Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Did you notice how packed the sanctuary was last Sunday? We had folks hanging from the rafters. There were children, young people, and great grandparents. From birth to death we had it covered. I had emails this week declaring the service was amazing. Folks loved the choir. Folks loved the children’s moment. Folks loved Bob’s benediction, and my mother loved the sermon. It was an unbelievable experience …….. or was it. If everything was so great, why didn’t they all come back?
Every Christmas and Easter the church is partially betrayed by its own message. During Christmas we shout, “Joy to the World, Jesus has come to save you”. On Easter we sing, “The strife is o’er, the battle done, Jesus has saved me.” Then the Sunday after Easter we get around to telling the whole truth. Jesus and world are still wounded.
Leave it to the Gospel of John to give us our most powerful post resurrection stories. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the gospel message is told through parables that bemuse and sometimes confuse the everyday audience. John introduces us to Nicodemus, a scholar blinded by his personal black hole. John shares the story of a Samaritan woman who drinks from the cup of a Jew. In John we are perplexed by Mary and Martha, startled by Lazarus, and left wishing Jesus had given a different answer to Pilate’s request for truth.
John’s post resurrection account centers on two disciples. The first is Thomas. We know very little about this man. He is hardly mentioned in any of the gospels before the crucifixion but manages steps forward in large way after the resurrection. He entered this life known as Thomas the Twin. He left it remembered as the one who doubted.
You know the story. You have heard me and other preachers tell of the one disciple who refused to believe Jesus was alive until he had visual proof. We end the story on a wonderful note, “Blessed are all that did not have to see the wounds and yet believed. Go forth in the knowledge that Jesus has saved you.”
But what if Thomas saw more than the wounds of Jesus? What if Thomas, for the first time, saw the frailty of Thaddeus? What if Thomas witnessed the brokenness of John? Perhaps he saw the insecurity of Andrew or the brashness of James. Maybe he felt the nervousness of Matthew or the fear of Phillip. I wonder if he saw the burden piercing Peter’s heart. Jesus wasn’t the only one with exposed wounds. Thomas was transformed when he realized that events of the past few days marked a new beginning.
The gospel writer of John has more than one book in the New Testament. Scholars also believe he is responsible for the Book of Revelation. The book opens with these words, “Jesus loved us and freed us through his wounds.”
Everyone loves the Book of Revelation. It has this mystical presence that invites us into a literary world where anyone who knows it is by name becomes an expert. A number of us are beginning a year long ride through the Bible. We meet the second and fourth Wednesday at 7:00. You can start at the beginning. You can pick and choose which books you want to read. You can wait until we get to the New Testament. One thing I know for sure. When the class on the Book of Revelations is announced, a lot of new faces will show up. I really don’t know why everyone becomes so excited. The Book of Revelation reveals little of what most folks think they will find.
The Book of Revelation doesn’t tell us when the world will end. It didn’t predict the Crusades, the Russian Revelation, Ayatollah Khomeini, or the Cubs winning the World Series. What the book does is share a goal of residing in a place where all people are made completely whole. Is that heaven? Or is it even more?
When the Old Testament speaks of a new heaven it includes the promise of a new earth. We are not seen as individuals working against each other to get to the top of the mountain but rather as a community living and caring for one another. It may surprise you but the concept of survival of fittest is not a Biblical term. Listen to John’s prophecy, “We are freed by his wounds to become a new kingdom.”
The death of Jesus momentarily destroyed his band of disciples. They ran toward seclusion fearing for their lives. Every wound, every insecurity was exposed. Then Jesus arrived. Ten of the eleven witnessed his presence. They were elated, hardly aware of what any of this meant. Thomas the skeptic, Thomas the doubter, had not been in the room for the original triumphant entry. When Jesus arrived a second time Thomas’ eyes are open in ways he never imagined. Made whole by the presence of Christ, Thomas witnessed not only his wounds, but the wounds of those who surrounded him.
This is the new heaven and earth proclaimed by Isaiah and understood by the writer of John. It is a place where we not only witness the wounds of others, we become part of the healing process. To use a phrase attributed to Henri Nouwen, Thomas became a wounded healer. For the first time he saw beyond himself. For the first time he not only understood the message of Jesus, he understood the intention of God. As God heals us, we in turn are commissioned to heal one another. It is not just about me. It is about us.
Perhaps I am over-thinking this phenomenon that happens every Christmas and Easter but it makes me wonder about those folks who grace our doorsteps and where they go the rest of the year? Is it simply an old habit? Did they go to church as a kid so for the sake of memories they drop by on high holidays? If that is the case what is it that they received on their once a year check-up. We proclaimed the resurrection. We assured them God has conquered death. We promised when their time on earth is finished, God will save them. The problem is Easter appears to be all about tomorrow, but what do we offer for today?
We live in an amazing world. We can create in an hour what our grandparents labored for months to produce. We control the temperature so that is always 72 degrees. We don’t work on the farm and still have eggs for breakfast and meat for dinner. We have placed our faith in technology and economic systems and our faith has been rewarded. And yet, with all our creative powers there is still the potential for self-destruction. I look at young couples with two plus children. They hold down two jobs. They try to do everything to make the world perfect for their children. They trust in the latest convenience yet continue to live wounded, exhaustive lives. I look at single folks searching for a community. They have no children and therefore often viewed as incomplete. They come to church on Easter Sunday hoping to hear some good news. We oblige by proclaiming God has conquered death. They sing the songs, drink the grape juice, and leave triumphant, only to wake up on Monday morning…….. empty.
Maybe we would serve our whole community best if on Easter Sunday instead of preaching the resurrection and the rewards in the next world, we talked about the wounds of Jesus, and the wounds of Thomas, and the wounds of Matthew, and Thaddeus, and Andrew, and John, and James, and the rest of us. Maybe we would serve the world best if on Easter we lifted up the second resurrection story told in the gospel of John.
Jesus meets Peter by the seashore. Peter is overcome with guilt and wounded to the soul. He can’t sleep and he certainly can’t face Jesus. Peter’s denial had left irreparable scar. Jesus said to him, “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter responded, “Lord, I love you more than life itself.”
Jesus whispered, “Then feed my sheep.”
When we who are wounded become healers, we see beyond our fears, and insecurities, and even sins. When we find the courage to be a wounded healer, we discover salvation is not just about me. The gospel lived is about hearing another’s stories and recognizing their wounds that fester on Monday morning. If all we do is proclaim the resurrection, to the casual listener it may appear we are not interested in today. But if we expose our wounds, if we open our hearts, if we talk about our doubts, and then we listen …….. we might strike a chord with those are losing hope. Who knows, they might even find a reason to come back the next Sunday morning.
To God be the Glory. Amen.