The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter 2—Year A (video link)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
I Peter 1:3-9
There is so much going on in this passage from John today! It’s evening on that day, the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene had come earlier in the day to tell them all that she had seen the Lord! You would think that would have brought the disciples out en masse to check out this good news, but no, where are they? Huddled in a house where they had gathered after their hopes were dashed and their hearts were broken, locked up in their fear.
But Jesus came and stood among them, not in front of them, not behind them, not over them, but stood among them, came right into their midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” “Peace be with you.” I’ve always heard this word for “peace” and thought “shalom,” that peace with a deep sense of wholeness, but shalom is the word in hebrew. In the new testament, the word in greek is εἰρήνη, and it has a different feel to it. εἰρήνη is peace with a sense of tranquility and rest and quietness and oneness. One of the definitions is actually, a state of national tranquility, exempt from the rage and havoc of war. Jesus comes into his disciples’ midst and the first thing he does is wish them tranquility and quiet and rest.
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his sides, those places that marked his wounds. Resurrection doesn’t erase our wounds; it doesn’t pretend those wounds never happened, but resurrection allows those wounds to call us into a deeper experience of Jesus. Jesus showed them his wounds. Then the disciples rejoiced when they experienced the Lord. It wasn’t just that they experienced his wounds, but they experienced his Risen Presence amidst those wounds.
Then Jesus wishes them peace again, and invites their torn up, fragmented, fearful souls to be one again. Jesus continues, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Wow. How did the Father send Jesus? God sent Jesus into this world in the Incarnation, in the Word made flesh, God made flesh. God sent Jesus into the fabric of our living as he ate with us and drank with us and healed among us and taught us and forgave us and wept with us. God sent Jesus into the heart of suffering on the cross; God sent Jesus into the heart of nothingness and waiting in the tomb; and God sent Jesus back into life that we might know that love and life are bigger than death. As God sent Jesus into every corner of our human existence, so Jesus sends us.
That’s an awfully tall order for us, eh? So, when Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
We think this day is all about Thomas, but Thomas is only a piece of this day. Jesus’ first encounter with the disciples is all about receiving the power we will need to go to all the places Jesus will send us. And it’s about understanding full well how much this is going to demand of us by way of forgiving and where we will resist this call by way of holding on.
Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any—forgive, let go, yield up, keep no longer—then those sins are sent away.
If you retain the sins of any—if you lay hold of them, if you continue to hold them, if you hold fast to these sins in order to hold power over someone—understand that holding those sins is not benign, but in that holding fast to the sins of another, death itself will be holding onto you. That other person will be held in this grip of death, and so will you.
To be sent by Jesus as God sent him is to let go and release. For most of us, this is more than we can do—that’s why he gives us the Holy Spirit to help us—As St. Paul noted, “God working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
So, Thomas isn’t with them in the evening on that day. That, in and of itself, is interesting. When the rest were locked away in their fear, where was Thomas? Could it be that he actually believed Mary Magdalene and was actually out and about looking for the Risen Christ? The others tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord, but Thomas wants to see and experience the Lord himself. He wants to see and touch those wounds. Thomas wants to experience how it is that your wounds don’t kill you. Can you blame him? Don’t we all want to experience that truth? When your world, and everything you thought you knew, has been turned upside down, it’s hard to trust that God is still with you until you experience that Risen Presence for yourself and see that aliveness radiating out of those nail-marked places.
Jesus gets it.
A week later, the disciples are again in the house, and the doors are still shut, but they aren’t locked anymore. Slowly, we’re making some progress here, and this time, Thomas is with them.
Again, Jesus comes among them. Again, he wishes them peace, tranquility, quiet, rest, oneness. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. Touch the wounds, Thomas, reach out and touch the wounds. Don’t withhold your trust, but lean in; you can trust this, Thomas, you can trust this.”
And then, the dam broke for Thomas. All that pent up hope came rushing forth—“My Lord and my God!”
What happens next is interesting, and our translation botches it. We hear Jesus asking Thomas a question, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It sounds like an indictment.
But that’s not how the greek reads. It’s not a question, it’s a statement. “Thomas, you have believed, you trust because you have seen me. In touching the wounds, you have come to trust that my resurrection life lives on.” It’s not an indictment of Thomas; it’s an acknowledgement of what Thomas now knows in his heart and soul and mind and body. It’s an integrating moment. Jesus is acknowledging that Thomas has now come into peace; Thomas is one with Jesus, and so is one with himself. It’s what Thomas needed to find that oneness for which he longed.
Then, Jesus turns to a wider scope, a wider lens. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Blessed are those who have not had the benefit to experience me in such a tangible, undeniable, hands-on way, and yet have come to trust.”
And this, too, is the best of news.
Sometimes, we are Thomas, and we meet Jesus in the depth of the wounds. It’s intense; we feel it; it shakes us to the core, and we know the Risen Christ is among us.
And sometimes, we don’t experience anything at all, at least not anything that we can identify. But rather, it’s a slow, almost imperceptible turning of our heart. It’s more of a recognition event, as Cynthia Bourgeault calls it, and something deep, deep in our being makes that leap of trust without any evidence at all to back up the leaping of our heart.
Either way, we can come to trust that the Risen Christ is among us, and the peace he speaks over us is the balm our souls are longing for. His peace can bring tranquility and stillness and rest for our weary, torn up, fragmented, fearful souls. Amidst wounds and brokenness, it is possible to be one. We don’t have to hold on to all those things done unto us, but we’ve been given the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can risk letting go, setting the other free, and ourselves, along the way.
And all of this, all of this, is so that we might have life, ζωή, zoe, life that is real and genuine and active and vigorus, the absolute fullness of life.
This is what is waiting for us this side of Easter. It may take some fits and starts. We may have to start from behind locked doors, so fearful are we of trusting this good news. We may inch toward unlocking those doors, but still need to keep them shut.
But it doesn’t matter where we start, Jesus is coming through, and he will stand among us no matter our fearful state.
We may need to see his Risen Presence in his wounds to know that ours hold the potential to radiate resurrection as well. Or, we may be able to take that leap of trust as we turn into that much quieter turning in the deeper regions of our heart.
All that matters is that we trust that Jesus is going to find a way to come among us. All that matters is that Jesus longs to wish us the peace for which our souls are longing. All that matters is the abundant life is still there to be found amidst our deepest crucifixions.
Don’t be surprised if in the touching of the most unexpected, broken places of life, you find yourself saying with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
Whether it’s evening on that day, or one week later, it’s time to let go and trust that even those wounded places are alive with Christ. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 23, 2017