When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
I couldn’t help reading our gospel text for this week, which is read every year on this 2nd Sunday after Easter, and feeling a little different. For the first time in awhile it wasn’t directly because of COVID-19, but something about it felt real personal this year.
As Jesus showed the disciples his hands and side, then coming back a second time for Thomas’ benefit, I just imagine the scars on his body as he was doing it.
I’ve been sitting in my backyard a lot lately during this pandemic, and going for the occasional walk when the weather permits. I’ve been watching the birds, squirrels and rabbits in the yard. I keep telling Laura we are just a deer away from a Disney film at this point. I have also been paying attention to trees.
One of the beautiful things I’ve come to recognize about trees are their scars. Look closely at any of them and you will see some evidence of the life they’ve lived–a branch shorn off by a browsing deer, a crown pierced by lightning, the enclosure of bark around an insect attack. So much of the experience of a tree is there, evident on its body, available as a witness that life keeps going.
The witness of trees has been helpful to me in this time when COVID19 has kept me away from so many I love. What a strange Holy Week, to worship in an empty church and preach into a webcam! I usually come to Easter Monday worn out, but this year I felt more depressed than tired. I missed the many bells, smells and alleluias ringing out on Easter vigil or the Paschal fire, when its flame could not be passed, candle to candle, throughout the church. This time is like a cut on a tree trunk, a damaging pain with sap oozing to the surface. But scars don’t just happen to trees.
A man walked into a barbershop to get a haircut. The barber noticed the man was growing out a beard and asked him if he wanted to trim that too. The man said “no” that he was growing the beard out to cover a scar. The barber asked him why he wanted to cover up his scar and the man told him he was embarrassed by how he got it and didn’t want anyone to see it. The barber walked around the chair and faced the man and said: don’t be afraid to show your scars, it just proves you’ve been to hell and back and survived.
That is a true story, because I was the man who entered the barbershop that was inspired by a barber in a shop now closed. It was that holy moment in that barber-shop that reminded me that not only the physical scars, but also the emotional scars that are not seen, were proof that I had been to hell and back many times over and had survived. Why? Well I still had to figure that out; but on that day, in that holy space of a barbershop, my suicide attempt was not going to be my defining moment in this life but a place where my resurrection of life and faith would begin.
Speaking of scars that can’t be seen. I have also been reflecting on the reality of the church as the Body of Christ, a reality that has felt all the more essential as we all have been unable to enjoy the Eucharist in worship as a congregation and the emotional scars that may be a result of that. Our Gospel reading for this Second Sunday of Easter, reminds us that the body of Christ after the resurrection also had its wounds, like a tree it continues its life while bearing witness to the realities that have formed it. That formational reality, is of course, the cross.
It would be easy to desire a faith that does away with the painful memory of the cross. Who wouldn’t want to forget such humiliation?
And yet, the encounter with Thomas is critical because here we find Jesus still wounded, his body a witness not only to his triumph but also to his pain. Jesus shows us in his flesh that our past scars can remain, even in our transformation, even with in the midst of new life. Our scars become a sign of all the things that did not defeat us, all of the wounds God’s life and healing overcame.
Another example of emotional scars might be why the disciples are locked in their meeting house together, fearful and desperate. Perhaps this lesson is too relevant these days! Like those of us living through a global pandemic, the stresses of physical distancing, and the general climate of fear, Christ’s disciples are in a similar situation. They are completely lost, nothing makes sense, and they don’t know what is coming next.
- How can anything go back to normal after they’ve followed Jesus?
- How could their lives be normal after their friend betrayed their master?
- How can their lives ever be safe when they may be recognized and killed as disciples of this self-proclaimed “Son of God”?
They are right to be scared. It’s in this place of fear that Jesus comes to them. Through their locked doors, through their fear, through their worry for whatever the future may hold, Christ comes to them and says, “Peace be with you.”
Christ’s peace in this situation is a curious thing. Christ’s peace changes nothing, and yet it changes everything. Think about it… The disciples already knew that Jesus is risen. They have heard this from the mouths of the faithful women who were the first to find the tomb empty. And yet they hide in fear.
Jesus says “Peace be with you” but the threat of recognition and death still remains, should they leave their home. The disciples proclaim to Thomas, when he returns, that they were witnesses to the Resurrection.
Christ’s resurrection peace changes something in this group. Even if it takes a while for them to leave the safety of their locked home, the disciples’ lives are never the same again. They have received, like a breath of fresh air, the Spirit of the living, resurrected God. Christ’s peace changes nothing, and yet it changes everything.
There was a lot of talk during Lent of the ways that COVID19 invited us more deeply into the season of loss and repentance, but now that we are in a time of Easter, celebrating resurrection, how do we make sense of the continued isolation? How do we praise God with resurrection alleluias while we are still fasting from the communion of bread and cup and all the common life that come from them?
- I believe the answer is found in the terrified gatherings of disciples, uncertain and yet surprised by life.
- I believe it is found in the body of a risen Lord who still has his wounds.
- I believe it is found in the tangible witness that the cross has come and yet life returns through the power of God.
We like to rush from the cross to resurrection: we like to move from Lent to Easter like flipping on a switch. Most years we can make that switch without much trouble, but this year we are invited into a slower transition, a new day that comes not in a flash of light but a gradual dawning. We need this whole season of Easter not only to celebrate fully, but also to fully recognize what resurrection means for us now.
The Peace of Christ is not a magic trick, a supernatural cure-all, or a get out of jail free card that just makes all bad things go away.
This peace surpasses all understanding. It is a defiant hope that all things will be made new in the love of Christ, and that death, fear, despair, and betrayal will never have the last word.
Knowing that Christ is truly present with us, shut up in our homes or when we make a risky journey out, does nothing to change that COVID-19 is deadly. We are right to take necessary precautions.
- Christ’s peace does not dismiss our doubts and fears, but acknowledges them.
- Christ’s peace doesn’t ignore our failures and sins, but it’s big enough to hold them in grace.
We need the story of the fearful disciples and Thomas’ moment as we figure out how to live as Easter people.
- Christ’s peace acknowledges our pain, but it doesn’t leave us there.
- Christ’s peace is making all things new.
- Christ’s peace comes to us again and again, in good times and bad.
We have time, all the time in the world, to realize the implications of Easter, so take it slow. Go on a walk and look at a tree. Wonder at its scars, all the life the tree has lived, all the obstacles it has overcome. Remember that Jesus too still carries the witness of his wounds, just as his living body is a witness to the power of God to bring life, even from death.
So take a look at your own scars, and remember that Jesus had scars too. He had scars from dying for our sins, so that we could look at our scars and remember that we have all been to hell and back in our own ways and we survived!
I pray this Easter season, in the midst of a pandemic even, that we can take the time we need to begin, or continue, healing from all the scars that have haunted us from our past; recognizing they have kept us locked in rooms of fear and worry for way to long and now we have time to make it better. We have all been to hell and back in our lives, we have the scars to prove it, and by the grace of God we have survived!