Acts 2:14a, 22-32 | Psalm 16 | 1 Peter 1:3-9 | John 20:19-31
We’ve entered a new season in the church calendar. We’ve left the 40 days of Lent behind us, and we’ve entered the season of Easter. We’re now in the second Sunday. For those of us who didn’t grow up in churches that followed the liturgical calendar, this may seem odd. Easter is a day, not a season. Easter already happened.
But, as we discovered last week, one day, one service, one message, is hardly enough to unpack all that the resurrection means. That’s what Mary Magdalene taught us.
Jesus’ resurrection is a shock, a jolt. It’s a rupture. It’s totally unexpected by the disciples, even though Jesus and the Scriptures foretold it. It’s the beginning of this new thing that God is doing. But it’s only the beginning.
Our reading last week did very little to explain what the resurrection of Jesus Christ meant, although it did begin the process. Jesus told Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” implying that we now share the same relationship with God that Jesus has.
In this season of Easter we begin to unpack what the empty tomb means. As I said last week, there will always be a certain mystery to it. It will always be a conversation between our current circumstances, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst, and the Scriptures we read. But during the season of Easter we’ll begin to see what the resurrection meant to the first disciples, and from there we’ll explore what it means for us.
“I have seen the Lord!” That’s how the passage last week ends. Something…unthinkable has happened. Jesus has risen! Death could not hold him down. Life has triumphed.
But last week we were left, like Mary, asking, “now what?” It’s not that we don’t think it means anything, it’s that we think it must mean too much, too much to comprehend, too much to understand. What now? WHAT NOW?
Apparently it really was too much for the disciples, too much for them to believe that is, because our passage today picks up on the evening of the very morning Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus, and the other disciples are hiding in a room with the door locked, cowering in fear. They didn’t believe Mary’s testimony. Thomas gets the unfortunate title “doubting Thomas,” but the truth is, they were all doubting before Jesus showed up in their midst.
The Gospel of John often contrasts seeing/unseeing and darkness/light. Here the rest of the disciples, all hiding in the dark behind a locked door, are contrasted with Mary, who is outside in the light of day. She’s seen Jesus. She sees (in many senses of the word). They still don’t.
But that’s okay. Unlike the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel, the Jesus of John’s Gospel doesn’t fault the disciples. He doesn’t get angry that they’re so hesitant to believe. He doesn’t wait for them to come find him. Instead, he comes to them. He comes to them.
He comes to them, as he comes to all of us. In the words of 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” Or in the words of Romans 5:8, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We are always simply reacting to a God who first reached out to us. A God who showed up suddenly, unexpectedly (for most of the world) in little manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. A God who showed up in the midst of a crowded room of disciples. A God who continues to show up in our lives in surprising ways and in unexpected places.
Jesus comes to them not with anger or reprimand, not even a “tsk, tsk, tsk,” but with one word: Peace. Peace. (Well, technically 4 words: “Peace be with you”)
What a bizarre thing to say. These men (and women?) who had seen Jesus killed, many of whom had deserted him in his hour of need, who had spent the last few days huddled in dark rooms fearing for their lives, see a risen Jesus suddenly appear in their midst without opening a door, and he tells them to have peace! Peace is the furthest thing from their minds! He probably had to tell them that because they were all freaking out. “Chill out! It’s me! It’s me.”
A couple of weeks ago we read about the crucifixion, and in the message that week I encouraged us to see the crucifixion as part of the whole story, it was directly related to the life Jesus led – remember the question “How did we get here?” In this passage we see that Jesus’ resurrection should be viewed in the same way. It’s a continuation.
That’s not to say that something significant hasn’t happened, or to say that everything is going back to the way it was. The crucifixion wasn’t just a little hiccup and the resurrection is Jesus picking up where he left off. No, no, everything has changed. Jesus himself has, in some ways, changed. On numerous occasions he won’t be recognized, and in our reading today he seems to be able to pass through walls or teleport or something.
But his resurrection, like his crucifixion, shouldn’t be seen as somehow independent of everything that came before. Jesus’ first words to the disciples: “Peace be with you,” are a throwback, a reference, to what he said to them at the last supper: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33).
After Jesus was crucified, the disciples had probably been questioning whether that statement was really true, or if any of Jesus statements were really ture, and Jesus shows up to tell them that everything is still on track. Stick with the plan. That’s what Peter is telling the crowd in our reading from Acts: everything that has happened has been in accordance with the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” The crucifixion didn’t surprise God. God isn’t subject to the whims of fate. The crucifixion and resurrection were necessary (although how and why are not always clear).
To further show the continuity between who he was before, during, and after the crucifixion, Jesus shows the disciples his wounds. When he sees Thomas a week later he will even invite him to put his fingers in the nail holes, and his hands in his side. The Jesus who appears to the disciples on Easter night is the very same one who was hung on the cross – whose hands and feet were pierced with those nails, whose side was sliced open.
It’s really, really important to recognize that Jesus has wounds, and he doesn’t hide them.
We live in a culture that despises weakness, that’s all about hiding our wounds. We live in a country that, especially now, is drunk on the idea of being the most powerful, the most fearsome. We want to appear impenetrable.
And it’s not just us, North Korea recently tried to show their power by launching some new missiles (which, fortunately didn’t work).
But how does Jesus show his power? He shows us his wounds.
Even after the resurrection, Jesus continues to be who he’s always been. Just as he approached the woman at the well as one who was vulnerable and in need of water, so now he appears to the community of disciples as one who is wounded and bears the scars of his trauma.
