The risen Christ bared his wounds so that Thomas could believe. As the body of Christ, we are now sent to witness by bearing our wounds so that we and the world may see how the Triune God is at work, bringing all to faith by Christ’s wounded body.
Vicar Emily Beckering; Second Sunday of Easter, year A; texts: John 20:19-31; 2 Corinthians 4:7, 10-11
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Poor Thomas; he gets such a bad reputation. His very nickname labels him according to his weakness: Doubting Thomas. No one remembers Thomas as the one who, when Jesus told them that he was returning to Judea, proclaimed to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Instead, we remember Thomas only as the one who doubted: the one who needed to see and to touch his Lord for himself.
Yet, what Thomas offers us in this is a great gift. He openly admits that he is hurt: the loss of his Lord to crucifixion has wounded Thomas deeply. He finds it difficult to trust; he cannot believe unless he touches his Lord’s wounds. Because Thomas shows his wounds by telling his friends that he could not believe unless he encountered Jesus, those first disciples—together with the whole church—get to hear what Jesus does for Thomas, and for us all.
Despite our common characterization of this story, its emphasis ought not to be on Thomas’ doubt, but on Jesus’ consistent appearance to those who are in need of him.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” which he says for our sakes. Yet, as he did for Thomas, Jesus does find ways for us to see him. He does this most often through wounds: by encountering us in our pain.
Throughout the entire gospel of John, Jesus reveals himself to those who are hurting, to the wounded, and the way in which he encounters them is in direct response to that woundedness. He meets them in their brokenness and offers them what they most need.
We see this in each of the gospel stories that we heard during this past Lent.
Jesus first reveals himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, to the Samaritan woman at the well: he knows the depths of her wounds, the history of relationships, her disappointments and weariness. All of those things about herself that she might rather hide, Jesus brings to the forefront, so that he may show her that he is offering what she most needs: a relationship with her savior.
Jesus does the same for the man born blind. Jesus returns to the man a second time when he discovers that the man has been driven out from the community. In the midst of his pain of being rejected and his witness not being taken seriously, Jesus goes to him and confirms the man’s witness by revealing that he is the Son of Man, the one promised to this man and to all of Israel.
Then we heard of Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. Jesus meets Martha in the midst of her pain of losing her brother to death and reveals himself as the resurrection and the life; he weeps with Mary, and he raises Lazarus from the dead.
In each of these cases, and every single time that Jesus uses an “I am” statement in the Gospel of John in order to reveal himself as God—“I am the bread of life,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the vine”—each of these revelations are directly related to what the witness most needs. One who is thirsty needs everlasting water. One who cannot see needs light: the light of the world. One who is dead needs resurrection and life. By their wounds, Jesus encounters them. By their wounds, they know who he is for them.
The same pattern continues even after Jesus’ resurrection. Each of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection gets their own intimate encounter with their risen Lord based on what they most need, and he comes to them precisely when they are hurting.
As Mary weeps over the loss of her Lord, Jesus comes to her, calls her by name so that she can recognize him, and gives her what she is most longing for: to be with him again.
Jesus comes to the disciples while they are locked away in fear and doubt. These followers, who had begun to fear that everything that they had believed in, hoped for, and trusted in was now false, need peace, peace that only comes from being in their Lord’s presence again. Jesus knows this, and this is what he offers.
When Peter is hurting out of guilt for having betrayed Jesus, Jesus cooks him breakfast, welcomes him back in, and offers him the forgiveness that Peter most needs.
So it makes sense then that when Thomas is the one who needs Jesus, Jesus comes back just for him so that he may encounter his risen Lord as well.
Jesus knows each of these witnesses: their brokenness and their deepest needs.
What they and we all most need is Christ himself, which he has given wholly and completely to all on the cross.
It is no insignificant detail that the resurrected body of Jesus still bears wounds; we can only know him as the crucified and risen Lord. The healer became the wounded, and by his wounds, we are all healed.
The cross is where we know who God is for us: our God is this Jesus, who on that cross, set us free from sin and death, offers forgiveness and life in a never-ending relationship with the Triune God, and now reveals himself to Thomas and to us all in the midst of our woundedness, bearing his own wounds so that we might be healed and believe.
