Thomas is not likely to be skeptical about a resurrection appearance the way a modern person might reject claims of the miraculous. He is more likely to be asking for proof that it is really Jesus of Nazareth, rather than some other heavenly being, who has appeared. The stark evidence of how Jesus died is what Thomas needs to persuade him that Jesus has been raised. What is at stake is not a miracle or a wonder or even the power of God. What is at stake for Thomas is continuity between the Jesus they have known and this one standing before them. The question is not so much ‘Has Jesus been raised?’ but ‘Has Jesus been raised?’ ― E. Elizabeth Johnson in Feasting on the Gospels, Year A, Vol. 2
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
― Edward Shillito, ‘He showed them His hands and His side’
There are figures in the Bible’s story that are still widely known even in an age of biblical illiteracy. Jesus, of course. Mary, his mother. Pilate, who washed his hands, very relevant now. The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son. And Doubting Thomas. Lots of folk have heard of Doubting Thomas.
Though Thomas wasn’t really a doubter. Not really.
The thing about Thomas was that he had to see things for himself: was this strange figure the others had seen Jesus, or another? The others said Jesus had appeared to them, but Thomas needed to see it with his own eyes.
Maybe Thomas wondered How could it be Jesus? You see, anyone who was killed on a cross was deemed to be under God’s curse. Why would God raise someone from the grave if he’d only just cursed them? It made no sense.
So Thomas wanted to see the wounds of crucifixion for himself. That would convince him it really was Jesus.
For some reason Thomas hadn’t been with the others on the evening of the Day of Resurrection, but he was there in the upper room a week later.
The wounds did convince Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them, and not some other kind of heavenly visitor. And Thomas declared Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God!’
Now, we’re reading this in 2020, we know the story. We already know it’s Jesus; so what do these wounds mean — if anything — for us today?
I want to look at three things the wounds of Jesus can mean for us, very briefly.
Firstly, the risen One is the crucified One. Why is that important? Sometimes, you’ll hear preachers say that Jesus came first to die on a cross; the second coming will be to punish his enemies. It may seem as though the risen One is someone other than the crucified One.
No: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ [Hebrews 13.8]
Jesus came 2000 years ago as our Saviour; Jesus comes to us today as our Saviour still. His purposes toward us never change. The wounds in his hands and side are the guarantee of that.
So, we have a Saviour who can sympathise with us. Jesus doesn’t stand afar off from us; he is with us in our struggles, our weaknesses, in our failing and falling lives. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, and he will never fail us. The crucified One is our living Saviour.
Secondly: if Jesus has wounds, we don’t need to be ashamed of our wounds. We can be open with God in prayer about our woundedness. The God who knows what it is to suffer will sit with us in our difficulties, our tears, our fears. God walks with us and brings healing to us this way.
By the way: are you impatient with wounded people? Part of the reason may be that you haven’t yet paid enough attention to your own wounds. Perhaps you’ve been impatient with others because you haven’t been patient enough with yourself.
The risen Jesus was patient with the disciples. Did you see in this story today how he greets the disciples, each time he appears amongst them? Both times, we read
Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
They had all deserted Jesus in his hour of need. They left him alone to be arrested, tried, convicted and executed. Yet Jesus, the risen One still bearing the wounds of the cross, speaks ‘Peace’ to them.
The way of God among us is to bring forgiveness and hope and grace into our midst. To make this the basis of our life together. To show us that God’s heart towards us is peace.
Thirdly and lastly: The church has wounds. After all, it is the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ — if Christ has wounds, how can his body not be wounded?
The wounds the church should bear are wounds that come from serving others. Wounds arising from acts of humility, of grace, of putting others first, of forgiving and being forgiven. Blows to our pride, prompts to humility, reminders that not everything is about us. These are the wounds we are meant to bear. They are inevitable consequences of serving Jesus in a world that turns its back on him.
Regrettably, the church also bears other wounds, some of them self-inflicted. Sadly, Christian churches are wounded by those who abuse others, including children. More than that, we have a strong reputation for rejecting LGBTIQ people and for failing women in so many ways.
It’s not enough for us to say, We’re not like that. We must show we’re not like that, and become a community in which all kinds of people may flourish.
As we begin our services, we declare that we name West End Uniting Church as ‘a safe place for all to worship, regardless of age, ability, gender, race, sexuality, or cultural background’.
This is who we are at our heart; we may attract some criticism, but this is our mission in West End. It’s who we are, when we can once more gather each Sunday or whether we meet in this technologically-mediated way.
It’s ok for a church to be wounded for Christ; the wounds we bear in Jesus’ name are his wounds too.
Jesus is the risen One. His scars assure us of his love for us for ever. He is patient with us, his wounded people. He is present with us, his church, as we strive to serve the world for which he died and rose again. Amen.