Tag Archives: Doubting Thomas

The risen One is the crucified One

Reading
John 20.19–31

 

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. 

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The Wounded God is the Risen God

Reading
John 20.19–31

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. 

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The risen crucified One among us

Or, What on earth is the Resurrection?

 

…where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.                             Matthew 18.20

Then I saw…a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered….
Revelation 5.6

The Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
from the Basis of Union, Para.3

 

Today, I want to ask a question I can’t answer, not this Sunday and not even in a month of Sundays. But even so, it’s still a very good question to ask.

The question is this: What is the Resurrection?

It’s a deceptively simple question. Only one word has more than one syllable. But ‘Resurrection’ is a big word.

How can we think about the Resurrection of Jesus?

Is the Resurrection a happy ending to a sad story? It could easily look that way; and the story has been told that way. Everyone was sad on Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday they were happy once more because Jesus was alive again. But the Resurrection is no happy ending. Most of those first witnesses lost their lives because of the Resurrection.

Well, maybe the Resurrection a proof of life after death? Again, the story has been told that way. But that’s not how the Gospels tell it. The risen Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven. He instructs his people to make disciples of all nations, baptise and teach them. He forgives Peter, telling him to feed his sheep. He gives his peace to disciples who had let him down big time. He makes them breakfast. He helps them to be unafraid of death. He points them towards a transformed life here and now on earth.

Well, the empty tomb may be the clue we need. Does the empty tomb prove the Resurrection? No, it does not. I realised this with a big thump the day after my father’s funeral. I had returned to his grave to make a quiet space to pray. It struck me then that had my dad’s grave been empty, I would not have immediately concluded that he had risen from the dead. I would have made the ghastly assumption that someone had stolen his body, and called for the police.

The Easter stories in the Gospels are exactly the same. When the women see the empty tomb, they do not immediately assume that Jesus has been raised from death. They have to be told the news. Told by an Angel of the Lord (Matthew), a young man in white (Mark), two men in dazzling clothes (Luke) or a ‘gardener’ who was Jesus himself (John).

The women didn’t believe that Jesus was risen because the tomb was empty. They believed because they had a life-changing encounter with the Christ who had been crucified and who is now risen.

And there were other encounters.

Remember the two who were joined by a stranger on their miserable way to Emmaus? He made their hearts burn as he opened the scriptures on the way, showing how the Messiah should suffer; and then, at the table they knew him in the breaking of the bread. Today, we may encounter the Lord in the same way, in these means of grace he has given us, the scriptures and the eucharist.

Remember Thomas? Thomas wasn’t convinced that Jesus had been raised from the grave—but he was fully convinced when he saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon Jesus. I too have met people who have responded to the wounds that life has brought by allowing themselves to be transformed into being more Christlike. I have seen the risen crucified Lord in them.

Remember the disciples by the lake? Jesus made them breakfast. There are people who the Lord shines through because they know how to gladly serve others.

The Uniting Church’s Basis of Union calls the Lord ‘the risen crucified One’ (Para.3). When we speak of the risen Lord, we must always remember what the empty tomb does tell us: that it is the crucified One who is risen. The risen Lord hasn’t set the cross aside. He hasn’t put it in a cupboard somewhere. The body of Jesus is not something separate from his living presence. Jesus is the risen crucified One.

Jesus once said ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’. He is here as the risen crucified One.

You may wonder why I’m labouring the point so much.

Jesus is the risen crucified One. 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 him, our Father

All of this is raised in Jesus. It’s not just a happy ending, or the resuscitation of a corpse. It is eternal life itself embodied in the risen crucified Lord Jesus Christ.

That is who is in our midst today, and wherever two or three gather in his name.

And Jesus brings his friends along. Remember the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25? The nations are arrayed before the King. They are judged on one thing: did they act with compassion towards the poor? Did they

  • feed the hungry
  • give water to the thirsty
  • welcome the stranger
  • clothe the the naked
  • take care of the sick
  • visit the prisoner

Because, Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

When Jesus the risen crucified One is in the midst of the two or three who gather in his name, he brings his family along. He brings the poor, the sick, the detained and the starving. He bears their wounds in his risen crucified body and calls his church to share the work.

