St. Paul’s Congregational Church, April 11, 2021
John 20:19 – 31; Easter 2B
The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
Last week we celebrated the great festival of Easter, the story of Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of new life, new hope, after those dreadful three days following Good Friday. Now today, we enter into Eastertide – that church season when we can only begin to understand what’s just happened and what does it mean, what comes next? Traditionally on Easter 2, the lectionary directs us to the story of Doubting Thomas – a good story for sure – but in my reading this week I came across an entirely different take – from the Rev. Cheryl Lindsay, local church pastor and writer for the UCC – it’s opened up a whole new approach for me – and as I worked through my report for the Church Council this week, I can’t help but think about what message it has for you, and this church?
It’s about scars and wounds - nobody likes scars – we try to hide them, cover them up: they remind us of past hurts. But there is a difference between a scar and a wound – a wound still hurts. It needs to be tended to. A wound needs to heal.
And scars are what’s left when that wound has healed. They don’t hurt any more but they let us know where we’ve been hurt. Scars are marks where the healing has taken place. Some folks refer them as a badge of honor – we’ve made it through something difficult, painful. and we’re healed!
There are scars today in our gospel story – flogging, crucifixion, dreadful wounds inflicted on Jesus. The disciples have been stunned, broken, scattered. But today they have found their way back to one another – from the highs of the triumphal entry to the devastation of the cross to the incredulous hope of the resurrection when the women had brought back the good news that the horrible death of Jesus had given way to the seemingly impossible resurrection of Jesus. Rather than go out and find Jesus, though, the disciples barricade themselves out of fear of more unknown, they lock the doors against outside penetration of their safe house. They heard the good news, but don’t act on it or spread it beyond themselves, preferring their own safety over any other consideration.
The disciples were comfortable in the crowds that swamped Jesus throughout his earthly ministry…as long as the crowds were curious, attentive, and adoring. But whenever the crowds became a challenge to them, the disciples were ready to distance themselves from the world around them who sought Jesus. Now, when they could go out and shout with joy, “Christ is risen!”, these intimate companions of Jesus hid out in their room.
You’re probably heard of a new Gallup study that indicating that less than half of American households belong to a church community. This isn’t really a surprise to anyone is it? But it’s hard to hear. The church is called to be in the world but not of the world – but too often we have removed ourselves from the world as partners with Christ, retreating from being the hands, feet, voice, and heart in the world – how are we living out the call we have as the Body of Christ. A colleague of Rev. Lindsay went so far as to say, “Today the North American church is trying to maintain something rather than achieve something.” Hear those words again – maintain rather than achieve.
And this body of Christ bears scars – marks of the wounds inflicted upon a revolutionary messenger of love, abundance, and peace. Jesus enters into locked and barricaded spaces - in his resurrected body, he was recognizable but changed. Resurrection involves transformation, even for Christ, but that resurrected body maintained the marks of what Jesus had been subjected to and endured. His body was terribly scarred.
But even that proclaims good news. Scars signal healing and repair. In our passage this morning, we see the scars as identifiers to confirm the news of Christ’s victory over death – but they point beyond that to indicators of new life. Jesus displays his scars and even invites Thomas to look at them, to touch them – they are scars: no longer active wounds: they are healed markers of where the wounding occurred but no longer exists.
In the church, we struggle with exposing our scars. We re-write the history of the crusades even as we condemn the actions of others who claim their violence in the name of a different religion. We gloss over the ways the church has been complicit in the oppression of human beings created in the diverse image of God throughout history through racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic theologies. We elevate politeness over the truth in confronting those who claim Christianity but walk in the opposite direction of Jesus. Our scars remain wounds because we pursue a surface notion of peace that avoids conflict, stifling the voices and needs of the oppressed in favor of the comfort of the privileged, rather than the healing that comes from the peace that Jesus offers.
