Some things are constant in the three-year lectionary cycle of assigned bible readings. Today is one of them. Every year on the Sunday after Easter we hear the story of the resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples, however, one disciple – Thomas – is not in attendance. He can serve as the patron saint for all the parishioners who were here last Sunday, but not today! The bible does not tell us why Thomas is not with the group or what he is doing, only that he is not in the room when Jesus appears. By the time he arrives Jesus is gone, but the disciples are ecstatic. Thomas says he will not believe until he sees Jesus for himself. He famously states, “Until I touch his wounds.”
Docetism was one of the early heresies rejected by the church. Derived from the Greek word for apparition or phantom, docetism held Jesus only appeared in human form while on earth. His ‘human’ body was just an illusion. Adherents rejected the idea Jesus, being fully divine, could suffer. In early Christianity, as doctrines and ideas emerge in many different places and settings, some are persuaded by this notion, however docetism is soundly rejected at the Council of Nicaea in 325.
Yes, Thomas wants to see Jesus before believing he has risen because I think it is important for him to see the wounds to verify Jesus’ whole life has not been just a cruel hoax. Do you remember when Thomas asks Jesus, “We do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” and Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”? Well, it is easy to be the true and living way if you are removed from human limitations. If you are just a holy apparition, it is easy to talk a big game. But we are human and we are limited. Jesus cannot show us the way to live if he is not one of us.
St. Paul’s is not a large parish to be sure. Our congregation consists of about 150 households (that is, families and individuals) and, of course, some are more active than others. As your pastor I can tell you very, very few of our households are not at this present moment coping with one sort of crisis or another. The breadth of the challenges we face is huge. The depth of our challenges is beyond imagining. We are a wounded people. We come here this morning not to hear about a Savior who stands above us, or to learn of a Savior who stands apart from us, but to find a Savior who stands with us; who knows what we know, who experienced what we experience, who overcame what we are trying to endure, whose triumph might just give us hope.
The Christian tradition associates Jesus’ various wounds with specific aspects of human suffering.
· The nail wounds to his hands and feet have come to represent our broken bodies. They speak to our need for physical healing.
· The spear wound in Jesus’ side has come to represent our broken relationships. Many of us long for reconciliation with someone estranged.
· The whip wounds on Jesus’ back have come to represent all the broken promises we endure. Promises are the building blocks forming the foundation of our lives. When one breaks, the structure of our being is shaken at the core.
· The wounds inflicted by the crown of thorns have come to represent our broken thoughts. We each have an inner voice telling us about ourselves and the world we live in. For many of us wounded people, this voice is terribly cruel and unrelenting.
· The final wound is to Jesus’ heart and it has come to represent broken faith. Wounds and wrongs stick like burrs to the soul. Eventually we give in to cynicism or anger or despair or fear. We break off communication with God, with others, and even with ourselves, believing isolation is the only option for protection.
Thomas needs to know Jesus’ wounds are real because our wounds are real. And when he meets Jesus one week later and sees the wounds for himself, he falls down on his knees and says, “My Lord and my God.” Literary experts state his declaration forms the climax of John’s gospel. Everything coming before builds to this crescendo of worship and faith. Seeing the wounds is pivotal.
I like today’s reading from the New Testament because it has so much dynamic movement in it. As we read it, I wonder what it would sound like if Al composed a hand bell musical score to accompany it. It might begin with rousing, joyous, confident sounds to translate the letter’s incredible statement of faith describing how our new birth in Christ gives us a living hope of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It sounds good, but is awfully far removed from the experience of those of us who are broken and wounded. How would Al use the art of music to interject our reality?
Peter understands where we are because he acknowledges how, in spite of our future hope, we suffer various trials in the present moment. Here, I image Al would queue the ominous deep bass sounds of the big bells. Peter says our trials test us and they refine us. And just as a bone is strongest at the place where it has healed, so too what we suffer and what we endure makes us stronger and better people. How might Al use the bells to communicate this truth?
The passage concludes with Peter stating something about his readers each one of us here this morning longs to be true of us as well:
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
We will have to wait for Al to give musical expression to how we come to rest in the consolation and assurance of our faith.
We read this morning about a disciple who has to touch Jesus’ wounds in order to believe. Now we come to the moment where the wounded Jesus wants to touch our wounds. Jesus accepts us – broken, limited, sinful, and struggling – long before we accept him. Where we would put ourselves down, Jesus bends to lift us up. Where we would heap judgment and blame upon ourselves, he tenderly forgives and accepts us. Where we are filled with despair and overwhelming sorrow, Jesus loves us with a love that recreates us. The broken condition of our humanity always elicits Christ’s redeeming touch.
At every service of public worship, in every moment of private prayer, and at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, in one way or another, the question is asked, “Is your heart breaking? Then let it break here. Is your body broken? Then bring its broken parts here. Does your mind sometimes break down in a deep anguish you never knew was possible? Then bring its broken fragments here.” Then and only then can we say with Julian of Norwich, “All our wounds are seen before God not as wounds but as worships.”