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April 03, 2005

"Touching the Wounded Body of Christ in the World": Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

St. Martin's-in-the-Field Episcopal Church
Second Sunday of Easter, Year A; April 3, 2005
Genesis 8:6-16; 9:8-16; Psalm 111; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

There’s something that makes me want to chuckle whenever I hear John 20:24’s description of Thomas as the one “who was called ‘the twin,’” because let’s face it: who calls him that now? He’s got another nickname, by which he’s much better known among Christians today, and that’s “Doubting Thomas.”

I think that Thomas needs a better press agent, and I’m ready to apply for the job.

First off, I think the “Doubting” label is pretty unfair. Yes, Thomas wants to touch Jesus. But who wouldn’t? A lot of us feel that way. One of my favorite worship songs (the Wild Goose Worship Group's "Don't Tell Me of a Faith That Fears," from Love + Anger) has a chorus that goes like this:

I need to know that God is real
I need to know that Christ can feel
the need to touch and love and heal
the world including me

That experience of knowing – really knowing – that Christ is alive, still able to touch and love and heal, is something we want and need, especially when times are dark and uncertain. And for Jesus’ followers in this morning’s gospel, the times feel VERY uncertain.

They’ve had a terrifying series of experiences. They saw Jesus arrested and led away without resistance. The ones who were brave enough to watch saw him crucified. And then Peter and John saw that Jesus’ tomb was empty. This wouldn’t be a reassuring sight to someone living in the first-century Roman Empire. If anyone had seen them around the tomb, Jesus’ followers would have been suspected of grave robbery – a crime that carried a death sentence in first-century law.

Small wonder that, at the beginning of this morning’s gospel, Jesus’ followers are gathered secretly, behind locked doors, for fear of the Judean authorities. As possible grave robbers, they were suspected of a capital crime; as known followers of a man brazen enough to conduct a public demonstration in the Temple courts, in full view of the Roman garrison stationed there, the disciples would be considered highly dangerous to the peace of Rome, and to the Judean leaders Rome supported. So the question on the minds of Jesus’ followers is probably not so much “will we be next?” as it is, “how long do you think we can last?” So to reach them, breathe his spirit on them, and commission them to serve as agents of his forgiveness, Jesus has to come through the locked door behind which they’re all hiding.

Well, ALMOST all of them are hiding. One of them is not. Thomas is not with those cowering in the locked room when Jesus appears to them. And so Thomas doesn’t see Jesus, doesn’t experience Jesus’ breathing on his followers, doesn’t receive the commission the risen Jesus gives the others.

Does this mean that Thomas is less faithful than the other disciples? Not necessarily. In the appearance of the risen Jesus that Thomas misses, Jesus commissions his disciples to go out into the world, forgiving as he forgives. I like to think that Thomas wasn’t present to hear those words because he, unlike the others, was not locked inside in fear, but was already out there, in the world.

Thomas, the disciple who wants to touch Jesus, is onto something:

The path of discipleship isn’t a path of safety. Thomas gets that. Heck, he’s the guy who way back in chapter 11 of John says, “let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Thomas knows that there are worse things than death – like maybe not ever really living at all. Because Thomas is not ruled by fear, he’s out there in the world, while the other disciples are hiding behind locked doors. Thomas doesn’t need to hear Jesus’ commission to the other disciples because he’s already out in the place where he can fulfill it. There’s a gorgeous passage in a short story by Sara Maitland ("Dragon Dreams," from Angel Maker) that I think of when I think of the kind of courage that I can almost imagine as Thomas’ words:

When [you] died I knew that there was no safety, anywhere, and I will not sacrifice to false gods. There is no safety, but there is wildness and joy, there is love and life within the danger. I love you. I want to be with you. ... I refuse to believe that we only get one chance. This letter is just a start. I am going to hunt you down now in all the lovely desolate places of the world. ... there I will be waiting for you. Please come. Please come soon.

There was danger out there, but the hope of seeing something else out there was stronger. So Thomas doesn’t need to hear Jesus’ commission to the other disciples because he’s already out in the place where he can fulfill it. He is ruled more by hope than by fear, and so he gets it. He knows that a disciple’s place is in the world.

And Thomas is onto something even more important:

The risen Jesus, the REAL Jesus, is the wounded Jesus. If you want to see the real Jesus, if you want to KNOW that Jesus is alive and at work in the world to touch and heal, look for the wounds. The wounds are the surest sign that this stranger is really the risen Christ. Seek them yourself, crying out with Thomas, “My lord and my God!” Thomas gets that. He gets that he’s going to know the risen Christ when he seeks to touch the wounded Christ. Maybe that truth also helps to ground him as he goes out into a dangerous world.

But there’s something about the report the other disciples give Thomas that seems to throw him off. Thomas starts with a presupposition that’s spot on: there is one Body of Christ. But he assumes that even in the life of the resurrection, there’s only one place or one way to see Jesus. If the other disciples saw Jesus, then Thomas missed his chance. If they received the Spirit in that encounter, then Thomas is left empty.

Not so. Thomas thinks that the unity of Christ’s body and the fact of Christ’s uniqueness means that the body he wants and needs to touch, the body of the risen Christ, is the body that had been nailed to the cross. But it’s not like that. Not any more. All of Christ’s followers can touch the wounded Body of Christ because Christ’s risen Body consists of every one of us – every baby, every grandmother, every teenager, every woman and man and child – who is in Christ has been baptized into the Body of Christ.

