The Second Sunday of Easter – April 12, 2015
Preacher: Anne Marie Roderick, Seminarian at St. Michael’s and Third-Year Master of Divinity Student at Union Theological Seminary
When I was a little girl, my family and I would go to my grandparents’ house in Ohio for Easter every year. It was back in the days before smart phones, so my parents would sometimes rent a video camera to document our trips—one of those big, clunky handheld things from the early 90s. And since we didn’t have a video camera of our own, and we didn’t rent them all that often, these Easter videos are pretty much the recordings I have of my childhood. To this day, my sister and I love watching those videos. We have probably watched them a hundred times. There are definitely some embarrassing scenes—like when I admit to having eaten several of the hard boiled eggs while we were decorating them, or when my sister begs my parents to video tape her sliding down the stair railing in a flannel onesie. But in addition to the silly things, my sister and I like to watch these videos because they remind us of what it was like to be a child on Easter. They are filled with the joy and eagerness that is so palpable in small children—maybe you witnessed it in the children here last Sunday, or on Christmas. In our Easter videos, my sister and I are literally vibrating with excitement. At times we are all done up in little frilly dresses with stockings and little matching hats and we laugh and run around outside and you can tell that we just love life, we love Easter.
At its best, Easter is about being alive, isn’t it? Being joyfully alive; reveling in the miracle, mystery, and wonder of God’s work in this world.
But if we go back to the first Easter, to the disciples who were actually there, living out for the first time the very scenes we remember and reflect on every year, there was no such excitement. Remember, the disciples had just witnessed or heard secondhand of the violent, gruesome death of their beloved friend and teacher. In the Gospel passage for today, the disciples are hiding—they are sitting together behind a locked door, afraid that the other Jews (remember, the disciples were Jews, too) who collaborated with Roman authorities to crucify Jesus would come after them, as well.
It would be nice to think of the disciples in a room decorated with cute pictures of bunnies, sitting around a table sprinkled with peeps and Cadbury eggs, but John paints a very different picture for us. When Jesus greets the disciples he does not raise his arms in victory for the saving act of resurrection that has just taken place; he offers them peace. Peace be with you, he says. This seems to me like an act of pastoral care more than anything. Jesus returns from the dead and he finds his disciples distraught and terrified, huddled together, alone. And so he responds like any good pastor would to a distressed parishioner. Ease your minds, brothers and sisters, Peace be with you. I’m here. You don’t have to be afraid any longer.
Right after Jesus offers this message of peace and comfort, he does a strange thing: he shows the disciples his wounds. Only after seeing the wounds of crucifixion on his hands and side, do the disciples rejoice because they realize that they are seeing the Lord, Jesus. I find this passage so perplexing. Didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus when he walked through a locked door and spoke to them? They knew his face, they knew his voice, yet this Gospel passage seems to suggest that they did not know it was he, they did not see him until he showed them his wounds. How could that be?
As Christians today we are carrying out the legacy of Jesus’ disciples, but we are so different from the first disciples because we have never known Jesus without also knowing his death. We have grown to accept the images of Jesus on the cross as a normal part of our faith tradition, but for the first disciples, those images—seen in real time—would have been shocking, traumatizing.
I am taking a class this semester called Trauma and the Bible at Bedford Hills Correctional facility—a women’s maximum-security prison about an hour north of the city. Half of the students are seminarians like me and the other half are incarcerated women. One of the things we have been discussing is the way that devastating and traumatic events change us, change how we see ourselves and others. One of the incarcerated women in our class is preparing to leave Bedford Hills after 23 years in prison; she has talked about how there is always this hope that things could just go back to how they once were, before prison, before the events that landed her there, but the reality is that they never will. Her experiences have changed her; they have changed how those on the outside will see her, how she’ll see them. She can hope for a better future, in fact, she has high hopes about what is possible once she gets out—but she has to accept that her life will be forever marked by her past experiences. Perhaps the disciples, once they had seen Jesus hung on the cross, could not go back to seeing him as they had seen him before. In addition to the compassionate teacher they had known, they now also knew a Jesus who had been tortured and wounded. And so when Jesus appeared to them, they didn’t even recognize him until he showed them his hands and his side. It is hard to imagine that the disciples rejoiced when they saw these pierced parts of Jesus’ body—surely they would have preferred an unmarked Jesus. But maybe they rejoiced in his wounds because they found comfort in knowing that their God, our God, does not sidestep suffering, but perseveres through even the most terrible and humiliating of deaths. God did not return himself to a pre-crucifixion state as if to say let’s just pretend the whole thing never happened. Jesus rose up in spite of his wounds; God can also raise us up in spite of our wounds, our suffering. My classmate can take hold a better life now even though she struggled in the past. That’s news worth rejoicing over.
If we move along a few verses in the Gospel passage we get to Thomas. Thomas always gets a bad a wrap for doubting that Jesus has come back from the dead, but really, he’s not much different from the other disciples. He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared and so he says, I want to see it, too. He goes a little further than the other disciples: not only do I want to see his wounds, I want to touch them, I want to put my hands on them. When we touch things they become more real, we can make better sense of them.
I remember going to my grandmother’s funeral as a child and as I looked at her body in the casket, I just had to touch her. I had to know, is this really you? Do you feel the way I remember you feeling?
When Thomas touches Jesus’ hands and side he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” For Thomas, too, his faith comes alive when he connects with Jesus’ wounds. Then Jesus says to him: Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. I don’t hear this as a criticism of Thomas, I hear it as a statement about us, us modern day Christians who have not had the privilege of knowing Jesus in the flesh, or seeing his body after the resurrection. We don’t get the closure, the confirmation that Thomas gets. We have to believe that Jesus rose, wounded but alive, without seeing it firsthand. I hear Jesus saying, “blessings to those who will believe that this terrible and wonderful thing happened and yet don’t get the comfort of seeing and feeling for themselves.
So what does all of this mean for us in the week after Easter? As we celebrate and rejoice in God’s triumph over death, in the Good News that Jesus Christ who brings peace and love and forgiveness to the world was not defeated by death—we have to remember that Jesus’ wounds were in tact when he came back from the dead.
Some of us may have had experiences that felt like coming back from the dead. Perhaps we were pulled out of depression, or addiction, or mourning. Perhaps we ourselves experienced a devastating physical injury. Like the disciples who survived Jesus’ death, we may be survivors of lost loved ones, of overwhelming struggles. And we may think to be survivors we have to conceal our wounds. We have to pretend that we are fully healed, that we have overcome and conquered past experiences. If we think that Easter is about erasing death, we have it all wrong. Jesus did die. And yet he persevered through death into new life. When he rose from the dead, Jesus showed the disciples his body because they had seen him wounded and they knew that any man claiming to be Jesus with an unmarked body was an imposter, a fake.
In our society too often we are afraid to be vulnerable with one another; we are afraid to show others our wounds.
Sometimes I wish that I could go back to being that four-year-old girl in a puffy Easter dress filled with innocent joy and excitement. But I have been hurt over the years; I have hurt others. I have lost loved ones and have felt lost myself. And so Easter for me now is not what it was for me as a child. Easter is not about everything being fixed and happy and easy. Easter, for me, is a celebration that despite it all, I am still here. Despite death and violence and tragedy and injustice, we are still here. And most importantly, God is here with us. When we proclaim Easter we dare to bare our wounds to one another and to God. We dare to see and touch the wounds of others. We dare to rejoice in this at times painful, broken world.