Easter 2 April 11, 2010

Acts 5:27-32                                                                        

Revelation 1:4-8                                                                 

John 20:19-31

Most of the year, talking about Jesus and the readings we have from the Bible Sunday by Sunday is easy. It’s more a matter of what not to say, of focus, from all the rich possibilities – the insights, the applications to our lives, the challenges and the consolations. But then along comes Easter.

Easter is different – radically so. Here is not just Jesus the great teacher, the inspiring example of how to live. Here is no story from ordinary life. The Resurrection is radically discontinuous from everything else. People don’t just rise from the dead. We don’t know what to make of it. Believe it – and if so, what does that mean for our lives? Or disbelieve it – write it off as just a beautiful story, a metaphor for springtime though less tangible than the Easter bunny? Yes, Easter is a challenge to us.

But it was a challenge to the original followers of Jesus, too, back at the time when it happened. Here in the reading from John’s gospel this morning we have the account of what happened on the evening of the first Easter. The disciples are gathered together in a house there in Jerusalem, the doors locked for fear that the religious authorities who had caused the crucifixion of Jesus would now be coming after them. And Jesus appears in their midst, showing them the wounds of the nails in his hands, where they’d nailed him to the Cross, and the wound in his side where the soldier had thrust in his spear to make sure he was dead.

Then one week later they’re gathered again, this time with Thomas, the disciple who’d been absent before. And Thomas is voicing the very doubt that troubles us, I think, about the Resurrection. “I’m not going to believe this story,” he says. “I need to see Jesus for myself, and specifically I need to put my finger in the mark of the nails in his hands and my hand in the wound in his side.” “Doubting Thomas” he’s been called.

We hear this story always, a week after Easter Day, to remind us that doubt is a part of faith. The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. We moderns like certainty; it puts us in control. God never offers certainty; God only asks for faith, because ultimate control belongs not to us, but to God. So the first thing that this reading tells us is not to be afraid of doubt, but to understand that it is the inevitable companion of real faith.

But then this interesting emphasis on the wounds – in Jesus’s hands and his side. Now if you or I were concocting a story about the Resurrection, I think we would not have the risen Jesus still marred by these wounds. Surely if God can raise someone from the dead, God can also erase their wounds! If this is a nice miracle story, or a metaphor for spring or something, then it ought to include – even center on – the disappearance of the wounds. That’s what we want in life, after all – a God who will erase all our wounds, all the bad stuff, the suffering, and make everything fine, “good as new.”

But the real Resurrection, St. John is telling us, is just the opposite. The wounds are central to what happened, central to the meaning of the Resurrection in our own lives, in our world today. How so, then? Why? What are we to make of this?

I think the wounds underline the fact that with the God of Jesus Christ we are never dealing with fantasy or magic, not just “airy-fairy” spiritual stuff. Ours is a God who operates within the context of the same reality that we do. This isn’t Superman reversing the spin of the earth to turn back time. The Resurrection is the victory of God within time and space, within human history and the material world.

Let me give an example: I’ve worked with a lot of alcoholics and their families over the years. I can usually tell when they’re really on the road to recovery (and I include the families, for alcoholism is a family disorder). It’s when they realize that the drinking has left irrevocable scars, a history, that will always be there, that can never be wiped out. A damaged liver, perhaps; impaired mental function; children harmed in ways that will affect them all their lives. But that nevertheless forgiveness and healing are possible, a new and better – call it a risen – life can open up. Not through magic, but through embracing the reality of the alcoholism.

And there are many more possible examples. America, burdened by debt and divided in just about every way – America can go forward only by embracing the reality of what we have done to ourselves by various sorts of magical thinking, by putting our fingers in our national wounds, our hands in our wounded side. The wounds, the scars, stand for reality. Resurrection is the working of God within reality.

Which brings us full circle, back to belief and doubt. Jesus, my friends, came to show us the presence and power of God in this, our wounded life – when we put our fingers, our hands, squarely within the reality of our wounds. He came to give us hope that we can go forward, not denying but rising from our wounds. He came to show us love – for it is love that conquers fear, love that heals wounds, love that binds us together in the Church as the risen Body of Christ. That is what we celebrate in Easter.

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