This story takes place on the day of Resurrection – we are back on Easter Sunday. In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene has already seen the risen Christ but, true to form, the guys don’t believe her. Peter and John run out to the burial site and see an empty tomb, but nothing more. Put yourself into their shoes for just a moment. You have thrown all caution to the wind in following this itinerant preacher who has been spreading a message of radical inclusion and love without measure. He healed lepers, gave sight to the blind, and he even raised his friend from the dead! Surely this was the promised one … but then came an arrest, false charges, a rapid conviction, crucifixion, death and burial in a tomb. Everything you had pinned your hopes on is gone – dead and gone. And how does that sit with you? Do you feel heartbroken? Sick? Feel like your trust was betrayed (“I thought he was the real deal and he’s just another fake!”)? Confused? Afraid? “Now what?” But then, when it looks like all hope is lost, Jesus appears. He said, “Peace be with you” and then he showed the disciples his wounds. This is crucial … he shows them his wounds and only after they see the wounds do they rejoice. John is pointing to something very important here. Jesus reveals his wounds to the wounded disciples. Their wounds are emotional and spiritual, and Jesus meets their wounds with his.
But Thomas was not with them when this happens. John tells us that Thomas wants to see Jesus too, but notice what he talks about: Christ’s wounds. He gets pretty graphic in saying he wants to touch the wounds of Jesus or he will never believe. Now due to a translational issue, when Jesus does show himself to Thomas, he will get forever branded with the word “doubt.” Doubt is not the issue – unbelief, faithlessness, lack of trust is the real issue Jesus raises with Thomas. “Do not be faithless, be believing” is how it is rendered in other translations. When Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas and meets Thomas’ emotional wounds with his own, then a new way forward – a new way to love again opens up.
One thing I have found to be true is how our wounds, our being broken and bent, can be instruments of reconciliation and healing. It seems counterintuitive. We do not like to be wounded or weak, do we? Our minds immediately go to the wounded gazelle in the herd on the Serengeti Plain being picked off by the pack of lions, don’t they? Survival of the fittest says “don’t be weak” and “don’t be wounded” … or if you are never, ever admit it! The problem with that approach is it never leads to healing – it only leads to denial and the wounds going deeper and getting emotionally and spiritually infected.
Being honest about our wounds is a first step in healing a broken relationship. You’ve heard me preach about “capital D ‘death’ and capital R ‘resurrection’” – or what I call the “final exam” when you take your last breath and leave your body behind. But there are lots of “small d ‘deaths’” and “small r ‘resurrections’” throughout our lives when things seem to fall apart. Maybe it’s the end of a marriage or the collapse of a friendship, or a rift between siblings. There are lots of times when relationships undergo a breaking apart and in the wake of that pain, we often wonder if we can learn to love again. It hurts … it sometimes feels like it hurts too much and we’ve been too betrayed. Reconciliation is a form of resurrection for these “small d ‘deaths’” and it begins by being honest about our wounds – physical, emotional and spiritual ones.
Need some proof? Look at South Africa and their Truth and Reconciliation Commission. When the governmental system of apartheid ended, both the oppressed and the oppressors were given the opportunity to tell their stories of what happened to them in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was very instrumental in this process. Afrikaaners who had taken part in oppressing the African tribes spoke candidly and graphically about the torture and killing they did to maintain their privileged status. Black Africans spoke of the terror they experienced – beatings, rapes, murders. Anguished stories brought forth tears … and in this process, over time, a way forward began to emerge where the former oppressors and the formerly oppressed began to move forward into a future together. It was a reconciled and resurrected relationship only possible when both parties could see each other’s wounds in a process which provided a safe container for those wounds to be honored, felt deeply, and healed.
This morning, I am wearing a stole which came from Sarajevo. Some of you remember when this region was torn apart into warring factions: Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox all killing each other after their leader died. It was a horrible conflict but the long term healing has happened in the wake of bringing the formerly warring and now wounded parties together to find a way forward. This stole was embroidered by a Muslim woman … with clearly Christian symbols to be worn by a Christian minister. It is a project bringing Muslim, Christian and Orthodox women together to rebuild their country in peace.
When Jesus shows up and meets the wounds of the disciples with his own, a new and reconciled relationship begins: a relationship where the Holy Spirit is poured out and fear is taken away. These disciples would go out to take the message of resurrection and reconciliation into the world regardless of the personal cost to them. Most would lose their lives for this. Extra biblical literature and oral tradition tell us that Thomas went to India to spread the gospel and he is revered as the founder of the Mar Thoma Church (with whom we are in full communion).
This gives us hope for our future and the wounded, bent and broken relationships we have in our lives. If we can meet the wounds of another with the honesty and humility of acknowledging our own wounds, the gift of reconciliation can open a new way forward and we can, in spite of the hurt, learn to love again.