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Thomas and the Scars

John 20:19-31

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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

We always hear this parable on the second Sunday of Easter. It is always the same story. It is Easter Evening, the same day as the resurrection. The early church considered the whole seven week season of Easter to be like one great day, and so even though we are seven days from Easter Sunday, we return to that moment to hear the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on Easter evening.

Jesus speaks peace to the disciples. He joins right in the midst of them, he comes despite locked doors and windows, despite their fear and their hiding. He speaks peace and breathes on them the holy spirit. This is the very same peace we will share between us in a few moments, and the same spirit that is passed between us.

And then there is of course Thomas. Thomas who is called Doubting Thomas by western Christians. Thomas who is called Believing Thomas by Eastern Orthodox Christians. Thomas will not accept the stories of his buddies, the outrageous claims of resurrection. He wants to see for himself.

We hear this familiar story each Easter. We call skeptics doubting Thomas’s. We kind of know the routine by now.

And yet there is a piece of this story is we rarely focus on. Usually we hear about Jesus appearing behind locked doors, or Thomas seeing the evidence and believing. But what about the scars?

Yes, the scars.

The scars are there all way through. Jesus offers peace and then immediately shows the disciples his scars. That is how they know him. Thomas will not believe until he can touch the scars with his own hands. And knowing what Thomas needs, Jesus shows up and gives Thomas a view he cannot forget. Jesus offers his scars.

The scars are woven throughout the story, and yet they are troubling. The scars are how the disciples know who Jesus is. Of all the things that might identify Jesus it is the scars. Not how he looks, now how he talks, but the scars that his body still bears. His resurrected body still bears.

This can be hard to imagine. This can be hard to accept. Jesus resurrected body is a sign, an example of what our own resurrected bodies will look like. Our scars can often be parts of ourselves we would rather forget. Sometimes they are physical scars, sometimes they are emotional or psychological. Sometimes they are the scars of broken relationships, and unforgiven hurts, of ongoing pain, and untold suffering. Sometimes they are the scars of death.

We don’t want those scars to come with us. We don’t want to remember the pain that created them. We want all of it to go away. We want God to come and take away our hurts and pain, to make us forget all the ways in which we hurt others, and the ways in which we suffered ourselves. We don’t want our scars to come with us, we would much rather leave them and the things that caused them behind.

It was by the scars that the disciples recognized Jesus. It was because of the scars that Thomas could see who it was that was standing before him. The Risen Christ, the new reality ushered into the world by God where death is no longer the end, is too much to recognize, it is too much to be able to imagine or see. And so it is in the scars that the disciples and Thomas can see Jesus. The scars are reminders of what was before. They allow the disciples and Thomas to see Jesus as the same person who called them to follow. The same Jesus who taught in synagogues, who healed the sick and the lame, who cast out demons and angered the authorities. The same Jesus who was tried, beaten and then nailed to a cross.

It is this Jesus, this Jesus that they knew, that they followed and that they loved who is standing before them – Risen from the dead. This new reality that God brings into world through Christ can only be truly seen and understood when signs of the old reality come with it. And yet is still more than that.

There is no resurrection without crucifixion. Our scars are signs of experiences that have made us who we are. Our joys and our sorrows, our loves and our loses, our comforts and pains, our successes and failures, our happinesses and our sufferings. All of these things make us who we are. All of these things are what make us human.

And it is the same things that made Christ human.

And it is these same things that God loves and intends to resurrect.

It is not perfect, unblemished, perfectly unscarred versions of ourselves that God sees. It is the beat up, worn down, tattered, bumped and bruised versions of us that God is deeply in love with. It is all of us, good and bad, perfect and imperfect that God calls beloved children. It is the broken versions of ourselves that God is well pleased with.

For you see, it is in Christ’s scars that we see the Risen Christ. We see the Christ who came to be born among us, to live among us and to die among us. We see the Christ who took on our nature and our lot, who gathered all humanity to himself and who took all our sin to the cross. And it is on the body of the Resurrected Christ, that we see the scars still present, reminders that the one we would not accept and the one that we tried to kill is now alive. The Risen Christ, scars and all, is showing us that God is bringing life into this world, no matter how much death we wield.