Jesus’ greeting is a proclamation and a blessing to the disciples and to us: “Peace be with you.” But Jesus had to break through their defenses – as he must with ours too: the disciples hid in a house and locked the doors. They could not overcome their circumstances, so instead, they tried to avoid them. They locked the doors and locked out the world. Doesn’t this sound like what we’ve been experiencing this past year of COVID – our church doors have been locked – and how have we as church people locked our ministry away?
But, they and we have found out that you can’t lock out the world. Even if the doors are locked, we find that we live in fear, in dreadful anticipation of a feared knock that tells us that we have been found. The most dramatic element of being caught is the fact that there is, or at least seems to be, no way out – it’s to this caught situation that the Easter message speaks to us today. The resurrection takes on great meaning as we begin to realize our caughtness. Will we hear it?
The good news here is that Jesus was also caught. Being caught is the point to be seen, heard, and known. Being caught is public action and public witness. Being caught means that Jesus made an impact. Being caught was central to the plan and instrumental to God’s purpose.
Thomas asks to see the scars, the wounds, and all too often, this gets interpreted as a lack of faith. But Jesus’ actions also speak. He shows Thomas what the disciple needs to see. Thomas didn’t want to be deceived and believed that Jesus would bear the marks of his ordeal. The other disciples, who cowered in fear while Thomas out in the world presumably doing something, didn’t appear to believe until Jesus appeared to them either. But Thomas, we know from other encounters noted in the gospel, did not shy away from asking Jesus questions. Jesus always answered. Having doubts, while still seeking Jesus, is an entirely faith filled response even as Jesus commends those who will believe without being eyewitnesses to the scars he displayed.
Thomas may well be the disciple who asked the questions that everyone else has but lacked the confidence to speak. There’s no suggestion that the others were disgusted or offended. They were silent witnesses to this interaction and benefitted from the temerity of Thomas and his questions. In his concluding remarks of this chapter, the gospel writer notes that the purpose of this written testimony would be to inspire belief among those who would read it. From these words, the disciples tell what they have seen, heard, and known about Jesus, especially in his resurrected body that could penetrate locked doors but still retained the marks of his very human suffering. Scars – not open wounds. Scars – signs of healing.
Scars help to tell the story. Jesus enters into the pain and suffering of humanity. His wounds were real, but he was healed from them. We can enter into the healing and restoration of a resurrection life. This story is for us! We’re called to be the “you” to whom the gospel is addressing. We can place ourselves as those disciples, fearfully of meeting the same fate as Jesus until we, like them, realize that the story hasn’t ended yet. We can consider ourselves as Thomas who had questions, brought them to Jesus, and found an answer. Or, we can identify with the God who identifies with us and was even scarred in the process. We can be resurrection people and confront any aspect of our life, the situation of our world, and the condition of humanity as possibilities for new life, new birth, and transformation.
Peace that Jesus offers is the same peace that calmed the seas when Jesus and the disciples were caught in a storm.
The peace that Jesus offers is the restoration of God’s intentions for creation–the garden before the fall. That peace connotes harmony, abundance, and flourishing. Jesus offers it to them–and to us–so that we might have it and be instruments of it.
That peace doesn’t avoid conflict because it sees injustice. That peace refuses to compromise the gospel because it has
truly heard the good news.
That peace isn’t afraid of scars because it’s known what healing can do.
Peace be with you as you do the work of Jesus in the world.
Peace be with you as your witness to the love of God for all–and all means all.
Peace be with you as you speak up for the marginalized and oppressed.
Peace be with you as you love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Peace be with you as you pursue the newness of life in Christ.
And, peace be with you as you embrace the vulnerability and truth in revealing your own scars to let a world know that healing can take place. Show your scars to dispel the shadows that shame often erects to keep us bound. Show your scars to participate in the healing of the world. Show your scars as an identifier and mark of your own resurrected life.
Show your scars…and peace be with you.
Eastertide blessings to you now and always. Amen.