There’s a vulnerability in his willingness to show his disciples these scars. Will they still trust him? Still believe in him? Will they accept him? Or will they judge him?
Will they worship a wounded God?
Many of us – well, all of us – come today with wounds and scars. Some of them are old and barely visible anymore, others are old but have never fully healed, still others are fresh and painful. Many of us have tried to hide these scars. Either we’ve been afraid to show them to others, or when we did we were told to cover them up – no one wants to see those scars. But Jesus, through his crucifixion and even after his resurrection, identifies as one who bears – who will always bear – the scars of trauma.
Fortunately, the disciples get it right for once. Once Jesus appears – the same Jesus but changed, bearing the marks of crucifixion, bearing the marks of trauma – they accept him back completely. The first time he shows them his scars the disciples respond by rejoicing, and 7 days later Thomas responds with the bold confession, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus’ wounds didn’t diminish him, but instead they testified to the power of God and the fortitude of Jesus. It’s not that the wounds were somehow good in and of themselves, as if suffering should be romanticized, but the wounds are a testament to Jesus’ wrestling with death and defeating it through the power of God.
Your wounds also are not something the diminish or disqualify you. They are a testament to your strength. They’re a testament to a God who is with you, whether you know it or not, a God who bears wounds in God’s own flesh.
Over the course of our lives we will find ourselves in the place of Jesus and in the place of the disciples. Sometimes we will be the ones entering into new places, unsure of whether or not we can or should reveal our wounds, and it makes sense that we should proceed with caution. Not everyone will react as the disciples reacted to Jesus. We need to know whether it’s a safe place or not. But we also need, like Jesus, to be seen by our community for who we truly are, wounds and all.
Other times, we will be the ones who are entrusted with others’ wounds. How will we respond? Will we minimize them or discount them? Or will we see the whole person, wounds and all? Will we commend them for their bravery? Will we pledge to walk beside them, to help shoulder the load, to do everything we can to bring healing, knowing full well that, chances are, in the future we’ll be the ones coming to them, asking them to see our own wounds and helping to heal us?
We have said upfront, on our website, that we are a welcoming church. But talk is cheap. Hospitality comes at a cost. It’s not always easy. Will we really welcome all people, wounds and all? Will we welcome people no matter what their backstory, not matter what their baggage? No matter what they look like, how they talk, what they think and believe? Will we welcome them whether they come every Sunday or only sometimes? Whether they participate in the life of our church or not?
Churches, unfortunately, are often the last place people want to reveal their wounds. Churches are so often the place where people put on a happy face. We’re supposed to be resurrection people! We’re supposed to talk about love and salvation, who wants to talk about death, despair, and depression. Who wants to draw attention to wounds?
Apparently Jesus does. “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 be unbelieving but believing.”
Isn’t that incredible! Somehow belief is found in the wounds. It reminds me of the story of Jesus outside the tomb of Lazarus. It’s difficult to believe in a God who seems abstract and removed, but a God who has wounds like ours, who appears to us in the midst of our fear, who doesn’t reprimand us for times of doubt but instead says “Peace,” and then shows us his own wounds, his own vulnerability, and gently calls us back? A God who has defeated death, but has done so by experiencing death and coming out the other side alive. That is a God to believe in. That’s a God to put one’s trust in.
“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.’” We’ve already talked about how this passage shows the continuity between the Jesus who travelled throughout Palestine, the Jesus who was crucified, and the Jesus who was raised by God, but now comes the really crazy part, the really exciting part. Somehow, because of this resurrection, we are invited into his life, into this story with him. The continuity isn’t just within Jesus’ own life, but that life is extended to us. There’s now a continuity between his life and our lives. As God sent Jesus, now Jesus sends us.
We are invited into the restorative work God is doing in the world through Jesus. The restorative work that is made possible through the resurrection.
Now we’re beginning to see what Jesus’ resurrection means for us. The Holy Spirit is now available to us in a new way. In the words of Romans 8:11, “…the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” The Spirit Jesus passes on to the disciples – to us – is the very One that raised him from the dead, the One who has the power over death.
The Spirit that gave Jesus the power to overcome his wounds is the same Spirit that is given to us to overcome our wounds. The scars will remain, but they will not define us. We are now defined by the Spirit of God which is the Spirit of adoption by which we cry “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15-16).
The very Spirit who descended on Jesus after his baptism, led him into the wilderness, guided him throughout his ministry, and raised him on the third day is the same Spirit that indwells us.
That is the inheritance our reading from I Peter speaks of when it says God’s great mercy “has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…”
As many of you know, my dad is quite the science nerd, and he has this weird little…contraption he likes to pull out when people are over. It’s just a board with this little crank on it, and two wires that come out. He gets everyone to sit in a circle and hold hands, then two people grab the end of the wires and he starts cranking the little handle, and you can feel an electrical current pass from one person to the next.
We are far down the line of a great circle of disciples – what the Church likes to call “the great cloud of witness,” those who came before, are alive now, and will come after us – we, unfortunately, didn’t get to meet Jesus and put our hands in his side, we didn’t get to hold the wires, so to speak, but we’re connected to them, and connected to Jesus by the Spirit that runs like an electrical current through us all, connecting us across time and space, the Spirit that we were introduced to by a family member, a friend, a teacher, a pastor. It’s the same Spirit we share with others through sharing our lives together, speaking words of life to one another, witnessing to our own experiences with Jesus – the Spirit that gives us strength to overcome our wounds, to enter rooms locked up by fear and speak words of peace.
That’s our inheritance: imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That’s life in Christ. That’s the power of the resurrection.