But it is not just Risen Christ that is recognized by his scars. It is also us. Just as we see Christ in his scars, God see us in ours. God sees our hurts and our sorrows, God sees our bumps and bruises, God see our broken relationships and our unforgiven hurts. And it is by these things, that God sees us as beloved children. God does not promise to take these things away, the scars will remain. But God promises that they will not define us and they will not control us. Pain will not be the end. Suffering will not be the end. Death will not be the end. God promises that there will always be life. God promises that there is another side to sin, suffering and death. God will not remove our problems, but God goes through them with us.

And the Christ that we have now seen. The Christ that has come to us in behind locked doors, in fear and hiding. The Christ that gives us what we need so that we may believe.

This Christ has shown us the way, the way to the other side, the way to new life and he has the scars to prove it.


*** For 10 weeks I am on parental leave, and during this time my hope is to post sermons from previous years during this time. ***

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And the Angel said to the women, “Do Not Be Afraid”

Matthew 28:1-10

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. (Read the whole passage)

Two women walking down a dusty road while the sun’s first wisps of colour begin to light the nighttime sky. Two women on their way to a tomb is an image that we remember from just two weeks ago. Martha and her sister Mary met Jesus on the road to the tomb of their brother Lazarus. It was the final Sunday of Lent, the last encounter in a series of encounters where Jesus wandered into someone’s life and the experience transformed them.

It began as Jesus wandered into the wilderness and met the tempter. And then Jesus found Nicodemus in his the darkness of his questions, the samaritan woman in isolation at the well of Jacob, the blindman who washed the mud from his eyes and could then see. And it finished with Martha and Mary grieving Lazarus.

But from then on, Jesus took a turn from uncovering the fears of these lenten people, and headed toward Jerusalem. Towards Holy Week, towards the confrontation between us, sin and death. And that detour ended on a cross… with God on the cross. And we finally realized what Jesus had been up to all along, even from the moment when the angels told Mary and Joseph that he was God’s son in Mary’s womb, the cross was where Jesus was headed.

But this morning, as these two women make their journey in the twilight hours to the tomb where Jesus had been laid 3 days before, they certainly did not know any of that.

All that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary knew was that Jesus, their friend and teacher had been put to death. But not just their friend and teacher, the person in whom they had discovered hope, in whom they discovered love and grace and mercy… love and grace and mercy from God.

Love and grace and mercy that was now dead. And along with it all hope.

These two women on their way to that tomb on Easter morning are the embodiment of all those people whom we have been hearing about all of Lent. They are Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, but they are also Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the blindman and Martha and Mary from Bethany. All of them in their own have been making their way to Jesus’ tomb. And Jesus has unearthed their fears while showing them a new way to live… until Good Friday. Until Good Friday and this Jesus who had promised to transform everything was put to death.

These two women on their way to the tomb go knowing that they are putting that promise, that new hope to rest. They are carrying their last ounces of hope to add to the tomb. The only thing that have to look forward to on Easter morning is the possibility of having a few more moments with Jesus, even if it is just his corpse. They want to give him the smallest dignity of a proper burial after his undignified and humiliating death.

These two women on their way to bury their hope embody us too. Because we have been making our way to this grave as well. Because we too have had our fears unearthed and new ways to live shown to us by love and grace and mercy only to have them put to death. We too live a world where the powers that be love to kill off hope. It is hard to have hope in a world where nuclear war is now easily possible, where airlines can have passengers assaulted for sitting in paid seats and wanting to go home, where domestic shootings can rock close-knit communities, where the flood waters threaten to overwhelm, where jobs are dollars to be cut and hospitals are seen as wastes of money.

We live in a world where our sin, the sin of trying to be like God, to exercise control over everything around us brings death too often. Death to the hope that we try to carry, even if for just a while.

And then as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approach the tomb, suddenly the earth shakes and angel appears like lightening from heaven. The guards shake and fall to the ground and the stone is rolled away.

And the Angels says, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised,”

And when the women were supposed to be going to a grave side, supposed to be consumed by the final act of separation from one that they loved… a messenger from God interrupts and says,

“Do not be afraid”

And we know what the women do not know. That the story of Jesus began just as it appeared to end. Way back at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, the very first thing that happens just as Joseph and Mary were looking at their own version of the death of all hope, the end of an engagement and the end of a future. And angel shows up and says to Joseph,

“Do not be afraid.”

And now again at what seems to be the end of story, an Angels shows up declaring the same thing.

