Second Sunday Of Easter
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
“Our Wounded Healer
Sermon on John 20:19-31
Today’s Gospel passage takes us back to the day of resurrection, moving us from the morning to the evening of that same day. Jesus had encountered Mary in the bright light of morning in the garden and called her by name. Then, she recognized him and later exclaimed to the others, “I have seen the Lord!”
Mary was gifted with clarity of vision, she saw her Lord! But come nighttime, her earlier profound affirmation of faith in her risen Lord is forgotten. Paralyzing fear grips a group of disciples huddled in the dark, behind closed, locked doors, afraid for their lives, torn apart by grief, overwhelmed by anxiety and loss.
Sit with that a minute. What they knew as “normal” with their Lord and Teacher, Jesus, had been violently, radically changed. Their hopes for life with him dashed. The intimacy of a shared Passover meal became betrayal and powerlessness, their beloved friend taken away and brutally killed the next day. Bereft. Grief-stricken. Scared. Isolated. Could we be next? they wondered. Where is God in all of this? Everyone’s life is different now. So let’s circle back to that day of resurrection, to evening on that day, darkness has come.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
I was brought up to think of life as linear and ascending. Moving from strength to strength. Success to success. Riding the crest of the wave. Difficult, so-called “negative” emotions had no place and were not to be shared. Vulnerability? Hide that. The end result: living openly and honestly within the pain, suffering and sin of human existence was not welcomed. Live in the light; push your shadow side away; don’t admit to the darkness. I don’t think my family could have dealt with the disciples’ dilemma very well. And what I’ve learned in a life of ministry and living with suffering – yours and mine – is that life is not always a steady, successful upward climb.
Today’s Gospel story is not linear and ascending. The very people who should be on a mountaintop of joy are hiding. This second half of the Easter story tells a different narrative about the divine-human story altogether. Our empty crosses in Protestant churches remind us of the hope and promise of resurrection power, here and yet to be fulfilled; yet gold crosses like this one and window crosses like that one, are not disconnected from the crucified Jesus who experienced ALL OF LIFE, emptying himself taking the form of a servant, experiencing suffering and darkness, sorrow and death.
Even so, I would probably have been in the crowd on that Palm Sunday, vigorously waving my palm, viewing the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem as triumphal! Jesus as the victor, my mighty winner!
I would have gladly received the broken bread and cup at the table that Passover night, but would have protested NO to Jesus when he said he would be betrayed and killed. Conquering love – not suffering love, triumphant truth not truth that bleeds; give me that reality, not God’s – it’s too messy, asks too much of us, requires too much sacrifice for others for the sake of God’s reign.
Why this going back to go forward? Because unless we see the crucified Jesus is our risen Lord, we cannot know and follow the Wounded Healer who makes us whole. See the nail holes in my hands – the spear wound in my side? It is resurrection through crucifixion – not erased; salvation through suffering; death at work in life, life at work in death; suffering and healing, pain and love always being transformed through the power of God’s Spirit working like an unseen rock tumbler, using what is to bring forth MORE. LIFE. HOPE. TRUTH. PEACE.
Thomas exclaims, as he puts his hand in the pierced side of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” In the risen Christ before him, he beholds the crucified Jesus and sees our crucified God, wounded by the evil and sin that can beset us all. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), the One who has suffered and knows our suffering, who has cried and cries with us, who feels the pain caused by the ways people and systems trash God’s intentions for the world. He is the One who holds the suffering of the whole world in his outstretched arms upon the cross.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day this past week, marking 76 years after the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps where 6 million Jews were murdered, the capacity of humans to desecrate and kill the image of God in others was on display again – in a Minneapolis courtroom, on the other side of guns that killed 100 Americans daily, on city streets where Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been killed, taunted, harmed and killed. Jesus died for those sins, for our sins, because of sin. To say, I have seen the Lord like Mary, and my Lord and my God like Thomas, is to see the crucified and risen Jesus who suffered and tragically died, and who suffers and dies in others. But in this Jesus, who really suffered, really died and really rose is our hope: Jesus has been there before us! Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!
Friends, If the resurrected Christ is not also the Jesus of the cross and God incarnate, if we fail to put our hand in his side at his invitation, touch his wounds and know his suffering, we will fail to touch our own suffering and the suffering of others, and be incapable of being God’s agents of love. By de-humanizing other people and ourselves, we turn from the heart of God – by whose heart and in whose image we were made. We cut ourselves off from the divine will for healing and shalom, we miss the meaning of entering the pain of our human lives and damaged world with compassion and solidarity where the power of the cross is revealed in life as we live it. Today’s Gospel story shows us there is another way!
The reign of God, inaugurated in Jesus, is not about suffering for suffering’s sake. We are not to stay at the foot of the cross. Crucifixion does not have the last word, but it is part of God’s Word, coupled with the promise of resurrection. The risen Jesus, revealed himself to be the Wounded Healer, and breathed upon the grieving and terrified disciples in that locked room. He turned them toward him – to see him truly, to touch his wounds. Through his life-giving breath they received the Holy Spirit and moved into new life with life-changing hope – empowered to bear his saving message of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and mercy to the world. This is not a story about doubting Thomas, as it has been called for centuries. I believe it is a story about the mystery of God, busting open the locked doors of our hearts and lives, working through suffering and grief with transforming love. When we acknowledge the truth about ourselves and what we need, like Thomas did, God provides our Wounded Healer who makes us whole and sets us free. That is God’s Good News in the crucified and resurrected Christ, alive among us!
Later, when the risen Jesus broke bread among them, the disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized him! In his presence they learned God has the last word, a word of welcome and salvation, healing and joy. As we come to the Lord’s table today at his invitation, may we celebrate the power of being together in the presence of the Risen Christ and the Eternal God! Hallelujah! Amen.