Text: John 20:19-31
The Easters of my childhood were full of sensory experiences - sounds, smells, tastes and touches. Not only have I seen the photographic evidence of some of the Easter outfits my mother made for me, but I especially remember how my itchy crinoline petticoat felt and the way my patent leather shoes squeaked when I rubbed them together (which I may or may not have done during church just because); I remember fingering the pearly button on my white gloves and stretching the too-tight elastic strap that kept my Easter bonnet on my head.
I remember egg hunts in the green grass and the fuzzy cheeping baby chicks at the feed and seed store in my little faming town, and Easter baskets filled with sweet jelly beans and a chocolate bunny. I remember singing Jesus Christ is Risen Today.
What I don’t remember is anybody offering explanations for all of this, of what chocolate bunnies and chicks and jelly beans had to do with the empty tomb. No suggestions of what do to if you don’t understand how Jesus rose from the dead, no offering of conversation about what resurrection means to us now.
As I grew older, I found that I had a lot more questions than I ever got answers for about how or why the Lord is Risen indeed.
Perhaps you’ve had this experience yourself. And if you have, don’t you wish Jesus would show up at your house one day and invite you to touch his wounds? Because it is difficult to get our heads around an idea like resurrection. We haven’t had the kind of encounter with Jesus that Thomas, and Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the beloved disciple and Peter and all the rest had with Jesus.
And we’re not going to.
And so, even more than Thomas, we may have trouble understanding and believing, ourselves.
What we do understand is that when we look around the world even though we proclaimed last Sunday that He is Risen, we still see destruction and devastation, starting with a bombing in Pakistan that was happening while we were right here in church on Easter morning.
It seems that we barely have had time to register one disaster before another has come along: more terrorist attacks this week in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, a shooting here in Richmond, a constant stream of outrage and reports about political and social polarization, about abuses of power and privilege; heartbreaking photos of migrant camps overrun with children, not to mention the disasters that come into our homes and hearts by way of phone calls, letters, conversations: death, illness, separation, loss.
As much as we may deplore these things, we believe in them. They are not just ideas. Many of us or those we love have been touched by them. We can see with our own eyes that these things do not not appear to have been transformed by the resurrection. I can understand hiding behind locked doors in the face of a frightening and violent world.
And so, like Thomas, we want to touch something ourselves - in this world - so that we, too, may believe. Because resurrection is not something that happens in the mind. It happens in the body.
As we get older, we seem to favorour minds, our intellect, over our bodies.We let our attentiveness to experience fade as we grapple with abstract concepts and turn to rationality as the medium through which we apprehend. I’m sure people did try to explain the resurrection to me when I was young. But I don’t remember because it was just a bunch of words I was supposed to accept without a connection to actual experience.
Our faith and the faith of those who knew Jesus is about experience, not concepts. Experience is what we crave.
Our faith - young faith or mature faith - needs expression through tangible things - touch and smile and relationship, through food and water and clothing, sanctuary, acceptance and love - stuff you can see and touch and smell and hear.
Jesus knew that - his ministry was not just talking but touching people -washing feet, healing eyes and ears and skin, feeding hungry bodies - and so did Thomas. who had been with him all along.
Of course Thomas wanted to touch Jesus instead of listen to a bunch of words! The Jesus he knew was the Jesus who used touch to heal. Thomas does not doubt the resurrection any more than anyone else in the Gospel (The disciples thought the report of the empty tomb by the women was just an idle tale.) So let’s not pick on him.
There’s much more to this story, anyway, you know. Before the entrance of Thomas to the scene, Jesus came to be with his friends who had locked themselves away in fear, and he said, “As the father has sent me, so now I send you, receive the Holy Spirit” and he breathed on them, just as God breathed life into Adam.
With this breath, Jesus commissioned the disciples to continue the work of God in their lives and through their witness, and the witness of many who came after, we are commissioned, too, to live the resurrection life, in our own bodies.
We can’t touch Jesus of Nazareth, but we can touch others. By the power of the Spirit we can show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.
The New Zealand Prayer Book has a beautiful prayer for us to pray today and any day we find ourselves asking again, what am I supposed to think and do about the resurrection? It goes like this: “Living God, for whom no door is closed, no heart is locked, draw us beyond our doubts, till we see your Christ and touch his wounds where they bleed in others.”
Touch his wounds where they bleed in others.
I have seen evidence of that touching. I think of our family friend who continues his work in Greece, first as an EMT and now offering legal help to the continuing wave of people fleeing death and destruction in Africa and the Middle East; I think of our parishioners who tutor students in Richmond’s East End, and those who are involved in our ministry among the men and women of the Richmond City Jail. I think of our folks who help with the Monday food distribution from our pantry and those about to go to Brazil to support of our missionaries who minister to destitute women and children there.
We look around and see disasters, yes, but also we can look around and see people respond to those disasters by touching the wounded where they are bleeding.
This is what believing in the resurrection looks like: that we, having been forgiven and freed from the fear of death, are inspired to come out of our cozy and safe rooms to become part of something much larger than ourselves - to become a vessel for God’s love by touching others in the midst of this broken world. To bring to others the abundant life Jesus came to give us all.
And so through the inspiration of the Spirit, we have the power to make the resurrection something real and tangible in the world again. We have the power to touch Christ’s wounds where they bleed in others.
Let’s do it.