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Monday, April 13, 2015

Signs of the Resurrection

Resurrection does not have meaning for us IN SPITE of our wounds. Resurrection has meaning for us BECAUSE OF our wounds. Jesus rolled away the stone from the tomb, and as we share our wounds--and our hope--with others, they too can believe that resurrection is possible.

Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
   The Second Sunday of Easter, year B
      texts: Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133 (1), 1 John 1:1—2:2, John 20:19-31

My brothers and sisters in the risen Christ, grace and peace to you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A week ago, in this sanctuary, we came together as a community to celebrate Easter, in the way we do here at Mount Olive. Countless people contributed to the festival. Pews and floors and rails were shined and polished. A veritable garden of flowers was created. Assisting ministers, lectors, acolytes, and sacristans spent extra hours preparing for worship. We banished the darkness of Jesus’ death and the sanctuary glowed in candle light, as we shared stories of God at work in our history. And we gloried in the proclamation: “Jesus is risen! He is risen, indeed!” Thanks to our children, who found our banner for us last Saturday, and the choir and cantor, we sang Alleluia in great majesty. And then, as we do here at Mount Olive, we feasted together on food lovingly prepared for us, reveling in the joy and abundance of God.

A week ago, we celebrated Easter together, rejoicing in God who saves us, frees us, loves us, who in Jesus has overcome death. We celebrated joy and abundance and promise when we were together as a community on Easter Sunday. But today, we have moved beyond Easter Sunday, and we are called again to live as people of the resurrection every day. And sometimes, this just doesn’t seem possible. It can be really hard to grasp the resurrection, to have hope, when we ourselves feel wounded, buried, overcome by death.

We have all been hurt, we have all experienced loss, betrayal, shame, fear, and the pain is not erased on Easter Sunday. On Easter Monday, when everyone has gone home, the grief of losing a spouse, a parent, a child, settles back down around you like a heavy, dark, shroud. The hopelessness and despair and exhaustion of shame and depression are still daily companions. What does resurrection look like, when you are face-to-face with death, making plans for a loved one’s funeral, or your own, knowing that your remaining time here can be measured in months, or weeks?

And when the wounds are deep and the loss is great, despair sets in. We feel hopeless—we will never find our way out of the darkness. We feel cut off, from God and from everyone else. No one knows how much it hurts. It’s hard to breathe, even the air feels heavy. How do we celebrate the hope of the resurrection when we feel like we are in a tomb?

Thomas, like the other disciples, had experienced a profound loss. Jesus, his friend and mentor, had died, and with him had gone all the hopes they had placed in him. The despair, and grief, and fear Thomas felt could not be removed by simply hearing that Jesus had risen. A transfigured and glorious Jesus, as is presented in the Gospel of Matthew, would not give Thomas the courage to step outside of his own tomb of fear and grief to trust in the resurrection. The other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas was wounded, buried in despair and grief, and he had to acknowledge the reality of Good Friday before he could enter into Easter Sunday. He couldn’t move on to rejoicing without acknowledging the pain of what they had been through, the last few days. To believe that Jesus had risen, Thomas needed to know that this was the same Jesus he had lost, the one who had been taken away from them, tortured, murdered. Thomas needed to know that Jesus, if he was risen from the dead, knew his pain. Touching Jesus’ wounds was for Thomas a necessary proof of resurrection. Jesus, understanding this, invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Jesus’ wounds became a sign of the resurrection.

Like Thomas, we are beyond Easter Sunday, continually living into life after the resurrection, and like Thomas, we are still wounded, and believing in the resurrection may seem impossible. Touching Jesus’ wounds brought Thomas hope, and faith. What does that mean for us, as we face the darkness of the tombs in our own lives?

Wounded-ness is a sign of hope for us, too. If we don’t know that someone understands our pain, it is hard to believe they have been healed, and like Thomas, we often need to see another person’s wounds before we can believe in their resurrection. And we often need to believe in another person’s resurrection before we can hope in the possibility of our own.

The pain and darkness of our wounded-ness does not miraculously disappear on Easter morning, but Jesus has rolled the stone away, and we can see that God has been with us, in the tomb, all along. We are brought out of the tomb, into the light and air that, over time, will help us heal. The pain is still there, but as we share our story but we know we are not alone. God knows our pain. Someone else understands. In the midst of the darkness, hope begins to return.

The truth is that resurrection always follows time in the tomb. The freedom of forgiveness follows deep hurt and resentment. The new life of recovery often follows years of living in the prison of addiction. A return to joy in life follows sadness, despair, and grief at the loss of a loved one. Even creation reveals this truth, as rejuvenation of forests is made possible by the devastation of fire, and the warmth and green of spring follows long, dark, cold, winters.

The scars will always be there. Resurrection, far from taking our scars away, makes them visible for all to see. There is a hope born of this process that is not possible in any other way—the relief of coming out of the tomb, the knowledge that God is with us and we are not alone, the hope that if resurrection is possible for someone else, it is possible for us, and for our community. God knows our pain. Jesus is risen! And as we become vulnerable, and share our journey with others, Jesus continues to reveal the transforming promise of resurrection to everyone we encounter. Resurrection does not have meaning IN SPITE OF the reality of our wounds. Resurrection has meaning BECAUSE OF our wounds.

We have all been there, in different ways and times. We have been the disciples, seeing the empty tomb and proclaiming that Jesus is risen. We have been Thomas, carefully guarding our wounds, demanding to see the scars of another before we can believe, and hope, in the resurrection. And we have been Jesus, inviting others to touch our wounds, so that they too can believe that resurrection is possible. Where are you today, in this journey of wounded-ness and resurrection?

Without Good Friday, Easter means nothing to us, except another opportunity to celebrate together. With Good Friday, Easter means everything. Jesus knows our pain, and calls to each of us, by name: “Come out of your tomb! Touch my wounds, and know that I am risen.” We are called by God to share our brokenness with others, and witness to the pain—and the hope—we have experienced, so that our wounds can be transformed into sources of profound healing. By doing this, we affirm our belief that resurrection is possible, and with Thomas, we can proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed!

Thanks be to God!

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