Seeing the Change in Us
April 18, 2004
We should hesitate before we criticize Thomas. Thomas, of course, is the disciple who has been remembered as the one who doubted. Therefore, it is easy to look down on Thomas and criticize him because at first he did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection. But before we begin that critique, it would be good for us to recognize that Thomas is the disciple who is most like us. You see, the other disciples all believed because they saw the Lord. They saw his risen glory. But Thomas was asked to believe, not because he saw, but only because he heard the testimony of the other disciples. “We have seen the Lord,” they said to him. That is our situation. We have not seen the risen Lord. Our faith is founded on the witness of others, the testimony that comes from others who also believe. So since we are, as it were, standing in the shoes of Thomas, perhaps we be more sympathetic and ask: What was the problem? Why did he fail to believe?
Yes, it is true that Thomas did not at first see the risen Lord. He did, however, have the testimony of the other disciples. Why was their word not enough? Why was their testimony insufficient? Thomas doubted because the word of the other apostles did not ring true. They told him what happened. They told him, “We have seen the Lord. He came and breathed the Holy Spirit on us. He sent us out into the world to forgive sin and to heal the brokenness of others.” They told him all of those things, but their words were not enough and Thomas began to doubt. He doubted because if Jesus had been raised up, if the apostles had been sent out to the world, what were they still doing huddled in that upper room? If Jesus had been raised up, if the apostles had been given a mission to the world, if the Spirit had descended upon them in power, then what were they still doing here? Why hadn’t they left? Why wasn’t there a greater change in their lives?
You see, Thomas doubted because of the gap that is still present in our own lives and in our world: the gap between the words that we say and the way that we live. We say to our spouse or to a close friend, “I love you.” Perhaps we even remember anniversaries and birthdays. But what are our actions? Do we really listen to others and try to understand the way that they are growing and changing? Do we try to understand their fears and their dreams? Do we at times set aside things that are important for us to make room for them? Unless our actions support our words, the words “I love you” can ring empty and false.
We say that we are proud of our children, that we would do anything for them. But how do our actions play out? Do we take the time to be involved in our children’s lives? Do we understand what they need? Do we have the courage to say “no” when it’s necessary, but also see the new talents and gifts they are developing. Do we affirm that growth? Unless our actions support our words, the words “I am proud of you” can come across without authority.
We say we believe in Jesus’ resurrection and that he has saved us from our sins. But how do our lives appear? Are we joyful? Are we generous? Are we thankful? We can proclaim with our mouths that Christ is risen, but if our lives appear glum and greedy and self-absorbed, who will believe us? Who will understand the truth of what we say?
It is no wonder that Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection, because there was so little action to back up the words that the other disciples said to him. We know that in turn Christ appeared to Thomas in person and erased his doubt. But that advantage will not be given to us. If we are to believe in the truth of the resurrection, it depends on the testimony of others and the lives that back that testimony up. So the truth and the joy and the hope of the resurrection is in our hands. Jesus does not appear anymore. The truth of his presence must be seen in the lives that we live.
The original disciples were moved to faith because of the change that they could see between the dead Jesus on the cross and the risen Christ appearing in their midst. But in our world today people can no longer see the change in Jesus. Let us so live that they can see the change in us.
Christ’s Risen Body
April 11, 2010
The risen Jesus appears to his disciples in today’s gospel. Perhaps we have heard this gospel so many times that our minds have become dull to the jarring description of Jesus’ risen condition. Even though Jesus is glorified and has left death behind forever, he still bears on his body the marks of the crucifixion. The signs of Jesus’ passion are visible, even though suffering will never touch him again. Now this description of Jesus’ risen and yet wounded body, as all things in the scriptures, has an application to us and is written for our benefit. Jesus bears the wounds of his suffering because he is human like us. Woundedness is a part of the human condition.
Now perhaps, some of you here today cannot think of any scars that you bear from the years you have lived. But most of us here carry wounds that we can point to. Wounds that came from words that people spoke to us in anger or hatred and still sting. Words that we spoke to others and would give anything to take back. Some of us have been marked by anger or fear or doubt in our childhood or later on in our life, and our bodies still bear the marks of those cuts in certain circumstances and with certain people. Some of us have made mistakes or disastrous choices, and even though we have moved past them, the effects of those choices still follow us and still influence us. There are parents here who wish that they could have done some things differently. There are children here who wish that they could take some things back. There are friends here who wish they could start over, and family members who yearn for another chance. But the truth is, life seldom gives us another chance. Most often we have to move forward with our woundedness and take our scars with us.
