The Rev Cynthia KR Banks: Easter 2—Year C; Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…I love the lectionary. Here we are one week out from Easter, and the Church brings us back to that day, that very first day, as if to say, “The resurrection is way too big to get it all at once. Maybe your tomb opened last Sunday, but maybe it didn’t, and if it didn’t, that’s okay. Today, you get to go back to that day. In fact, we’re going to give you 50 days for this new reality to soak into your soul.” Thank you, Church for that! And honestly, with all the time we have spent in intractible ruts, with all the time we have circled round and round in deadening patterns, with all the time we have spent being so stuck, how could we possibly turn on a dime and embrace the astounding news that we have been set free for life? How could we possibly wrap our hearts and minds and souls around the reality that what we thought was dead, is not? What do we do with such freedom and possibility when we have only known sealed tombs? It takes time to adjust to resurrection reality, and today we acknowledge that we have all the time we need.
The temptation is to stay locked up. It’s our default reaction; it’s familiar territory. The disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, but why do we stay locked up? What are we afraid of? But even if we lock ourselves away from this new life, this new life will find us. And when it does, it has only one thing to say to us, “Peace. Peace be with you. Peace.” And we look up, and we see the wounds, and we know that, whatever this Peace is that stands before us, it understands, it knows to the core, this darkest reality we have just lived through, and that makes it safe enough to trust this incarnation of resurrection.
But it comes with a cost. If you have died, and if you have risen, you have to share it. We are not given the gift of resurrection to stay locked up in ourselves, we must give it away to a world that is starved for it.
And then there’s the breath. The breath. Jesus breathes on us. And the breath that breathed life into creation in the very beginning, now breathes life into us. And we are given an even greater abundance of gifts. The Holy Spirit. Power. Forgiveness. The ability and responsibility to unbind one another, to set each other free. And the burden of retaining. I have always thought of Jesus’ words, “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained,” as his way of speaking about how we hold grudges—that if we retain the sins of another, neither they or we are ever set free.
But what if he is actually asking us to do something much more audacious than that? What if he is asking us to risk bearing the brokenness, the separation caused by another’s sins, what if he is asking us to hold that broken space, and in the holding of that brokenness, be a part of reconnecting it to the whole, just like Jesus held all of sin and separation and brokenness of the world when he stretched out his arms on the cross? What if that is what it means to retain the sins of another? Talk about true solidarity with the suffering of the world!
And then, there is Thomas. Patron saint of all doubters. Hero to those of us who struggle to believe. He wasn’t with the rest that first evening. It’s my guess that, having heard the news from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was alive, he set out to go figure this out for himself. And so he wasn’t there when the Risen One busted through those locked doors. Oh, they told Thomas about the encounter, but Thomas was emphatic—he had to see it and touch it for himself. Thomas was not content, never had been, with anybody else’s explanation of these tender matters of the heart and soul. It had to make sense to him, it had to be coherent, the pieces had to fit together, or his integrity would not allow him to be a part of it. Thomas icons for us the light and shadow side of our need to understand the mysteries of our faith. Such a need to understand is a beautiful and human thing, but our minds can also hold back our hearts when they long to leap toward Love and Life.
But Jesus is so patient with our humanity. A week later, one week after that first day, that would be today, the disciples are again in that house. The doors are shut, not locked, but just shut—they are not quite as locked up as they were a week ago, they are willing to risk a little more. Jesus again came among them and greeted them as he had the week before, “Peace be with you.” And then, he turned to Thomas, “Thomas, put your finger here, see my hands, touch my side, don’t doubt, trust it. It’s true. You can be crucified, and you can live again. You can be wounded, as you have surely been, but the wounds are not your end, they have been held and loved and transformed into something that radiates life. This is what resurrection looks like. Not wounds that are ignored or dismissed, but wounds that have been redeemed. Trust it, Thomas. Trust it.”
Can we trust that whatever wounds you and I pick up along the way as we journey through this mortal life, can we trust that resurrection has robbed those wounds of their power to define us? We can stay locked up in our stories, we can cling to our wounds like grave clothes, or we can hear the proclamation of “Peace” as our emancipation proclamation. We have been set free. Oh, the scars will still be outward and visible, but our countenance will radiate the grace of redemption, the grace of wounds that have been redeemed, our countenance will radiate that grace from the inside out.
Our world is such a wounded place. And if we sit down and listen to one another’s stories, really listen, the wounds are there. As the 19th century Scottish preacher, John Watson, said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Can you think of anything that we long to hear more deeply than “You are more than the wounds you bear…you are made for life, fullness of life, abundant life…Resurrection isn’t just for Jesus, or even Thomas—it’s for you”—is there anything we long to hear more than that? We long to hear this good news; the world longs to hear this good news—can we receive it? Can we take it into our souls and make it our own? And then, can we bear witness to it as we move through this world?
Whether you are locked away or locked up or out searching, or have shut the door on the possibility that your life can be any different, it doesn’t matter—Jesus has risen, and he will find you, and he will meet you, and he will touch you, and he will invite you to touch him, until your mind quiets, and your doubts give way to hope, and your heart leaps, and you, too, can proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 7, 2013