“Seeing is Believing?” Colchester Federated Church, April 19, 2020, (John 20:19-31) Second Sunday of Easter (**Virtual Worship)

The Easter story continues this morning because Easter is not just a single day, it’s actually a whole season called Eastertide which lasts from Easter Sunday until Pentecost (which is May 31st this year.)  So today is the Second Sunday of Easter where we continue to contemplate Resurrection.  We move from the empty tomb in the garden and Mary Magdalene encountering the Risen Christ to the disciples who are locked behind closed doors because they’re afraid of the religious authorities.

John tells us that it was still the first day of the week (so this all happens the same day that Mary got up while it was still dark and went to the tomb.)  That Easter Sunday evening Jesus comes and stands among the frightened disciples behind closed doors, saying, “Peace be with you.”[1]  He showed them his hands and his side and breathed on them, commanding them to receive the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told the disciples that he is sending them out.  And that if they forgive anyone’s sins, they are truly forgiven.  And if they don’t, their sins won’t be forgiven.  So Jesus appears among them in the evening, proclaims peace, seeks to send them out, breathes on them to receive the Holy Spirit, and encourages them to forgive peoples’ sins.  The only remaining disciple who isn’t present for this Resurrection appearance is Thomas.

When the disciples tell Thomas what happened (similar to when Mary Magdalene told the disciples about her experience of seeing the Risen Christ earlier that day), Thomas says that he won’t believe unless he sees for himself.  Though Thomas goes even further, saying that he needs to put his fingers in the wounds left by the nails in Jesus’ hands and his hand in Jesus’ side that had been pierced by a spear.  Unless and until that happens, he won’t believe.  Eight days later, Thomas gets his chance because Jesus shows up again saying “peace be with you” and invites Thomas to do exactly what he asked for, “Put your finger here.  Look at my hands.  Put your hand into my side.  No more disbelief.  Believe!”[2]

It’s fascinating that we don’t know if Thomas actually does this.  Now there are many famous paintings about Doubting Thomas, perhaps the most famous is from the Italian artist Caravaggio.  In that painting, Thomas has his finger inside Jesus’ side and he’s bent over looking almost stunned and not looking directly at Jesus.  Jesus has his robe pulled aside and his chest bared while he guides Thomas’ hand to his own wounded body.  If you’ve never seen this painting, look it up later—the title is “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Caravaggio.  It’s a powerful painting by an Italian master that can also make us a little uncomfortable.  Because it’s one thing to read this story in the Gospel according to John and it’s another to see an artist’s interpretation of Thomas actually having his hands inside the wounds of Jesus’ own body that had just been brutalized on Good Friday.

Now Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds in our Gospel story, but the text never says that Thomas does.  Jesus offers for him to touch his wounded and resurrected body, and just that offer may have been enough for Thomas to make that amazing faith declaration.  Because whether he actually touches Jesus or not, Thomas’ verbal response to Jesus’ compassionate invitation of meeting his doubts and him right where he was in that moment is the greatest declaration of faith about Jesus in any of the Gospels, period.  Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God!”[3]  Though Jesus cautions Thomas because his belief came as a result of seeing Jesus.  But “happy” or “blessed” are those who don’t see, and yet come to believe.

We can argue back and forth about whether the Resurrection was physical or spiritual, whether this story is ultimately about faith or doubts, and on and on using dualistic thinking.  Here’s the thing, this story is a reminder that no matter our theological understanding of Resurrection, Resurrection is never a denial of Crucifixion.  Meaning it’s not as if Jesus is risen from the dead and we deny or ignore that he suffered an incredibly horrible death on the cross.  His resurrected body bore the marks of Crucifixion.  So Resurrection doesn’t mean that we deny Jesus’ wounds, it means that his wounds were miraculously transformed.  And that is where this miracle is so hopeful for you and for me.

Father Richard Rohr once wrote this beautiful reflection on Jesus’ Resurrection, and it’s worth quoting a few sentences.  He wrote, “Jesus walked, enjoyed, and suffered the entire human journey, and he told us and showed us that we could and should do the same. His life exemplified unfolding mystery in all of its stages—from a hidden, divine conception, to an ordinary adult life full of love and problems, punctuated by a few moments of transfiguration and enlightenment, inevitable and deep suffering—leading to resurrection, a glorious ascension, and final return.  We do not need to be afraid of the depths and breadths of our own lives, of what this world offers us or asks of us. We are given permission to become intimate with our own experiences, learn from them, and allow ourselves to descend to the depth of things, even our mistakes, before we try too quickly to transcend it all in the name of some idealized purity or superiority . . . The archetypal encounter between doubting Thomas and the Risen Jesus (John 20:19-28) is not really a story about believing in the fact of the resurrection but a story about believing that someone could be wounded and also resurrected at the same time! . . . Like Christ, we are all indeed wounded and resurrected at the same time. In fact, this might be the primary pastoral message of the Gospel.”[4]

Friends, it would be a mistake to think that we will come out of this pandemic (whenever that is) and just pretend like it never happened.  Just go back to business as usual.  Frankly, there are people who are losing family members and who are front line medical workers who are going to need mental health support and spiritual support in the days that follow the re-opening of our society.  Let alone all of the griefs that we bear and the losses we’re experiencing.  This story of Thomas encountering Jesus is such a hopeful one because it’s a sign that we can be wounded and resurrected just as Jesus himself was.  That God can hold both the wounds and transformation of those wounds with us, that we’re not alone in our complex feelings.  And that pretending that the wounds aren’t there isn’t going to work because we can’t actually deny that very well.  Though our Christian faith is one of hope and new life, and a compassionate God-with-us through it all.  So thanks be to God for that.  Amen.

[1] John 20:19, Common English Bible.
[2] John 20: 27.
[3] John 20:28.
[4] Father Richard Rohr, “Saved by the Cross,” Center for Action and Contemplation, April 23, 2019, https://cac.org/saved-by-the-cross-2019-04-23/