Grief has wrapped itself around my house this week. We’ve had to say goodbye to Lulu, our elderly cat. Lulu’s death brings waves of grief for the woman who entrusted Lulu to us, my wife’s beloved Gram. It is also the second anniversary of my mother’s death which sits heavily on my heart. And if this were not enough, some serious health issues have emerged for me. Holding all these things has proven to be quite difficult. Strangely, the story of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ helps.
I’m a fan of this story, anyway. I love how matter-of-fact Thomas is. He ventured out into the wider world, in spite of his fear and grief. When he returns to the other disciples, they tell him a fantastic tale of Jesus walking into the room and breathing on the them the Holy Spirit. Thomas is, of course, having none of it. He isn’t willing to believe unless he sees and touches Jesus’ wounds. It’s that simple for Thomas. And who can blame him? Would you believe a story like this if you were Thomas? Probably not…
Then a week later, Jesus returns. Locked doors mean nothing to him. He breathes words of peace and then holds up his wounds for Thomas. He even invites Thomas to touch them if that’s what Thomas needs. Apparently, seeing is enough. Thomas professes his faith then and there. And all is well in this post-resurrection story.
However, the words that mean the most to me right now, are Jesus’ invitation to Thomas. Jesus identified himself by the marks of his human frailty. We’re talking about the risen Christ who can walk through walls and locked doors. The same Christ who, just a week before, breathed out the Holy Spirit on a room full of people after walking out of a tomb. Any of these actions could have identified him. But, no. Instead he holds up his hands and invites Thomas to touch his wounds. It doesn’t get more human than this.
Pain is not weakness. Grief is not weakness. Physical limitations are not weakness. Wounds are not weakness. I wish we’d all pay more attention to this passage. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that perfection is to be prized and that we should keep other things quiet. This mindset is causing us harm. If the risen Christ identified himself by his wounds, then why do we go to such extremes to hide our own?
We are enamored with perfection in western culture. We must look perfect, act perfect, be perfect. We shy away from any displays of imperfection. Many of us still carry some notion that mental illness is a sign of weakness, a lack of willpower. Similarly, we tend to tell people with physical disabilities who are just living their lives and doing their thing that they are “such an inspiration” just because they live with limitations. We keep people who have visible limitations at a distance and we ignore many “hidden” disabilities or illnesses because they make us uncomfortable. How many people are afraid to be honest about their own struggles for fear of judgement? For fear of being seen as weak or in need?
Funny how we have done this to one another when we worship a God who conquered death but saw no reason to remove the marks of human frailty. The risen Christ was not made perfect, the marks of sin and death were clearly still visible, reminding us of our true nature. We are fragile and finite. We can bruise, bend, and break in countless ways for reasons sometimes beyond our understanding. Many things can wound us deeply. Why deny that? Why hide it?
“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. Most of us say these same words every week in worship. “The peace of Christ be with you.” What if, instead of viewing this as an opportunity to greet folks we haven’t seen all week, we take the “passing of the peace” as an opportunity to expose our woundedness to one another. What if we allow ourselves to breathe in that peace and know that God claims us as we are? What if we take this time in worship to revel in the fact that we, as church, are the embodiment of Christ and we are both wounded and whole? What if this moment in worship becomes about healing and hope rather than “hi” and “how’re ya”?
In my own fragile state this week, I’m grateful to Thomas for his honesty and I’m more grateful that Jesus saw fit to hold out his wounds as proof of his identity. If the Son of God, the risen Christ, can use his wounds as proof of his life, experience, and identity, shouldn’t we be doing the same thing? Here I am. Here are my wounds. Touch them if you need to. I am God’s beloved. Peace be with you.
RCL – Year A – Second Sunday of Easter – April 23, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9