best or are being hypocritical at worst. Thomas is an all-in kind of guy. He is not going to believe in a resurrection that does not bear the marks of death because he has somehow come to know that the entrance to new life is through the doorway of our wounds.
Whatever went down between Thomas and the others, he’s now returned. So there he is with the others now, in the house, a full week after Christ’s first appearance. The doors of the house are no longer locked up tight but they are still shut as if to say that the disciples are developing an uneasy comfort with the threat of death around them, the same way that we have had to learn to live with our fear of “the enemy” lurking outside our doors. One simply can’t sustain the kind of high adrenaline infused fear that locked us up at the beginning of our pandemic. We have had to learn to live with the threat and reality of death among us.
So there are the disciples, behind closed doors, still fearful but in relative safety. Thomas has already made his now famous declaration that unless he sees the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and puts his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side, he will not believe. It’s this declaration that has made Thomas the patron saint of doubters and the church has done well over the centuries to raise Thomas up, his doubt and his need for proof. Who among us at some point in our lives hasn’t doubted the existence of a love so powerful that it can overcome death?
Maybe you come today carrying some of that kind of doubt yourself. It would be understandable if you did. I think we’ve all had our moments of doubt in the last couple of weeks about whether or not life and love will be enough to vanquish Covid 19’s death dealing ways as our pandemic drags on.
But it’s not actually Thomas’ doubt that I want to focus on today. It’s his belief or perhaps better stated his faith. Remember I’ve already said that Thomas was an all-in kind of guy. Thomas’ faith is completely dependent on the capacity of the Risen Christ, the capacity of love and life itself to come forth from our places of deepest wounding. If hope, if new life cannot come out of the places where we we have been cut to our core, Thomas wants no part of it.
I grew up in the United Church of Canada, part of the great branch of the Christian family tree called Protestantism. The crosses found on the walls of protestant churches and around the necks of protestant believers are almost always empty. Those empty crosses signify a faith rooted in the freedom found in resurrection. Our Roman Catholic siblings have no less belief in the resurrection but their crosses have hanging upon them a crucified Jesus, nails still piercing his hands and feet.
This year, despite my protestant roots, I’ve found myself drawn to those pierced hands and feet like never before. I think that’s because like Thomas, and I presume like each of you, wounds, my own and the wounds of our world have played a prominent role in the life that I’ve been living. No one is going to get out the other side of this pandemic, whenever that may be, without bearing the marks of the wounds we have experienced together. And of course the pandemic is not the only thing that has been wounding us or that we have wounded this year.
So if Thomas is right and our wounds are the doorway to resurrection and new life. I’ve found myself wondering how that might be so.
In the biblical stories of healing we’ve gathered around the last several months, Jesus is often seen reaching out to touch those he heals. There are instances where a word is spoken and someone is healed. We heard about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus garment and was healed but mostly what we are used to when we think of Jesus’ healing and saving acts is Jesus touch, Jesus touching us.
When the Risen Christ appears to Thomas, he doesn’t touch Thomas to heal him of his disbelief, his need for proof. Instead he invites Thomas to reach out and touch his body. I actually like to imagine Jesus taking Thomas’ hands and putting them right into his wounds. Putting isn’t actually a strong enough word to describe what’s going on in this scene. The verb that is used is more accurately translated as throwing. Jesus invites Thomas to throw himself at his wounded body. If we think of Thomas as an all-in kind of guy no wonder his reaction is to exclaim “My Lord and my God!” Because what Jesus is inviting Thomas to do in this story is what he is inviting all of us who long for healing, resurrection and new life for ourselves and our world to do. He is inviting us to insert ourselves, to throw ourselves at the wounds of the world, at the broken Body of Christ. It’s the only way we heal, to throw our energy there, to put our very lives into the hurts around us.
This week here in British Columbia we are marking the 5 year anniversary of our other public health emergency, the opiod crisis. Every day this week, the CBC has been airing interviews with family members and friends who have lost loved ones due to an overdose. The stories have been heart wrenching but they have also been healing. Because every day we have heard from people willing to go back into their own deepest wounds, so that they might touch the wounds of others becoming themselves a doorway to healing and new life. They’ve courageously re-entered their wounds so that death might not have the final say.
I know that we are weary. I know that many of us don’t want to hear about our need to reach out and touch the wounds of the world because we are exhausted and we do want to just lock our doors and stay inside. But it is a luxury to decide that we are not going to reach out and touch the wounds of others. Our Health care workers have had no choice but to throw themselves at the gaping wounds of our world. And ultimately we don’t have a choice either. The alternative is death, death for our fellow human beings, death for our planet and its creatures and somehow death and diminishment for ourselves.
The call of Thomas is to be all-in, to become one with the broken body of our world, trusting and believing that to reach out and touch our wounded places is to be made new.
May it be so.