A homily given at Grace Episcopal Church, Chicago, on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2014.
So now that Holy Week and Easter Sunday have come and gone, all the problems of the world are fixed, right? No more does anyone go to sleep hungry. No more does anyone struggle to get the doctor care they need, for themselves, for their children. No more do long-term illnesses plague any of us or those we know. Or those we don’t know.
None of us have to worry any longer about where the money will come from next month when all those bills come due. We have all the energy of our youth, we are like Energizer Bunnies. Like a miracle, we no longer need to lie down every couple hours (and I count myself in that group!).
I mean, look around, listen, it’s the 8th day of Easter, we’ve been singing, “Alleluia!” We are smelling the flowers of Easter, of springtime, the green of the grass.
There are no more problems in the world, you see, because people — don’t you hear them? — they are saying “The Lord is Risen!” They are saying it really passionately. Great songs about how now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia! where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!
And, even, they say, the Lord is among us — walking, talking, breaking bread! That’s the story, that’s what we are hearing. It is everywhere, around the whole planet. A great big cosmos of Alleluia.
So, the task now is just to bask in this glory, swim in this beauty, be massaged by this truth. Right?
Well. . . . the disciple Thomas says, maybe that’s not quite the whole truth.
The disciple Thomas seems to be saying, the way I am hearing all this, seeing all this, I’m sorry, you may be having a lovely experience, but I will not believe. He seems to be saying, how do I know that what you have seen is not an apparition, something you’ve imagined yourselves into?
I will not believe, he says, until I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails. Only after doing that, he says, will he believe. Only then will he call Jesus “Lord.” Only then will he call Jesus “God.”
Look, Thomas wants more than a mere good story and happy ending. Thomas is not ready to celebrate Jesus alive just because the group is doing it. Even because “all the cool kids are doing it.” The testimony of others, even others he trusts, the disciples, those who sacrificed everything to follow Jesus, this testimony alone will not satisfy, will not convince, Thomas.
Perhaps Thomas was concerned that, in the heat of the moment, the other disciples have simply been deceived. Really wanting to believe, and through that desire making it so. Perhaps this has happened before: we are told his was an age of many people claiming to be prophets, whose teaching it seemed turned out to be, well, questionable.
But despite Thomas’s doubts, Jesus came, and despite Thomas’s skepticism Jesus stood with Thomas and the others. Jesus filled the room with his peace, and invited Thomas to touch his wounds. The wounds of the nails. The wound on Jesus’s side.
We might note that there is no indication that Thomas actually touched these wounds. But he perceived them. Gave full attention to them. A kind of reverence. Did not ignore them.
It was through the presence of Jesus, and openness of Thomas to his wounds that Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” It was seeing, this sense of “perceiving” that in this Jesus, there was no apparition, no unreal Jesus, no Jesus without continuity with he who was the crucified, this was Jesus the wounded.
Thomas needed to see a resurrection of woundedness before he would see God.
Friends, in this Easter season, we ought remember that Jesus did not need the stone rolled away to come out. The stone was rolled away so that we could enter in. . . . Enter in to the mystery of Christ, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus crucified. And it is a mystery, for as Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
And so, without the vantage point of Thomas and the other disciples, how do we believe?
We can believe, I think, when we perceive the wounded nature of reality. And not just perceive woundedness, but put ourselves in relationship with woundedness. In still deeper relationship with those who are suffering. With those who are hungry. With those who need medical care.
And in still deeper relationship with wound, we open ourselves. We empty ourselves, like Christ did on the cross. Never ignoring pain, wound, suffering. Never pretending that the real, real reality is a perfect picture of divine perfection.
No. The real, real reality is crucified, wounded. Opening ourselves to the truth of reality means compassion. A word that means — suffering with. Thomas teaches us to insist on reality, the hard truths of a complicated, often tragic world. To insist that easy narratives just won’t do.
And yet, when the hard truths of reality hit us, let us also say with Thomas, My Lord and my God. For in Christ is hope. In Christ is the hope to live with confidence in the newness of life.
Yes, he is wounded. But he lives.
Image “The Maesta Altarpiece—The Incredulity of St Thomas” by Duccio is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original