The Second Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

John 20:19-31

Six-year-old Amy and two very anxious parents walked down the hall and into Amy’s room. Before, one of her parents had always laid down with her until she was asleep. But tonight would be different. Amy and her parents have agreed (with some discussion) that the time has come for Amy to sleep alone.

Since dinner the little girl has considered the possibility that tomorrow night might be a better time to begin this discipline. But she has said nothing. She has mustered her courage and is determined to try to hold up her end of the bargain.

After bedtime prayers and some carefully phrased words of encouragement, the parents leave the room closing the door behind them. Hoping for the best, but not really expecting it, the mother waits just outside the room.

Sure enough, only a moment passes before the little girl begins to cry out.
“What’s wrong dear?” the mother calls through the door.
“I’m scared,” the little girl answers.
“You don’t have to be afraid Amy,” says the mother. And as a last chance tactic adds, “Jesus is there with you.”
“He may be,” said the little girl, “but I want somebody in here with skin on them.”

There are times in all our lives when a spiritual Jesus just isn’t enough, when someone else’s witness and experience of Christ neither comforts us nor convinces us that Christ is really in our presence. There are times when we need a Jesus with skin—a Jesus of flesh and blood that we can touch and see and relate to in the context of our own human experience.

This was certainly the case for Thomas, and these are the same conditions he demands as proof that Jesus has been raised from the dead. “Until I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And who could blame Thomas for feeling the way he did. After all, he had heard all of this before. Two days after the crucifixion the women had come to him and the other disciples with an incredible story: they had seen and talked with Jesus. No one had believed them. Not even poor impetuous Peter, who hoping for the best but not really expecting it, had run to the tomb to see for himself. He had found the tomb empty, but what did an empty tomb prove? The proof – the truth and the reality of the situation – was an empty blood-stained cross from which the lifeless body of Jesus had been taken.

As horrible and as painful as it was, as hard as it was to accept, that was the truth of it. And the image of the thing was burned into Thomas’s mind and heart forever. He would never get over it, but he had accepted it. He thought the others had too, but now they were telling a story just as incredible, just as unbelievable as that of the women. Now they too were claiming that they had seen Jesus.

Thomas was a sensitive man. He understood how grief and guilt sometimes affects people. They grab onto anything, even idle rumors. They see what they want to see, feel what they want to feel, believe what they want to believe.

But Thomas was also a sensible man. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to believe; it was simply that he couldn’t believe. Even if his friends’ story was true, Thomas’ loyalty lay with the Jesus who died on the cross. He wasn’t interested in some spiritual or ghostly Jesus, who could magically pass through closed doors or suddenly erase the scars of his death as if nothing had ever happened. That would make the suffering meaningless. For Jesus to pop up good as new would make a mockery of his death and of Thomas’ grief. Thomas needed to see the wounds. The “risen one” meant nothing to him, unless it was the same man who had suffered and died. He had to see the wounds before he could trust the spirit.

Doubting Thomas? How about right on Thomas? Or tell it like it is Thomas? Or believing Thomas? For when he is confronted with the risen, wounded Christ, Thomas makes a confession that carries a full understanding of what our Christian faith is about. “My Lord and my God.”

To see and understand God as Thomas comes to see and understand God allows us to find compatibility in our pain and healing, our grief and joy, our suffering and celebration.

This should be especially evident to us during our Easter season and celebration. It only seems incompatible because in most models of celebration, grief and pain are deliberately set aside, banished or repressed. In such celebration, even the least reminder of suffering or unhappiness is subversive. It ruins the mood, spoils the fun. There is something very fragile in this kind of celebration. Is this the secure joy of Christians awaiting the inheritance of heaven, or is it the merry-making of those who expect that tomorrow they will die? At the first, the wounded Christ can be the host, the one who says to all “Peace be with you.” At the second, is the wounded Christ even welcome?

Being raised in an environment of constant, almost terminal, cheeriness that masked anger and despair, I am aware of, and maybe a little over sensitive to, the negative effects of celebrations that deny our real wounds, Christ’s or anyone’s.

These false models of celebration abound in society and in the Church, and they can distort our entire picture of who Christ is and who we ourselves are.

I recall one occasion when, as a younger man, I was attending Church one Sunday morning. I didn’t go to church regularly, but I had lost a friend in an automobile accident the day before, and I felt an intense need to be in that place where I believed that wounds were accepted and shared and cared for. During the sermon the congregation was told, “If you don’t have a smile on your face and a song in your heart this morning, then you’ve got the wrong religion and shouldn’t be here.” I was compelled to take the preacher’s advice and walked out, weeping.

Our resurrected Lord never asks us to falsify our experience, never waits until we are already happy to come to us, and never demands that we wear a fixed smile. Christ could have easily obliterated his own wounds on being raised from the tomb, but he chose not to do so. Nor does Christ ask us to banish our wounds when we come into his presence.

Understand that I am not advocating a return to earlier times when penitential themes and Jesus as the man of sorrows dominated liturgies and sermons, and personal piety. God help us to recognize and participate with Christ in times of joy and laughter and lightheartedness. But help us also to recognize and claim those times when we and others are in pain. Help us to own our wounds even as Christ owns his.

Thomas understood this. By seeing and touching the wounds of Christ, he was able to claim and even celebrate his own. At that moment, Thomas realized the relationship and the compatibility between the human, flesh and blood Jesus and the divine and spiritual one. And he found in the wounded Christ a living God who was willing to share with him the whole experience of life.

How can we know the true presence of Christ in our lives? Jesus invites us all to “see and feel.” He invites us to share in his suffering, and he promises to share in ours. We don’t choose between a flesh and blood Jesus and a spiritual one, a wounded Jesus and a risen, victorious one. If we accept one, we accept the other. He is one in the same.

“Come. . . see and feel.” This is the invitation of the wounded, risen Christ. It is the promise of his presence; the authentic source of our joy, and the true occasion for our celebration.

Happy Easter!

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.