April 8, 2018
The gospel story takes place on the evening of what we now call Easter Day.
Strange things have been witnessed and reported: Jesus, not dead in the tomb but alive again. How can that possibly be true? Surely it’s just the imagination of susceptible women like that over-emotional Mary Magdalene. (You can almost hear the male disciples’ words of scepticism.)
So now it’s evening, and they’ve gathered together behind closed and locked doors. They’re numb and afraid. What if the terror isn’t over yet? What if the Roman soldiers come and drag them away next? So they’re huddled together, bereft and frightened.
Grief drives us inwards. I remember when my mother died (she was just a few years older than I am now) what I most urgently wanted to do when I heard was be with my four siblings for comfort. And I shut myself away emotionally from others around me, to guard my broken heart. It’s what we do: grief, fear, pain shut us down.
Yet despite the closed and locked doors, Jesus comes in anyway. He appears in their midst with his words of peace, his disarming presence. Because that’s his way – Jesus slides silently in past our closed and locked doors, into our grief and pain.
There’s a well known verse in the book of Revelation that has Jesus saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” (Rev. 3:20) And I’m sure you’re familiar with Holman Hunt’s painting showing Jesus knocking at a door that’s partially covered with overgrown weeds, and has no handle on the outside. The message is that Jesus doesn’t barge in uninvited: we have to open to him. But in today’s gospel there’s another truth: Jesus enters into our pain and grief anyway, whether we open the door or not. He doesn’t barge in, but he’s there, whether we see and recognize him or not. He’s there because love is there: like water, it slips in through the cracks.
And when he’s with them, he doesn’t blame them or shame them for all that’s happened: their betrayal, their cowardice, their unbelief. He just offers them the gift of peace. He gives them what they need: acceptance, peace, and evidence that it’s really him – those wounded hands, that wounded side.
Why does his risen body still have the wounds? The resurrection says death and sin have been overcome. His body is glorious. It’s part of the new creation, not subject to the limitations of nature. So why is it still wounded?
Could it be because he still bears our pain, just as he carried it to the cross?
Could the wounds be the sign of his endless love?
Could it be that as long as our lives are broken and painful, he will share the suffering? His wounds will remain?
So the disciples slowly come to believe, some more slowly than others. Thomas needs that tactile proof of touching Jesus’ wounds before he can fully accept that it is Jesus, his Lord and his God.
And Jesus doesn’t just reassure them and give them peace, he gives them a commission: “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you.” They’re to be Christ-like in the world, bearers of good news, hope, forgiveness, healing. And he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower them. Their time with Jesus on earth with them is coming to an end, but his Spirit will be with them.
Today we’re celebrating a baptism. Paige will be baptized into the life and community of Christ. She’s joining the journey that we’re all on, through her parents and godparents. We’re all part of this Christian community trying, through the grace of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be Christ-like in the world. We’re trying to be people of good news, hope, forgiveness, healing. We’re trying to keep the door open to divine love, even when we feel broken and afraid. Like Jesus, we carry the wounds of the past with us, but we know that he bears our burdens with us and for us. We know that we’re never alone.