And all those fears. The fear of Nicodemus who could only ask his questions in the safety of darkness, the fear of the samaritan woman who choose to avoid her community in shame, the fear of blindman whose community will not accept that he sees, the fear of Mary and Martha that their brother was beyond saving… the angel says to them, “Do not be afraid.”

And all of our fears. The fear of nightly news and the end of the world, the fear our humanity will be lost for the sake of corporate profits, the fear that our communities are not safe when tragedy hits too close to home, the fear that creation is far more powerful than we can handle and just might overwhelm us… the angel says to us, “Do not be afraid.”

And the ultimate of fears. The fear born in sin, that we are not enough, that we need to be more, that we need to be God in God’s place. The fear that we could not possibly be loveable, or given grace or shown mercy. The fear that we will lose control, that we cannot survive without power, that we are not safe, the fear of death… the angel says to us, to the the original sin within us,

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised,”

And just in case we have not heard it the first time from the Angel who spoke to Jospeh, or the second time from the Angel who speaks to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary….

Jesus meets the women, meets all the lenten people, meets us on the road to say,

“Do not be afraid.”

And like the women we take hold of and cling to the body of the very hope we were sure we had lost. We hold in our hands the Body of the One in whom all hope and life exists. We touch the One who makes all things new.

We hold Jesus on the road from that empty tomb.

We hold Jesus here at the altar rail as the Body and Blood of Christ are given to us.

We hold Jesus and the Body of Christ makes all fear to cease because the one who was crucified has risen.

This Easter morning, the most joyous of all mornings, the risen Christ gives us his very body to hold in our hands… and in our hands we receive the mysteries of God.

Mysteries like God’s love for unloveable, God’s grace given for the condemned, God’s mercy for the unforgiven. Mystery that along with Nicodemus, the Samaritan women, the blindman and Martha and Mary, has revealed our fears.

God’s love, grace and and mercy that died on the cross.

God’s love, grace and mercy that has risen from dead.

God’s love, grace and mercy that says to us,

“Do not be afraid”

Alleluia Christ is Risen. 

How the Risen Christ also Busts Sexism

Luke 24:1-12

I don’t know what pastors did before the internet, but this year a colleague asked a group of pastors on Facebook, “What gimmicks do you use to add that little extra something to Easter?”

Most of my life wasn’t spent in the pulpit, but in the pew, like you. So I’m here today to confess that there is something about Easter that makes pastors search for that little extra something. Pastors do the same thing at Christmas. I guess we pastors think those big church days need some help.

Maybe someone being raised from the dead isn’t enough, or maybe it’s the fact that pastors have to stand up at the front and try to explain in a way that makes sense this story of someone being raise from the dead… a story that, if you think about it too hard or too long doesn’t actually make all that much sense.

Now lucky me, I am the one at the front who gets to figure out what to say and how to make sense of all this.

But being uncomfortable with this story and who gets to preach it is not something new. In fact, Luke tells us that discomfort with the resurrection story and the ones telling it is as old as the story itself.

Three women have gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. It was only Friday, three days ago that they watched Jesus die on the cross. And because of the sabbath (on Saturday), his body hadn’t been properly prepared for burial. They were on their way to do this last thing, one final act of love for Jesus.

But they arrive at the tomb, and the stone is rolled away. Jesus’ body is gone. Luke says the women were perplexed, but perplexed hardly seems to describe what these women were probably feeling.

And then a couple of guys in dazzling white clothes show up and tell these “perplexed” women that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

This isn’t an “Aha” moment. This is more of a “Holy (you fill in the blank)” moment.

And in that “holy” moment the women are snapped out of their grief, their perplexity, their terror and are reminded of what Jesus had been telling them the whole time.

And they go racing back to tell the other disciples.

And it is at this point that Luke really starts to get interesting.

The women go back to tell their news to the male disciples. But the men think it is nonsense. Now what the english translation says is that the men think it is an “idle tale.” You know, the kind of inane chit chat of no importance that men think they can just tune out because it’s the womenfolk talking. But that is not what the greek says. The greek says the men hear the story as nonsense or crazy or nuts. The kind of story you hear some one tell and you respond by saying, “No way, that’s not possible, that didn’t happen.”

And then the english translation says the men didn’t believe the women, as if the men considered the content of their story. But the greek says the men didn’t trust the women. The story wasn’t believable because of who was telling it.

