The gospels invite the reader to inhabit a narrative space so as to be reformed in imagination and desire. ‘Written so that you may believe’ (John 20: 31), they extend to the reader an invitation that, whether it elicits a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, is radically self-involving. Its proclamation demands much more than an intellectual consideration. It is a summons to participate in a particular form of life, to become a ‘new creation’ in Christ. — Brian Robinette, Grammars of Resurrection
The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and the mythological hope is that the former sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way which is even more sharply defined than it is in the Old Testament. The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal, but, like Christ himself (‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’), he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
On Anzac Day, I began to reflect on wounds and woundedness. And a memory from my childhood surfaced.
In the bible’s famous ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13, St Paul says:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
I’m going to tell you a story from when I was a child, and thought like a child. I was born in 1953, and the adults around me were nowhere near over the Second World War. Rationing hadn’t completely finished in England when I was born, but I’m speaking of course about the psychological effects on ‘my’ adults.
My dad used to talk about being in the Royal Navy. When I asked him what he did in the Navy, he told me he was a gunner. So I would ask him how many German planes he’d shot down, and every time he would give me this one-word answer: ‘None’.
I couldn’t believe it. My dad must have shot down hundreds of German planes! He was being modest, I thought.
When I was old enough, I realised that since my dad was born in 1931, he wasn’t old enough to have fought in World War Two. He joined the Navy as soon as he could, but it was after the war. Dad was telling the truth: he didn’t shoot down one single German plane.
As I thought like a child, my first reaction was disappointment. Thank goodness we are given the opportunity to think as adults.
Yet as a child, and because I thought as a child, I wanted my dad to have shot down German planes. I didn’t even realise that may have meant German airmen being wounded, or dying.
Today’s Gospel Reading is about a perennial favourite of mine, Thomas. ‘Doubting’ Thomas.
(Let’s get one thing out of the way; it’s ok to doubt and even better to open up to someone about it, but Doubting Thomas wasn’t doubting. The thing is, when Thomas committed himself to something he threw himself right in there. So he wasn’t going to commit to what the others had said about Jesus being raised from death unless he saw for himself.)
So I don’t want to talk about his so-called doubts, but about him and his God. This is the amazing thing: Thomas’ God was wounded.
We’ve heard the story. Jesus has appeared to Mary, who was the first witness. The Orthodox Church, which is celebrating Easter today, calls Mary ‘the Apostle to the Apostles’.
Then Jesus appears to the disciples, but Thomas isn’t there. Now it’s Thomas’ turn, a week after the first Easter Day.
So Jesus says to Thomas,
Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe! (CEB)
So Thomas believes, and commits himself fully:
My Lord and my God!
Thomas’ God has wounds.
This stops me in my tracks every time.
All we have to relate the appearances of Jesus after the third day are stories in which he is unrecognised, or he appears at will; stories in which he re-calls his followers to a life of discipleship; stories that begin with his absence, in the empty tomb. Stories in which he not only breaks the barrier between this life and beyond, but in which he has defeated death itself.
In today’s reading, Jesus enters the upper room again. (Have the disciples learnt nothing? They had locked the doors a week ago because they were afraid, but the risen One had appeared to them. Here they are once more, again locking the doors!)
The risen One appears to them, audaciously breaking down the wall between life and death—yet he’s still wounded.
Does that make sense to you? How can we speak of these wounds?
The wounds show that it’s not enough to speak of Jesus as the risen One. It’s better to call him the risen crucified One. It is the crucified One who is risen.
What can we say? This:
Everything that happened to Jesus on that cross has been raised, and taken into God. Not only that, but everything that led Jesus to the cross is also taken into God.
What led Jesus to the cross? It was living a truly human life in love, humility and grace. It was opposing religious hypocrisy. It was coming in peace to bear witness to God’s coming kingdom, so much so that they realised he was the embodiment of God’s kingdom here and now.
If Jesus is the risen crucified One, then everything that brought Jesus to the Cross is risen with him. Everything that caused him to be crucified is raised with him:
- his preaching of God’s coming kingdom
- his healing of the sick and the oppressed, which pointed to the kingdom
- his parables, that shattered human expectations of God and caused those who could hear to open their hearts to God
- his compassion for the poor and those on the margins of society
- his forgiving of sins
- his opposition to religious hypocrisy
- his intimate knowledge of God his Father—and now, through Jesus, our Father, our Mother
All of this is raised in Jesus. It’s not just a happy ending, or the resuscitation of a corpse. It is the Way of Jesus, it is eternal life itself meeting us in the risen crucified Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what the wounds of the risen crucified One proclaim.
We all have wounds. Often, those wounds keep us from other people. We trust people, we love people, then we are hurt or disappointed, or even betrayed, and those wounds stay with us. They stop us from reaching out.
The wounds of the risen crucified One, wounds sustained in love, are carried by God and in God. This gives us hope that our particular woundedness can find a home in God. It allows us to tend to our wounds and to the wounds of others, even those overwhelmed by the scars they carry through life.
The wounds of the risen crucified One mean that we may see Jesus in others who are wounded. Jesus said (Matthew 25.31–46) that his sisters and brothers are the wounded people: the hungry, the thirsty, those without clothing, the imprisoned, the stranger. Where they are present, he is present.
I’d written another sermon for today, but I rewrote it. On Anzac Day, I thought about the woundedness that persists as part of the debris left by war. So let’s go back to another World War Two figure, one some of you will have heard of.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who chose to live in Germany during World War Two. He could have lived the war years in safety in the USA. Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis in April 1945. He said:
Only the suffering God can help.
Only the suffering God can help? What does that mean? You have to understand that he was in a Nazi jail when he wrote these words. Bonhoeffer never got out alive. ‘Only the suffering God can help.’
Lots of cleverer people than me have spilt litres of ink trying to understand what Bonhoeffer meant. Here’s my very brief try:
God, the wounded God, is with us in the struggles of life and knows and shares our pain and distress.
Yet the wounded God is also the risen God, who brings hope even where the darkness is deepest.
Thomas names this wounded One ‘My Lord and my God!’ Thomas’ God, our God, has wounds. God is not remote, unfeeling, distant from our struggles: God knows the struggles we face. Here in West End, we face varied struggles as followers of Jesus. For some, it’s living day to day. Others wrestle with the awful climate change that we are already experiencing, or with the plight of refugees who are confined in detention. Or we just wonder what kind of society we are leaving for the next few generations.
Whatever our situation, if we are disciples of Jesus, this is true:
Wounds sustained in love become part of who God is for us. The wounded God is the risen God.
West End Uniting Church, 28 April 2019