Every time we take someone’s hand as we exchange the Peace, we touch the risen, living Body of Christ.

A lot of us have had that experience here, at St. Martin’s. Around shared joys or tragedies, watching a row of women wearing goofy sunglasses on Joy Sunday to celebrate their surviving life-threatening illness, in a casserole in an hour of need from a friend or someone we barely know, in a moment of shared vulnerability in the Commit class or over a cup of coffee, we’ve seen and served the risen, wounded, triumphant Christ.

And the temptation, when we’ve seen Christ in one way, in one community, in one person or set of people, is to look for Christ only in those places. I think that’s why Jesus says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Living things grow, and change. And the body of the risen Lord is changed and changing too. Discipleship is a moving target. Our mission in Christ is calling us out, into the world, to touch Christ’s wounds in brothers and sisters we haven’t yet met, but whose fellowship we share in the mystery of this table, and of the prayers of the saints.

But do you want to feel Christ’s presence even more deeply? Do you want to have an experience of God’s Spirit moving so deeply within you that every fiber and sinew inside wants to cry out, “My Lord and My God!”? Do you need to know that God is real? Do you need to know that Christ is alive, that sin and death itself are not the last word, but are passing away? Do you need to experience Christ’s presence? Do you want to touch Jesus, and KNOW that Jesus is really right there with you?

Then hear Jesus’ commission to those upon whom he breathes his spirit: you are being sent out, into the world, and specifically to the world’s brokenness. You are being sent to TOUCH those places, to proclaim and participate in the reconciliation and healing that is Christ’s work in the world. You are being sent because YOU -- each one of us about to gather at Jesus’ table here, and at every other table at which bread is being broken in remembrance of him -- are now the Body of Christ, Jesus’ presence at work in the world, called and empowered to do what he did, and more.

If we want to know that, if we want to experience that, we’ll have to leave the rooms we lock ourselves in because of fear. We need to do what Thomas did – step out from our locked rooms, our gated communities, into the world. We need to insist upon touching Christ’s wounds. When we try to sequester ourselves and our children away from the world’s pain, we are hiding them and ourselves from Christ’s wounds.

And the world is filled with wounded members of the Body of Christ. One million deaths every year, one child dead every thirty seconds, from MALARIA, a disease that can be prevented with a mosquito net costing two dollars and fifty cents. The life expectancy in Botswana is down to 30 years old. One in five people in the world survive – or don’t survive – on less than a dollar a day. One person in seven tries to stay alive without access to clean water. A child dies in extreme poverty every three seconds. 36.3% – over one third– of all the children in Baltimore City live below the poverty line.

So much death. Such deep wounds. And yet. And yet. AND YET.
This is Christ’s Body, given for the world. Christ is here among us, despite our locked doors and our security systems. And there is life, and peace, and POWER breathed upon us to do Christ’s work in the world, to carry Good News of resurrection throughout the world. In Christ and through Christ and with Christ, all of Creation is being redeemed, coming to new and abundant life.

What can one person do to heal the world’s wounds? I don’t know, if we’re talking about a hypothetical person, a stranger, nobody in particular. But I know what Jesus can do. We can read about the signs of Jesus’ power and how Jesus used that power in the Bible. But these signs were recorded not to provide us with something to read as we wait behind locked doors, but to inspire us to experience the life of the risen Christ by living as Christ’s Body in the world, touching, loving, healing, forgiving in Christ’s name and to Christ’s glory.

So let the gospel come alive
  in actions plain to see
  in imitation of the one
  whose love extends to me

 

I need to know that God is real
  I need to know that Christ can feel
  the need to touch and love and heal
  the world including me
-- "Don't Tell Me of a Faith That Fears"

The risen, living Body of Christ is in the world – breathing peace, bringing healing, and sending us forth, in love and in power. Thanks be to God!

April 3, 2005 in Current Affairs, Easter, Genesis, John, Justice, Year A | Permalink

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Comments

I have always conceived of the God of the Bible as an engineer before he is a king. Unlike any other king, he is the maker of his realm, and as a perfect being, he must clearly put perfect thought into perfect design and then into perfect form. I admit that I believe in the creation story, if just not quite the timeline that is literally associated with it by young Earth creationists. For certain reasons, reasons I won't go into, I can conceive of how it is possible.

Posted by: Bible Timeline | Aug 7, 2008 3:07:14 AM

Wow! This sermon is beautiful. Where have you and your website gone, Dylan? Thanks for all your work over the years.

Posted by: Lois Pallmeyer | Apr 17, 2009 5:37:33 PM

Lois,

Many thanks for your kind words. :)

As to where I've gone, the short answer is that when the economy tanked, most of the independent speaker/teacher/preacher/retreat leader stuff I was doing started to dry up, so I had to take a really exhausting full-time job at Guitar Center, which I do as one of several jobs.

I have high hopes that an opportunity will come up soon for me to shift increasingly to less physically taxing, time-consuming, and low-paid work. If that opportunity materializes, I'll come back to blogging.

Keep your fingers crossed, and prayers are appreciated!

Posted by: Sarah Dylan Breuer | Apr 17, 2009 6:20:25 PM

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