I spent Easter Monday in a small monuments showroom picking out a headstone for my father’s grave. That’s right, after all the Easter Day pomp and ceremony, all the acclamations of the risen Christ, all the joyous words of new life and resurrection, there I was face-to-face with death. I had quickly gone from the dizzying heights and palpable energy of Easter Day liturgy to the all too familiar, real world grind of pain, loss and grief. In that moment the previous day’s shouts of “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” rang as hollow as a politician’s campaign promise. My very own “Low Monday”.
Now I do not say this to get you to pity me. No…because you have all been in rooms like mine. Rooms and situations that make you question Easter and its talk of resurrection. Hospital waiting rooms and bedside vigils where you pray and wait for good news that you know just won’t come. Palliative care rooms where every breath could be your loved one’s last. It seems that every hope and dream you ever had dissipates with every exhalation. Medical rooms where the doctor or psychologist says we just can’t get the medication right, where it seems the darkness of anxiety and depression will snuff out your last remaining light. Rooms where the bankruptcy, the divorce, the unemployment become all too painfully clear. It’s in these rooms that Easter morning seems light years away.
But if the Easter message of resurrection cannot speak to us in these rooms, in the Mondays of our lives, what good is it? If the resurrected Christ cannot pass through the lead thick walls of these rooms, then we might as well leave him in our manufactured Sunday sanctuaries. We need Easter here and now, in the untidy, disordered mess of our lives.
It is here that the story of Thomas and Jesus, and the room where they meet, tells us something of the gap between our own lives and Easter. Now poor old Thomas has not been treated fairly by the church. His moniker ‘Doubting Thomas’ is undeserved. Thomas doesn’t so much doubt as ask for the same privilege as the other disciples. He only wants to experience the risen Jesus.
John tells the story that on the evening of the resurrection of Jesus, the first Easter Day, the disciples are locked away for fear of the opponents of Jesus. Presumably their fear is that they would do to them what they had done to Jesus. Suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. It’s a moment that would make Houdini himself envious. Jesus wishes them peace, bestowing on them an evangelistic mission and breathing on them a pre-Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit.
Of course when Thomas hears about this from his fellow disciples he is understandably upset. Upset like any of us would be at being excluded from such a miraculous encounter. His friend with whom he had travelled the Galilean countryside for three years, his rabbi, the one he thought was the long hoped for messiah, arrested and executed, now reported raised from the dead. Who wouldn’t be a little put out by missing such an event? All this resurrection talk is one thing, but for Thomas, the thought that he had missed out on it is too much to bear. “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it” (the Message). Thomas’ words could be my words in that showroom, could be your words. Any of us would utter these words, when the Easter message meets our real life situation.
And I have to ask, where was Thomas when Jesus came to visit that first Easter evening? Why is he not with the other disciples, locked away in fear? Perhaps he was out taking care of arrangements for his dear friend. Perhaps Thomas, more than any of the other disciples, knew that life must go on in the face of death. We just keep living. What else is there to do?
I am also struck by how Jesus approaches Thomas in this scene. There is no hint from Jesus of the accusation and finger pointing that the church has heaped on Thomas. Jesus does not upbraid Thomas on his lack of faith. He does not chide him for believing without evidence. He does not launch into a theological treatise on the metaphysics of resurrection. No, he only offers Thomas the one thing he asked for. He offers Thomas his wounds. And seeing his wounds, Thomas believes.
Another question haunts me: why does Jesus’ resurrected body bear the scars of the resurrection? Only John and Luke include this detail. One would think that a glorified, resurrected body would not bear the marks of suffering and pain. The skeptic would say that it is a literary device of the gospel writers to eliminate any confusion that this person might be anyone but Jesus. These resurrection accounts could not be a ruse because his body bore the marks of his execution. Perhaps that is all it is, clever storytelling. But perhaps not.
A clue to the meaning of these wounds can be seen in the other John reading this week. In it, John (not the evangelist but another John), writes that Jesus, in his death, is an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. In Jesus, God enters into our human condition and takes on all of our humanness. He exposes himself to the worst that we have to offer. He endures our violence, our hate, our pride, our deep desire for retribution. He dies from it; dies for it. But he is raised to new life to show that God’s way, the way of love, peace and forgiveness, is the far better way than the ways of the world, of empire and crooked religion. His wounds are not just his own, they are ours too. An eternal symbol of God’s solidarity, God’s covenant love for all people. What were meant to be wounds of defeat and brute force, in the hands of God become wounds of love.
Jesus bears our wounds even now, so we do not bear them alone. Even as we sit in our isolated rooms, seemingly far from the joyous Easter celebrations, perhaps especially there, the Easter message of a wounded, resurrected Lord echo on and on. In Jesus we see a promise that our wounds, though they may define us now, will not always. As Jesus has been raised so shall we. As the great theologian Karl Rahner said, In the risen Jesus a piece of this earth, real to the core, is now forever with God in glory. The seed that was sowed in death has given rise to new life to all creation. The resurrection of Jesus is our destiny too. Behold God is making everything new! Beginning with Jesus, the first fruits, and spreading to us. We glimpse this eternal truth right here and now as we bear the wounds of the broken, the poor, the hurt, the suffering. We participate in the resurrection when we bear each other’s burdens, we who are wounded healers, followers of a wounded saviour.
So here, gathered in this room, around this table, we share this sacred meal of broken flesh and blood. And we push ourselves back from this table, full of God’s grace and love, and go and serve a broken, wounded world.
+ In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
The Rev. Robert Cooke, Rector of St. Mark’s. A sermon preached at Saturday worship on Easter 2, April 7, 2018.