And he also bears our wounds. We are not yet what we shall be. We still die. In 1 Corinthians (15.25–26), the Apostle Paul says Christ

must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

We still look for the fullness, the completion of Christ’s work. In the meantime, by faith we share in the overcoming of death as we look to God for eternal life.

Some Christians are embarrassed by their wounds, or even put to shame. They think that God will bless them so much that nothing bad should happen to them. That is not right. We know Jesus as the risen crucified One. He bears our wounds in his.

We belong to the risen crucified Lord, and he will complete the work he has begun in us. But right now, we walk with him by faith; we look to him for help and for strength, and as the Funeral Service says, we live

in sure and certain hope
of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To God be glory forever.

Amen.

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“No other god has wounds” (Easter 2, Year B, 15 April 2012)

Readings
Acts 4.32-35 
John 20.19-31

 

 

Peter Campbell: On the Run, from ‘Of Time and its Distance’ 1975

For we bear the face of Jesus,
no other god has wounds;
prepare to take your place beside the King.

 

One time, four Yorkshiremen—Josiah, Obadiah and a couple of others—were having a conversation over a bottle of fine wine—in fact, a bottle of Château de Chasselas. They were talking about the old days, before they were well off:

In them days we was glad t’ ave t’ price of a cup o’ tea.
A cup o’ cold tea.
Wi’out milk or sugar.
Or tea.
In a cracked cup, an’ all.

Of course, this is an excerpt from the famous (and hilarious) Monty Python sketch, Four Yorkshiremen. I mention it because one talked about drinking from a ‘cracked cup’. Today, I want to talk about cracked things, wounded things.

Here in the church, since Good Friday we’ve had a cracked jar—or if you like, a crack(ed)pot. It has these lines through it that show that it’s had some damaging experiences. Is it useless, do you think?

Paul talks about clay jars in 2 Corinthians 4.6-7. He speaks of God shining within us ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. However, he doesn’t want us to get bigheaded about it, so he reminds us:

…we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

We contain a great treasure; the clay jars in which we have this treasure are our ordinary human bodies. These clay jar bodies are all different: some are tall, some short, some taut and terrific, some flabby. They may be black, yellow or white bodies, male or female bodies, young or old. They’re all different but they have one thing in common: these clay jar bodies of ours—and we ourselves—are cracked. We are each flawed or damaged in some way. Does that make us useless, do you think?

Evidently, this jar isn’t useless. It’s still a lovely thing. It’s broken, yet still beautiful. You and I aren’t useless. What do we hear every Sunday after the confession of sin?

You are forgiven.
You are set free from the past.
In God’s eyes, you are beautiful.

That’s the truth about us: we are cracked, we are wounded, yet we are still beautiful to God.

You and I and the pot aren’t the only cracked things. Jesus is cracked as well. When I say that Jesus is ‘cracked’, I’m not being disrespectful. I’m talking about the wounds in his hands and side, still there in his risen state. No other god has wounds.

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Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 2)

Show your resurrection

Let us pray:
You come into our midst, Lord Jesus;
you hold out your scarred hands
and surprise us with hope.
Help us to receive your word and your Spirit,
that in our woundedness
we may know you as our Life,
now and for ever. Amen.

Reading
John 20.19-31

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

It’s the Sunday after Easter, and we’re getting reacquainted with the Apostle Thomas. ‘Doubting’ Thomas to his friends. Jesus has appeared to the frightened huddle of disciples on the evening of the first Easter Day, but Tom wasn’t there.

We don’t know why he wasn’t there. We only get a few tantalising glimpses of Thomas, but he seems to me like an all-or-nothing kind of bloke. When Jesus says he’s going to Jerusalem, Tom says Let’s go with him and die. Now, Jesus is dead and everything has gone. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were down the Jerusalem Arms or the King David pub drowning his sorrows and crying into his thirteenth beer.

Of course, Thomas didn’t believe what the others told him. How could it be true? Thomas would have known his Bible, and he would know that Deuteronomy 21.23 says

anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

And a ‘tree’ included a cross. Jesus was under a curse from God. The dream turned out to be a nightmare. It was all over.
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