April 3, 2016 | John 20: 19-31 Rev. Nancy Talbot –
Thanks to the recommendation of my hairdresser, for the last several weeks I’ve been binge watching a series on Netflix called “The Fosters.” It’s about a same gender couple, Lena and Steph, who have a blended family made up of children they have adopted, a couple they are fostering and one from a previous relationship. One of the mothers, Lena, is a high school vice principal and the other, Steph, is a police officer. In one of the early episodes Steph, the cop goes looking for her son in a drug den and ends up getting shot in the chest. Thankfully she survives and after taking time off to recover is ready to return to her beat much to the dismay of Lena who would rather she hand in her badge and find a safer profession or at least take a desk job. But Steph is determined to return to the work of serving and protecting. The morning she appears at breakfast dressed in her police uniform and ready to get back out there on the street, Lena realizes she needs to come to terms with the kind of risks her partner is willing to take in life. She asks to see the healed over bullet wound on her partner’s chest. She reaches out and touches it and says “I need to make my peace with this.”
Every year on the second Sunday of Easter, the church in its wisdom suggests we reflect on the story found only in John’s gospel in which the disciples gathered behind locked doors are visited by the mysterious presence of the Risen Christ who breathes his spirit into them and passes to them his peace. Every year we are invited to reflect on Thomas the one disciple who misses out on this encounter and who will not believe it’s happened until he gets some first-hand evidence himself.
According to the writer of John’s gospel this story is told for us, for those of us who will never have this kind of a first-hand experience, those of us who if we come to believe will do so even though we have not seen. And it’s a story told to honour all of us who have doubts about our faith, as a way of saying that its often through our doubt that we arrive at a deeper experience of belief.
But what’s interesting to me about this story is not just that Thomas asks for evidence that Christ is risen, or that he has doubts about what he’s been told he should believe. It’s that it’s specifically Jesus wounds he wants to see in order to believe.
Did you know that in American sign language the gesture for Jesus is one finger touching the palm of each hand?
There are many, many ways for us to speak about who Jesus was and is but how many of us would chose to describe him first and foremost as the wounded one?
Over the years I have both hosted and engaged in numerous conversations about what it means to be a Christian. Central to my own belief is in order to claim that particular nomenclature we have to come to terms with Jesus who is somehow both human and divine, both dead and risen. And in order for that to be the case, there is no getting around the crucifixion, that part of the story where Jesus is mortally wounded, nails pounded into his hands and feet, sword piercing his side.
Jesus who was a rabbi, a mystic, a healer and a political agitator is a great human being after whom to model our lives. Jesus who was crucified for what he believed in is a martyr in the same way as Martin Luther King. The risen Christ who appears to Mary in the garden, and to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in such an altered form from the human Jesus they once knew that they fail to recognize him clearly doesn’t come clothed in scars or the still open wounds inflicted upon him on the cross. Or at least the evidence of those wounds is not central to the believer’s heart. But for Thomas it is. For Thomas it’s the wounds of the Risen Christ that matter more than anything else.
Perhaps that’s because it’s only through these wounds that Thomas can come to know the depths of holy love. The kind of love that like a mother is willing to walk into a drug den looking for her son even if it means risking her very life to do so.
Perhaps it’s because it’s only through his wounds Thomas knows that in Jesus what’s revealed to us is not a God of cheap grace, but a presence that is with us most authentically when we suffer, present in the midst of even the most cruel and barbaric circumstances.
Perhaps it’s because for Thomas the resurrection he most longs for and therefore the resurrection that really matters is resurrection that comes out of the greatest pain and the greatest ruin.
There are those of you here this morning that know the kinds of wounds that leave deep scars; Physical scars from accidents and surgeries and maybe a fight or two and emotional scars from abuses you’ve suffered and losses you’ve sustained, from the kinds of illnesses that don’t leave physical scars, from addictions you either have or haven’t overcome.
If that is the case for you, then maybe you can understand why it was so important for Thomas to see that Christ’s wounds were real. Because you understand how hard it is to come to peace with those kinds of wounds and how any resurrection that does not have the capacity to breathe life and healing into those places is not a resurrection worth believing in.
Looking around our world there is no shortage of gaping wounds and hardened scars. Blood flows freely from public parks in Pakistan to back alleys right here in the downtown eastside. Our scorched earth battered and bruised from our abuse and neglect cries out in pain.
How easy it would be to consider all of this and declare there is no God, how could there be. Instead, Thomas in his doubting and Jesus in his suffering and rising once again declare that in the very midst of all that wounds and scars, Christ’s presence can be found. That the God worth believing is not all powerful and all knowing, able to escape the trials of daily life and the brutalities of human existence, but made known when out of the most devastating places grace and peace somehow emerge and life despite its devastations picks itself up and carries on once again.
WHAT THOMAS WANTS
(John 20: 19-31)
Thomas knows all about crucifixion.
Knows the nails driven into the victim
really tear the flesh,
damage the bones.
And he knows that this
is a crucifying world,
with all its violence,
greed and oppression
still hammering nails into the hands of justice,
still thrusting spears through the ribs of love,
still hanging mercy and kindness to die
and sealing up the tomb.
Thomas knows all about it.
So he knows that any real resurrection
will have to come out of ruin,
will have to come out of suffering,
will have to come out still bearing the scars
inflicted by the unjust world.
Ask him not
if he believes in
merely a God
who is greater than suffering or death;
any God worth the name
would surely prove immortal,
who may be able to pretend our pain
but could never share it in truth.
No, what Thomas wants to see
is the Lord who rises from
death by crucifixion,
from the worst that our world can do:
from hells of corruption and cruelty,
from violence and terror and hate,
from rape and torture and war,
from hunger and disease and squalor,
torn and terribly scarred
yet walking among us still,
who will touch us in
who will hold us in
who sees in us
the prints left by the nails,
who will put his own hurt hand upon
our heartache, fear and despair
and breathe his healing peace
into our souls.
This is who Thomas wants to see – the only
Lord he wants to believe in.
Thomas just wants to see
Andrew King copyright 2016