Sermon: Easter 2b 2012
Psalm 133, Acts 4:32-35, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
“We have seen the Lord,” the disciples said when they saw Thomas. They were excited—most likely deliriously happy. They had all seen an ‘apparition of Jesus’ they thought. And they were chattering on and Thomas isn’t willing to have any of it. "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,” says Thomas.
Like so many of us, Thomas is the practical one. He is not going to get on any bandwagon or get hopeful just because his friends think they saw “something.” Thomas is the steady one, the conservative one--the one who is going to provide some stability to this ragtag bunch of disciples of the Rabbi of Galilee. Some of them had watched from a far, some had even been at the foot of the cross at the senseless and cruel death of their leader. And yet, like the women who had come back from the tomb, they were saying that Jesus had returned from the dead.
So when the Resurrected Christ appears to Thomas, Jesus invites him to put his hands on the wounds of his crucifixion, on the hurt that he had suffered so that Thomas would know not only that he was alive, but he had endured those pains for him.
Friday night Judy and I went to the opera in Dallas. It was La Traviata. They had the words in English over the stage, but I know just enough Romance language that the words weren’t quite the same in Italian than the translations was for us in English. The whole story of La Traviata is about Love conquering Suffering and Death. ‘Suffering’ is part of the Mediterranean ethos. This is true not only for the Latin cultures but it is also for the Semitic peoples of the Levant. It is the way that they describe everything—it is a tension between joy and suffering, love and hatred, life and death. I do not believe that Latin culture could exist without the words for tears and suffering.
We who have been formed by the Northern European and British ethos often are uncomfortable with such ideas as suffering and pain. I have never been especially fond of Latin ecclesial art for the same reason—it is too bloody and painful. For the most part, we tend to bury such feelings, or talk of them only under duress or secretly. Or perhaps we watch a movie or read a story that siphons off our feelings Guys shake off injury on the playing field. Women tend to ‘suffer in silence,” but not so in first century Palestine. Thomas understood that by touching the suffering of Jesus he could find communion with him. He knew that by touching his Lord’s wounds that he would know healing—healed of his doubt, healed of the anxiety about his brother disciples, healed of the fears that life held for him.
Often we get to Easter without an encounter with Christ’s sufferings. I know I missed the reading of the Passion completely this year. I got to church late on Palm Sunday and missed Good Friday completely. It is the first time in over 40 years I have done that. Most Christians experience Easter that way. They like to go directly to the empty cross to re-enforce for ourselves the joy of the Resurrection.
But Thomas knew that wasn’t the whole story. The whole story is about the tension between life and death and resurrection. And when we can tie our own sufferings to the passion of Christ, it makes sense of them. When we can tie our own joy to Christ’s resurrection, it is to give not only hope, but to make sense our lives.
All too often we tend to see our lives in the realms of ‘good and bad’. And I believe that Jesus came to teach us that life isn’t that way. Life is! --Pure and simple. Life is neither good nor bad. Life is to be lived knowing that we are not alone and that we are tied inextricably to one another and to God. We are tied by our love just as we are tied by our suffering. We cannot avoid either. And it is in our relationships with one another and God that make sense of happiness and sadness, of joy and suffering, of life and death.
The Incarnation of divinity in Jesus Christ gives us the chance to touch our own wounds so that they do not close up and fester. It is Christ who can allow us to know the suffering that we experience and learn to turn it into points of healing for others, to give strength to the ministry we offer or to balance us when faced with what we think is too much for us. It is Christ who teaches us to allow our stories of pain and sadness to be resurrected into joy.
I know that in my life. I have experienced pain and sorrow that have been moved to experiences of peace and joy. The circumstances of the pain and sorrow may have been caused by me or someone else, but by opening those experiences up to the healing love of Christ, they have often become the points in my life where I have experienced the most permanent places of joy, healing, love, and faith.
The story of Thomas is one that we can all know in our lives. We too see the Lord by touching his wounds. And in doing so we touch the wounds in our own lives so that they too can be converted into points of healing, joy, love and faith. And we too can utter: “My Lord and my God.”