Rise, O Church, like Christ Arisen

“Mary!”

She turned, “Rabbouni!” (which means beloved teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them what he had said to her.

carravagio-doubting-thomas

 

 

 

 

That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. 

The first thing I notice is that the disciples have regrouped. Three nights before, at Jesus’ arrest and trial, they scattered like quail in the face of danger. But by Sunday evening they are back together. No texting or tweets, those who loved Jesus just knew to go back to the last place, go back to the house to question and compare stories and grieve. Jesus created a new family at the foot of the cross in his mother and the beloved disciple, but his love and the disciples’ loyalty seem to be formative here, too, in sharing tears and fears and food even while hiding behind closed doors.

 He said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.  Again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you hang onto them, they are retained.”

That’s a heady thing to tell this group hiding in fear for their lives. I bet they were taking mental notes, forming a list of who belonged on the retaining list. Who were their enemies, who garnered the most fear? Who would they most want condemned?

In church talk, this responsibility to retain and release is called the power of the keys and is conferred in ordination. I prefer it in the realm of fishing. It has seemed to me to be the most frightening thing about ordination… During confession and absolution at the beginning of the service the pastor will say something along the lines of, “as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t spend any time wondering about retaining sins.  I’m not that decisive or certain. I don’t know enough to condemn or judge.

But, by the same token, I wonder about pronouncing a blanket forgiveness over all our sins. What does that mean?  I have no idea about all your sins. Is it right for me to release them without questioning you? And I wonder, during the silence for confession, how many of us are actually considering the category.

Is sin a listing of un-repented wrongs you have done?

Is sin failure to follow a moral/ethical code of behavior – Old Testament law stuff?

Is sin failure to live fully out of love for self and neighbor – loving as we have been loved – as commanded by Jesus?

In John’s gospel sin is unbelief, the refusal to see that God is acting in and through the person of Jesus… the refusal to trust that Jesus is the person of God, the incarnate Word.

Some days are more Thomassy than others, for me…Some days the wounds of the world or ourselves would swallow us whole, and believing in the goodness and power of God’s love is difficult. Some days I would dearly love a little solid proof, a little less mystery, less reason to wonder.

Thomas, the twin, the one called Didymus, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The others told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”  But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Doubting Thomas. The Greek word is not “doubt,” actually, but “unbelieving.” Unbelieving Thomas doesn’t have the same zing, and the words might seem to be synonymous, but, at least for the author of John, they are not.

To believe in Jesus is not to say you believe in the truth of the story. To believe in Jesus is to say, “I abide in you, my Lord and my God, and you abide in me.” It affirms an on-going, whole body, mind and spirit relationship between Jesus and you as the believer.

Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is for Mary in the garden. She runs back to the disciples saying, “I have seen the Lord!” But they don’t say “What?! That’s fantastic! All he said is becoming clear!” Instead, Jesus finds them huddled with the doors locked for fear that they too would be thrown out of the synagogue, that perhaps they, too, would be crucified or stoned.

Jesus appears to them and they rejoice when they see the Lord. The disciples repeat Mary’s exact words to Thomas when he comes, “We have seen the Lord,” but Thomas also requires a personal encounter.

Actually, we all do. That’s how faith happens. When the Samaritan woman left her water jug and ran back to her townspeople telling of her meeting at the well, they go to Jesus and “abide” with him, saying to her, “It is no longer because of what you said, but now we have heard for ourselves.” This isn’t a slight against her. Believing in Jesus is not about believing in someone else’s experience, belief is in having your own encounter with the Word made flesh. It makes sense if incarnation and God’s love of this world are taken seriously. Belief is not aimed at eternity, but begins with fullness of life and grace here, now: An actual experience, an epiphany of God in your own life.

Because the resurrection is not just the resurrection. Jesus said, “I AM the Resurrection and the life.” Belief and life are synonyms in this Gospel, and together form the groundwork for a relationship that sustains and sends out disciples of all times and places and styles.

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”…Michelangelo Merisi (or Amerighi) da Caravaggio's painting of Jesus showing and letting Thomas touch

 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side.
No more disbelief. Believe!”

Thomas wanted to touch the wounds; to see and feel, and experience for himself.

But, have you ever wondered why Jesus would still have wounds?

It doesn’t seem to occur to Thomas and the others that the risen Lord should now be made perfect, whole, unblemished.  That’s interesting. Unlike his other signs and healings characterized by restoration and wholeness, the resurrected Jesus is not pristine. He still bears the marks of death.

It is this wounded Savior, then, who is the standard for the coming kingdom of God, not those other blessed, healed, perfected ones. Through Thomas we witness the wounds of the body of Christ.  Indeed, they are all around us.

Too often, in our real lives, we don’t want to see them, we don’t want to touch them. We don’t want to get that involved, or be that vulnerable.  We usually try to ensure that marks of imperfection and pain be kept covered, as if such “not seeing” will help in some way, will preserve one’s dignity or prevent embarrassment at being seen for who we are. Neither do we want to be reminded of our scars and holes and raw edges by seeing them in others.

But if Jesus is raised with wounds, maybe that – and not perfection – is what God prefers to work with; maybe our wounded-ness is where transformation and transcendence can take root – like a seed falling on soft, broken ground.

Jesus’ bodily appearance is full of mystery, but we see in this story the tender compassion of the living word of God. Jesus knows his disciples are afraid for their lives—he grants them peace. He knows they need his continued presence and power—he breathes the Spirit into their flagging hearts. He knows they have lost their sense of purpose—he commissions them to a ministry of witness and reconciliation. He knows they can hardly believe their eyes, that he is their Jesus, the same one who was nailed to the cross—so he shows them his wounds. He knows Thomas is missing—he comes back the next week to make sure the Twin is not left out. He knows the last thing they need to hear is that they failed him miserably and he is disappointed—he utters not a single word of recrimination or judgment, but grants them the kingdom.

It is not surprising then, that in the presence of such immense tenderness, the reading says (in what has to be one of the biggest understatements of the Bible) the disciples rejoiced.

Easter, in these terms, is the breaking-in of a new age to come in which there will be only compassion, peace, restoration and love like this, for all the wounded and broken, for the afraid, believing, skeptical, strong, and faithful – for all. It is ours to practice this living, to become Easter people, rising anew and going out into the world with great joy and good news and our visible wounds.

Christ is risen. Alleluia