Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Lutheran pastor and historian, Martin Marty, recalls a story of a summer day in his boyhood town of West Point, Nebraska, when one of those grand miracles of childhood occurred. A watermelon truck flipped over right in front of his house. The driver was not injured. He jumped out to watch helplessly as neighborhood kids from everywhere raced to the scene of that blessed event and dove into the spilled cargo for a sticky picnic on the pavement. Right in front of Marty’s house!
That was the good news. The bad news was that he was out of town that day visiting his grandmother. Alas. Life is like that sometimes. We happen to be where the action isn’t. While other kids are there to catch the bouncing watermelons, we’re miles away.
And so it was, for the disciple Thomas –same as for you and me—and just about every other Christian who has ever lived. We were not in the tomb where it happened. We missed Jesus’ party with the disciples on Easter night. So, like Thomas perhaps, we too have a hard time reconciling the Easter story with our own understanding of the way the world works. Like Thomas, we lament, if only Jesus would appear to us then our questions would be answered, then we could have faith, then we’d really believe –right? Thomas was emphatic, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails in his hands, and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 19: 25b).
Well, one lesson we could take from today’s gospel is, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ When the moment finally comes, Thomas doesn’t insist on any of these things. His response is one part contrition and one part exclamation, “My Lord, and my God!” (vs. 28). Why? Could it be in that moment, Thomas realized Jesus’ resurrection was not merely about what happened to Jesus?
The Christian claim has always been far more radical. The Easter story is about our own resurrection from the dead. “It is saying that we also are larger than life, Being Itself, and therefore made for something good, united, and beautiful…The problem is not that you have a body; the problem is that you think you are separate from others—and from God. And you are not!” (Richard Rohr)
Jesus, whom they betrayed, did not return with vengeance, but peace, shalom, oneness, reconciliation, and unity with the undying life of God. Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 22). The word is ‘emphusao.’ It’s the same word used in Genesis (chapter 2). God breathed life into the nostrils of the earth-man and he became a living being. It’s the same word used in Ezekiel 37. God breathed life into the dry bones of Israel so that they returned to life and stood on their feet a vast multitude. This Easter story is Pentecost and creation rolled into one.
John invites us to face our doubts, speak our fears, and yearn for more. Thanks to the story of Thomas, we’re invited to say the “heretical” things we might very well feel as we descend from the mountaintop of Easter to look for the risen Christ in the midst of the world.
Jesus gives permission to learn wisdom and humility from our doubts, questions, and failings, and not just to repress them out of fear. To reach the goal of Christian maturity it will be necessary for us to be immature. (Little Arabella, who will be baptized today, didn’t hear that.) God is an expert at working with mistakes and failure. In fact, that is about all God does. Mistakes do not seem to be a problem for God; they are only a problem for our ego that wants to be perfect and self-sufficient. We first tend to do things wrong before we even know what right feels like. I am not sure there is any other way. (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation series on Human Bodies)
Jesus pointed to his wounds and said, “see, as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Show me your wounds, Jesus says, and I will show you your strengths. Show me your love of others and I will show you the fruits of the kin-dom of God. One of the great ironies in the history of Christianity is that Jesus came with the gift of peace and proclaimed a gospel of love with authority over Caesar. Yet, somehow, over and over again, we have made our Lord Jesus into a kind of Caesar who rules from a distant throne, who heaps misery upon those who question, and withholds grace from those who fail him.
But look, God answers with a blessed event unfolding now like an overturned truck filled with watermelons! We testify “…to what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life –so that you may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:1). We testify to what Thomas and the first Christians learned at Easter that every Christian is an eyewitnesses to the resurrection.
One of those eyewitnesses of the resurrection, is Julian of Norwich [1343–c. 1416]. She lived her entire life during a raging pandemic, the bubonic plague. Despite being ignored because she was a woman, she found her voice. She is credited with writing the first book in English by a woman. Today her works are influential among theologians and the faithful alike. Julian taught that each of our lives is part of a glorious whole. Each life, so miniscule in and of itself, is connected to the vast web of life held in being by God. A watermelon truck of grace is spilled out before us.
Julian wrote, “God is within us, at home, patiently and kindly awaiting our recognition. As Maker of all, God is in everything, present in all places and at all times…All those who are on the spiritual path contain the whole of creation, and the Creator. That is because God is inside us, and inside God is everything. And so, whoever loves God loves all that is.” (The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation, Mirabai Starr (Hampton Roads: 2013), 23–24.
Christ is here and we are witnesses. Christ is here at the font. Christ is here at the table. Christ is alive in our questions. Jesus is among us now. We see Christ in each other, and especially, in the poor, the stranger and the outsider. Christ is not dead but lives when we speak the truth of our differences in love, taking care to strengthen the body of Christ and not to tear it down. In Christ we become wounded healers. Christ unlocks the doors closed by fear and leads us out. He spreads a banquet before us –a joyful surprise—like a feast of watermelon poured out at our feet. Enjoy!