It is by these wounds that we and the disciples recognize him, by these wounds that God is revealed, and by these wounds that all will come to believe.
It was by these wounds that Kiana came to believe.
In the summer of 2007, I had a camper named Kiana. Nine-year-old Kiana wasn’t really sure what she “believed” about God. She went to Sunday school, and she came to Bible camp because her mom said that she should, but she had a really hard time believing what she heard there. During the week, it became clear that Kiana did not really want to talk about God. She wanted to talk about her dad. She had never met him, she missed him, and she was jealous of her friends who had dads. “Do you think he maybe still loves me?” she asked me.
That Thursday evening at worship, Jesus gave Kiana what she most needed, and he came to her through the wounds of the preacher, Samuel. Samuel shared his own pain of growing up without his father: the wounds of feeling unwanted, unloved, and cast aside, how he longed for his father, hoping that he would return. Then he witnessed how through Jesus, he met his heavenly Father, the God who loved him, wanted to be with him, and came to earth as Jesus Christ so that he could know this God and died so that Samuel might never be separated from or doubt that love again.
After hearing this, Kiana looked up at me through a teary smile and said: “I never knew that Jesus came for me. Me! I never knew that God wanted to be that close to me, as close as a dad. I want that too. Jesus is real, Emily! It was like that man spoke just for me because Jesus knew I needed him.”
Because Samuel was willing to share his pain, how Jesus had been wounded for him, and how Jesus met Samuel in his own wounds, Kiana was able to see how Jesus was at work for her.
That night in worship, Jesus came to her through Samuel’s wounds, and through her own to meet her deepest needs saying, “Kiana, come. Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
When Jesus became real for her, when she knew that God wanted this relationship with her, she shared it with me. And because she shared her wounds with me and how Jesus met her in them—because of her witness—I could say, “Ah, that’s where God is at work. There you are my Lord and my God.”
Kiana, Samuel, Thomas, and Jesus himself all witness to us today that God can take our most painful wounds and use them as some of our most fruitful places of witness.
We are called to face death, to share our pain, to show our wounds, expecting that the risen and wounded Lord will meet us there because we know from the cross that the Triune God is with us in our suffering and encounters us in death, in despair, in wounds. God is made known in the brokenness of the body of Jesus.
Now we are that body, the body of Christ, and through our brokenness, Christ will make himself known, for he tells us, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
There are daily deaths, daily losses in our own lives: we still sin, we have weaknesses. As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “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 are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”
We are the clay jars, broken and fragmented, worn by time, and weathered by storms. We are Christ’s body, wounded, yet carrying this good news of the resurrected Christ who sets all people free and offers life to all.
As long as we pretend that we have it all together, and hide our wounds, we keep ourselves and the good news locked away behind closed doors. We deny that the crucified and risen Lord has power to bring healing out of brokenness, hope out of suffering, and life out of death.
Even the resurrected body of Christ had wounds: this tells us that we can finally stop pretending to be invincible and instead be vulnerable like our Lord, who, though equal with his Father, emptied himself, came as a baby and ultimately poured himself out for us on the cross.
Rather than hide our wounds in embarrassment, thinking that they make us less-than, we may share them openly and honestly, trusting that the Triune God will transform our wounds, us, and all of our relationships as we encounter Christ together in our brokenness.
That is how we bear Christ’s death as his body. If we will dare to share our deepest wounds with one another, if we will be willing to face deaths by giving of ourselves in order to freely care for and love those in our lives, then we will have our eyes opened and discover that our Lord has been there all along, working in the midst of those wounds, working for healing, working to be revealed. God is bringing life out of these deaths so that more may believe and have life in Christ’s name.
When we dare to admit how we have been wounded and how we have wounded one another, the Triune God opens doors for people to see Jesus at work in our wounds and in their own.
Doubting Thomas witnesses to how Jesus brought him to faith. When our Lord sends us to give ourselves away in love by showing our wounds, we witness to just what God can do with a broken, wounded body. Then together, all may say, “Ah, there you are, my Lord and my God.”