And then there’s this last bit about Peter. Peter runs off to check the tomb for himself. Why would he do that if he didn’t trust the women to trust the women and their idle chit-chat in the first place? Well, in most bibles there is a little footnote that comes at the end of this verse about Peter’s “checking” on things at the tomb.

The footnote that explains that verse 12 (this whole bit about Peter verifying what the women had reported) is not included in other ancient manuscripts. Or in other words, the verse is likely an addition to the story.

So here we have this story of the resurrection that is hard enough to make sense of on its own but the real problem with this story seems to be not with the story itself, but with the people who have been chosen to tell it. The disciples think the women’s story is nonsense because they are untrustworthy women. Recent English translators, who still have a problem with the fact that women are the first ones to tell the story, try to turn the nonsensical report into an idle tale – something not even worth being listened to by the men.

And to top it off, the early Christian community added this bit about Peter verifying what the women reported so that somebody credible would be the one telling the story of the resurrection. Because Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Jesus’ own mother Mary weren’t credible witnesses on their own?

Oh how things haven’t changed.

As much as it’s hard to makes sense of somebody being raised from the dead, our real problem is still with who gets to tell the story.

Christians have spent a lot of time and energy in the past 2000 years telling people who can and who cannot tell the story of Jesus. And it’s not just women. Christians at various times have told people of colour, LGBT people, poor people, uneducated people, and even lay people that they are not among God’s chosen story tellers.

For some reason our issue has been less with the content of the resurrection story itself than character of the ones chosen to tell it.

Because it’s hard to believe that of all the people to find the empty tomb, God sends the very people who were considered untrustworthy, and unreliable as witnesses.

But how would this story have been different if the disciples simply trusted the women?

When the women arrive at the tomb, early on that Sunday morning they were expecting to find the body of Jesus. Mary’s son, Mary Magdalene’s and Joanna’s friend and teacher. They expected to be anointing a body with spices and oils. They were expecting to finish the Jesus story for good, one last goodbye to the one they loved.

They most certainly did not expect that all that crazy talk that Jesus had been going on about for 3 years to be true. Betrayal, trial, crucifixion… and now resurrection. They did not expect to find the living among the dead, that Jesus had been raised.

But even more so, they would not have expected that of all the disciples that they would be the ones called upon to deliver this news – Jesus has risen. They weren’t the leaders, the gifted ones, the talented ones, the respected ones. They weren’t even considered trustworthy by the disciples who knew them well. They were just women. They were forgotten, unimportant, unworthy. They were not the kind of people anybody would expect to be called upon to carry out such an important task. They were the wrong people.

But just like everyone else, they forgot that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead… they also forgot that the “wrong” people are exactly the kind of people that God likes to work through. They forgot that God has been constantly using the ill-suited, unexpected, unworthy, wrong people to do God’s work in the world. From cowardly Abraham and laughing Sarah to stuttering Moses and dancing Miriam, from lustful David and foreign Ruth to stubborn Mordecai and vain Esther, from unmarried teen mom Mary and Mary Magdalene to bull headed Peter and self-righteous Paul. Throughout the biblical narrative we have story after story where God calls the wrong person after the wrong person.

And yet, even with all these ill-suited and ill-equipped people God establishes a pattern for how God will act in the world: through unexpected people, doing often unexpected, unpredictable, nonsensical things.

Now these women at the empty tomb were witnesses to God using all the wrong things to completely change the world. Betrayal and angry mobs to usher in salvation. A cross to forgive sins. Death to bring new life into the world.

And these ill-suited and ill-equipped women were being called to tell that crazy, nonsense Jesus-has-been-raised story.

And now we are the people hearing the story and being sent to tell others. And maybe we feel ill-equipped or ill-suited. Maybe we ARE ill-equipped and ill-suited.

Maybe, just like the women at the tomb, we are the “wrong” people being called to tell the story of God.

The story of God that completely changes our world and our reality, the story of death and resurrection that turns everything and everyone upside down. Because this is the story that tells us that God’s love is just as much for the wrong people as it for the right people, just is much for us as it is for anyone. This is a story that isn’t for the right people or the wrong people – it’s for ALL people.

And maybe that is crazy nonsense in a world like ours.

But it is not crazy nonsense for the God of New life.

Amen


 

*This sermon was co-written with my wife, Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker who you can follow on twitter: @ReedmanParker