The Second Sunday of Easter: April 28, 2019
Today in Acts we read, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” As witnesses we proclaim Christ is risen, exalted by God as “Leader and Savior,” and today we have the great joy of renewing this truth through Barbara and Bonny as they reaffirm their faith.
How might Thomas inform our witness as he is presented to us in today’s Gospel? He refused to believe the testimony of anyone else, even that of his closest friends. Then Jesus appeared to him and Thomas was challenged by Jesus’ invitation to touch the wounds still visible in his resurrected body. Thomas yielded with perhaps one of the greatest statements of faith in the entire New Testament: “My Lord and my God!”
But, not so fast. Let’s go back to those wounds. What do we make of the marks of crucifixion on the resurrected body of Jesus? The Gospel writer is seeking to portray the Jesus in the closed up house as the same Jesus who was crucified. That part is clear. I think it’s more than that, however.
One of the glad burdens we are to bear, along with the whole Church, is the one of prayer, interceding for the needs of God’s people locally and around the world. Right now my intercessions, perhaps yours too, are heavy with great need and longing expressed by many. There are a number of folks I am holding before God’s mercy who are struggling with varying stages of cancer. I have been holding in prayer a mother whose son went missing for several weeks. I hold before God places of war and conflict, our parishes and our sad divisions in the Church, suffering children in Myanmar, hopes of justice for refugees fleeing the violence of their countries, the unending attacks on innocent people in the name of religion as in the latest horror in Sri Lanka, and just yesterday in California a killing out of anti-Semitic hatred. You have your list.
These and all so many others you can name are the wounds of the world. Jesus’ invitation to Thomas to touch the wounds on his body is an invitation to stare straight into the woundedness of the world through his wounds. We are not only to enter the world’s pain through our prayer, as important as that is, but Jesus invites us to touch the places of pain, to go where the pain is and confront it, sit with it, cry with it, and bring Christ’s breath of peace, “Shalom,” by our very presence. We do this because the Spirit has breathed on us and we are witnesses.
Today’s Gospel teaches us that it is in solidarity with the world at the margins that we come to the opportunity to believe. We are called to faithfulness not merely when everything is perceived to be okay, but at the place of deepest hurt and longing. There, in Christ’s wounds is the brokenness of the world. We are to be treating the most vulnerable of our world as we would treat Christ himself, not causing harm to those Jesus calls the least of these.
Perhaps Thomas’ proclamation of “My Lord and my God” is not only a statement of faithfulness. Maybe it is also a plea, a crying out of hope against hope that in the midst of the wounds of the world all around us that somehow, even there, we can meet God. The Gospel does indeed want us to understand clearly that the One risen is also the innocent One who was executed. We are being invited to adore him who made himself supremely vulnerable in bearing the brokenness, the sin, of the world. Looking at Jesus, we see the worst that humanity can dish out, and yet believe.
Thomas then is a bridge, a bridge for all future believers, us, who may find it difficult to make the leap from death into resurrection territory. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” The account gives us mistaken turnings, confused demands and puzzled longings. Such is our experience of life. The struggle of faith is not a smooth, level road to perfection. Misunderstanding and a bumpy ride are par for the course. Thomas represents us in our humanity and the Gospel hopes we will identify with him.
And look how Jesus responds. The first thing he does for his companions locked in that room, holed up in death and doom: death by fear; death by guilt; death by alienation; is offer them empowerment and invitation – unconditional, open arms, lavish love, welcoming us to new life and new possibilities.
Rather than savoring alienation, Jesus responds with complete acceptance. Note that he comes into the room with the traditional Jewish formal greeting, “Shalom Aleichem,” “Peace be with you,” shalom not being merely the absence of conflict, but well-being, wholeness, completeness, that encourages one to give back and create just relationships.
Christian community is rooted in that love offered in the upper room that night as it continues to show up in seemingly impossible situations. Alienation is ended. Released from cowering behind locked doors, we are empowered to go forth and be servants of Jesus. We are now set free from all of our locked rooms, whatever they might be, to be God’s person in God’s world, witnesses of the One raised up. Go ahead. Go into the world and face its brokenness with resurrection hope. He’s already there, waiting to receive you with a word of “Shalom,” “Peace be with you.”
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.