We are like Jesus in our humanity because we bear the marks, the woundedness of life. We are also like Jesus because we bear the glory of God within us. In our faith we know of God’s mercy and forgiveness. In our trust in Jesus we know that we are sons and daughters and called to eternal life. So like the risen Christ, we bear together the woundedness of our humanity and the glory of God’s love. The risen body of Jesus invites us to embrace this strange mixture. We would love to be able to erase all of our scars and wounds. But that is seldom possible. Instead the risen body of Jesus invites us to accept those things that we cannot change. It invites us neither to ignore or to fixate on our wounds but instead believe that even though we cannot completely erase them, they will not negate the power of Jesus’ resurrection. We are called then to accept both our woundedness and our glory.
In fact, our very woundedness can be used to help others. Jesus uses his woundedness to help Thomas. He asks Thomas to touch his wounds and by doing that leads Thomas from doubt to faith. We can, at times, use our woundedness for the sake of others, our brokenness to heal others. There is no better person to comfort someone who has lost a child, than another person who has lost a child. It is only the person who has really messed up, who can understand and assist someone who has failed. It takes an alcoholic to help an alcoholic. If we can allow others to touch our woundedness. That touch can give them hope and life. That is perhaps why God allows our wounds to remain. Not to embarrass us, not to shame us, but to provide a way that we can give life to others.
We stand in the glory of Christ’s resurrection. It is a glory in which we share, but our wounds remain. The risen body of Christ tells us that that will always be the case. Let us then proclaim the glory with all of our strength, but use our brokenness to heal the brokenness of others. In that way those who are lost may see in our wounds a way forward and discover in our failures the power of God’s love.
A New Kind of Joy
April 7, 2013
John 20: 19-31
Easter is a season of joy. Alleluia is the Easter song. So we would suppose that the stories of Jesus’ Easter appearances would be consistently positive and joyful. They are in large part that way. In today’s gospel, for example, Jesus appears in glory, the disciples rejoice, he breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, and assists Thomas in overcoming his doubt. All this is positive. But not everything is joyful. There is a shadow in the midst of this joy which prompts us to ask, “What are the wounds doing there?” Why does the body of the risen Lord still retain the wounds of his passion? Is not Good Friday over? Is not Easter a new beginning? Why then do the nail marks and the gash in Jesus’ side remain?
This question seems to pose a problem. But it emerges as a gift. The wounds in the body of the risen Christ, do not indicate that the resurrection is incomplete. In fact, they show its power. The risen Jesus re-defines what joy is.
Often times, when we think of joy, when we think of being happy, we imagine a perfect situation without trouble or pain. We picture a serene peace, in which no shadow or trouble ever intrudes. But, when we adopt this approach to happiness, it renders joy largely inaccessible to us, because as we live our life, trouble and pain consistently assert themselves: the loss of someone we love, a mistake that has disastrous consequences, a hurt we cannot heal. As these negative events come to us, our immediate reaction is to try to push them away. We want to forget about them. We do not want to look back. We want to look ahead, to move on with life. But as we try to forget, as we try to move forward, these negative troubles follow us. And every time we think of them, they rob us of joy.
This is why Jesus redefines joy. The wounds in the risen body of Christ tell us that the way to be happy is not to forget our loss, not to deny our mistakes, not to ignore our pain. Instead, when these negative realities come to us, we are called to accept them and then to make them a part of a new body, a new body dedicated to life.
When we take the negative things in our life and accept them instead of reject them, include them rather than deny them, we gain the power to transform them. When we take the wounds of our life and make them a part of a new body, a body dedicated to generosity, to hope and to love; then the destructive power of those wounds is neutralized because they have now become a part of something that is greater and better.
There are some wounds we will never erase. We will never forget the loss of someone that we love, or the mistakes we have made. There will always be a certain fear or sadness as a part of our life. But, if we can accept those negative things and make them a part of a new body, they need not paralyze us.
Like the wounds in Jesus’ risen body, the wounds in our life will not disappear. But they need not rob us of joy. They can become a part of a new kind of happiness. They can be signs of a wounded past whose memory does not mar the power of a resurrected life.