April 8th, 2018 “Healed Woundedness” Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 20:19-31 with Acts 4:32-35
Our reading this morning begins right where we left off last Sunday. Mary Magdalene has returned from the garden, announcing that she has seen the risen Lord. It is the evening of Easter day, but instead of going out into the world to preach the resurrected Christ, the followers of Jesus have locked themselves in a room. Later on in the story everyone will judge Thomas for not believing the story the other disciples tell, but here we find the entire community of disciples not believing the story that Mary Magdalene has told. Even though Peter and the beloved disciple have seen an empty tomb, even though Mary has encountered the risen Lord herself; still the disciples are locked away and unbelieving. Fake news and doubters all around.
Suddenly the risen Christ mysteriously appears standing among them. He says “Peace be with you” and then he does a strange thing. The text makes it clear that before he says anything else, he shows them his wounds. I think that as readers we almost skip over this part of the text to get to the next part where Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit, because that’s totally awesome. But this part is pretty cool too.
Jesus says, “Peace be with you” and he shows them his hands and his side. Imagine it, the first appearance to many of the disciples and the first thing Jesus does is not to say, “hey, I’m ok” or “hey, I got resurrected” or even “I get knocked down, but I get up again!”. Jesus doesn’t do any of that, instead he says “hey, here’s where I got hurt” “look, here is where they put the nails in my hands.” It reminds me of when I greet my kids after a long day of school. If one of them has a small cut or a skinned knee that is the first thing they do, “hey mom, look at where I got hurt.” They show me their wounds.
I imagine Jesus showed them the marks in his wrists and then he would have opened his robe or lifted his shirt, so that the disciples would see the large gash in his side where the spear had entered his body. It is interesting that the writer of the gospel of John tells us that the disciples didn’t know who Jesus was until after he shows them his wounds. It is only after they see his hands and side that we read “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Is this the characteristic mark of Jesus now? Are his wounds the only identifier? Can we not know who he is if we don’t see the marks in his hands and side? We can only wonder.
Enter our friend, doubting Thomas; or Thomas Didymus, the twin. “Twin to who?” we might ask; and the scriptures offer no clue. I am always one to think Thomas is twin to you or me, those who demand signs or wonders. Thomas is twin to those who want to see for themselves this thing that everyone else is talking about. Thomas is twin to all the doubters the world over. Thomas was not there that night and so when the disciples tell him what they saw and experienced he says that he won’t believe unless he himself sees the wounds of the Lord. Again, we have this strange emphasis on the wounds of Christ, rather than on his resurrected and healed body.
A week passes in a stalemate, the disciples claiming to have seen the Lord and Thomas refusing to believe unless he sees Jesus’ wounds himself. At the end of the week, the disciples are again gathered behind closed doors, but this time Thomas is there among them. Jesus appears once again and again he says, “Peace be with you”. Amazingly, Jesus goes through the same routine with the wounds. “Here, see where I got hurt.” He tells Thomas not just to look at his wounds but to actually touch and know that they are real. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” What?? Weird!
The text doesn’t say exactly if Thomas really touched the Lord’s wounds or not, but I like to imagine that he did. I think Thomas really wanted to know that the very Jesus who was hanging on the cross a week ago was now in his presence, still bearing the open wounds of his suffering. Thomas needs to know that the suffering of Christ was real, and not simply a show put on by a magical non-human being. The church has argued about the reality of the crucifixion for ages so Thomas isn’t really doubting any more than anybody else. He’s in good company here. The writer of the gospel of John tells us that even though Christ has been resurrected, he has not lost the marks of his suffering. He is both healed and wounded. And once again, it is in the viewing of Jesus’ wounds that his identity is made known as Thomas cries out in faith “My Lord and my God!”
This emphasis on Jesus’ wounded body is fascinating and I am enthralled with this idea of a healed woundedness; that we could be both healed and hurt at the same time. Many preachers will stand in their pulpits and tell you that God will make everything OK, that God will take away all the hurt and pain in your life. That’s a great story and I would love to believe those promises but it’s just not true. If it wasn’t true for Jesus then it’s not going to be true for us. Just because we have faith, it does not mean that we will live without suffering now or in the future. In fact, this text suggests that even in our healed state we can still be wounded.
If Christ is to be our true model for our faith, then we must recognize that Christ still carries the wounds of his suffering. Even though he has a healed body, he still carries the wounds of his rejection and humiliation upon the cross. In fact, according to the author of this gospel, the risen Christ isn’t known until we see his wounds. It is the wounds that make Jesus the Christ. What if we too were only identifiable by our wounds? What if it is our wounds that make us who we are? What if you wouldn’t recognize me until you saw my scars?
If we are ones who worship a wounded Lord, then we need to also be willing to admit our own woundedness. While we develop deep relationships in the life of the church, we are often tempted to hide our wounds from each other. Many of us come here on Sundays and try to make a show of everything being ok. Folks greet us during the passing of the peace and ask us how we are and we always smile and say “fine.” We often hold the truth of our lives back, feeling that this isn’t the time or place for such personal business.
In this story, Jesus shows us another way. The first thing he does when he is gathered in with the community is to show where he has been hurt and where he has been healed. By sharing his pain, Jesus is sharing the reality of his life, the truth of his life, with his followers. We might consider doing the same, sharing with others the painful places in our own lives; from actual physical pains, to the emotional scars that cut equally as deep.
In our reading from Acts, Luke waxes eloquently about the near perfection of the early church community. “The whole group who believed were of one heart and soul” isn’t that something! They were such a connected community that they shared all their financial resources together and “there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Now there’s a stewardship sermon! The community shared their joys and concerns, their blessings and their hardships. If they were of “one heart and soul” then they must have shared their wounds as well.
As Christians we are sometimes embarrassed by the suffering in our own lives, especially the emotional suffering. We might not blame somebody for getting cancer but we do wonder why, if we are good Christians and have faith, our lives are still a mess of suffering and sadness. We often worry that if others were to find out about how we really live, all the things we worry about and struggle with, that they will think less of us as people or as Christians. This text reminds us that while faith brings healing we are also still wounded.
The reality of our world is that suffering is a part of all of our lives, and it will be a part of our lives in the future. The uniqueness of our faith is that we have a God who suffers alongside of us. We have a God who was broken and wounded physically and emotionally upon the cross and who still carries those wounds in his healed body. God promises us a certain amount of healing in our lives, and I think we all can agree that our lives are better with God than without. But, even though we are a healed people, we also carry the scars of our past and current hurts in our bodies. Like our risen Lord, we are always in a state of healed woundedness.
In our scriptures it is still Easter Day and the first thing the risen Lord did was show his friends where he had been hurt. It wasn’t until they had seen his scars that they recognized who Jesus was. Without his wounds Jesus could be anybody. With the marks in his hands and side, Jesus becomes the Christ.
We too carry the wounds of the past and this Sunday after Easter we can be confident in God’s promise of new life for each of us. Like Jesus, it is our honesty about our wounds, and our state of healed woundedness which will help us to reach out to others with the message of the gospel. May God help us to continue to follow our Risen Lord Jesus Christ as we share the truth of our pain with each other. Amen.