This sermon, offered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 8, 2018, by The Rev. Andy Jones, is built on the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.
May words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our Redeemer.
Please be seated.
Evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the disciples have gathered to try and to process, to make sense, of the events the last three days. It has been a tumultuous ride.
On Thursday we gathered with Jesus and he washed our feet and gave us the gifts of bread and wine. Then we followed him out into the garden where we couldn’t seem to stay awake while he prayed. And then the soldiers came to arrest him and we fled. We deserted him and left him there alone. The next day we watched from a distance in horror as he was nailed to a tree and died. And then this morning some women from among us came to us and told us that they had seen the Lord. So we’re here now trying, trying to understand, filled with confusion, doubt, grief, and some shame.
The doors are locked because we’re afraid that the same fate that befell our master, our teacher, our friend, might befall us if people recognize that we are his followers. We are afraid.
Suddenly, even though the doors were locked, Jesus stood among them. The first thing that he does is to say to them, “Peace be with you.” That makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, in the midst of all of that Grief, confusion, and guilt, and shame; suddenly the person they thought was dead, the person they thought they had abandoned is standing there in their midst. They were probably climbing all over each other trying to be the first ones out the back window! Jesus says, “Peace! Peace be with you.”
The next thing he does though is harder understand. He says peace be with you and then he immediately shows them his wounds, the marks of the nails in his hands, and the wound in his side. Well, maybe he was trying to prove to them that he was the same person that had been nailed to the cross and died. Maybe was trying to show them that he was not a ghost. Still… wouldn’t his presence in the room, there with them have been enough?
And then there’s Thomas. Thomas wasn’t there that day. Thomas was always late and he missed out on this event. And so when the disciples go to him and say, “We have seen the Lord,” he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand, and put my fingers in the marks, and my hand in his side I will not believe.”
Again, it’s the wounds! There’s something about the wounds that seems to be awfully important here.
I think that there’s something really important here. It’s been a week since Jesus appeared to the disciples there in that locked room before he appears again; and just imagine them continuing to process this event, already trying to make sense and understand…
Surely, surely, God rising from the dead would come back with trumpets and angels, and a heavenly chorus, with lights shining, cleaned up, sanitized… powerful, strong, ready to finally enact God’s agenda. But that’s not how God comes back. And there’s more going on here than the need to prove that he’s not a ghost.
Jesus is once again manifesting, making real for us to see, something important about God nature. God comes among as one of us bearing our own wounds, bearing his own, claiming them, sanctifying them, making them holy.
Now that may sound a little strange but think back for a minute to the beginning of this story. God doesn’t enter the world in the person of Jesus wrapped in purple cloth, in the throne room of Kings. God enters this world in the person of Jesus a vulnerable naked infant, born in poverty, in a manger in a cave. God doesn’t come into the world with a sword in one hand and lightning bolts in the other. God comes into the world vulnerable, broken, and hurting. Just like us.
That’s a pretty powerful thing to ponder. It’s a great comfort to us, I think, to know that we are not alone in our pain and suffering, and that God understands them in such a profound and deeply personal way. God bears our wounds, and walks among as one of us.
But there’s another aspect of this story that I think often gets overlooked in our rush play with the name Doubting Thomas. That is that this passage from John’s Gospel is the place that the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples.
Jesus comes among them in the locked room, says peace be with you, shows them his wounds, the disciples rejoiced to see the Lord, and then Jesus says again, “Peace be with you. As the father sends me, so I send you.”
Now if this story about Jesus’s wounds isn’t so much about the physical appearance, the manifestation of Jesus… if the wounds aren’t there to convey that he’s not a ghost, but are there to convey something profound about God’s nature… then the way that God sends Jesus into the world, and the way that Jesus is sending us, is broken, wounded, hurting. That’s how God comes to us, and that’s how God sends us into the world.
That’s really, I think, great news! How much time do we all spend trying to clean up and sanitize ourselves, trying to hide our brokenness and our woundedness? That effort leaves us defensive and afraid that we might be found out. And when we go out into the world trying to disguise, or mask, our own woundedness we are likely to show up with a sword and with lightning bolts. We’re likely to show up with all of the answers, with the textbook show others how to do it. We’re likely to show up and push our way into the center and tell everybody else what do.
But it’s our vocation in the church to participate in God’s reconciling love, to reconcile all people one to another and to God through the love of Christ Jesus. And the only way to do that, is to show up, and to be willing to be vulnerable.
We need to do that whether we’re working with our friends and partners at St. Paul’s AME, whether we’re serving at the soup kitchen, whether we’re working downtown to help the homeless… we need to show up in that way here… to one another.
Look around this room for a moment, if you will. There are people here who are bearing the same wounds that you are. How likely are you to share your woundedness with them if they are doing everything they can to hide their own wounds? How willing are you to be in relationship about the places where you hurt and are afraid and need help if the person standing before you looks perfect, sanitized, cleaned up, all of their wounds gone, with the trumpets playing, and a fanfare going in the background?
Relationship, reconciliation, is dependent upon the willingness to be vulnerable. That’s what this story is about today. It’s not so much about Thomas’s doubt. It’s about Jesus’s wounds.
So, as we go out into the world to proclaim the good news of the risen Christ, we are proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who comes among us wounded, and broken, and who shares our pain, and is willing to enter into that place in our lives in a way that can heal us and make us whole. We are called to carry the words of the risen Jesus into the world. But we can’t do that unless were willing to bear our own, to let our neighbors see that we hurt too. To let the people who are afraid know that share that fear. Somewhere in the midst of that sharing we’ll find space to come together, to be one, and to be reconciled.
Jesus comes among us this morning and says, peace be with you, and then he shows us his wounds, and then he says, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.