Glory with scars

SERMON 

Second Sunday of Easter 

Acts 5.27-32 

Psalm 118:14-29 

Revelation 1.4-8 

John 20.19-31 

©Sue Wilton 

Glory with scars 

So the Gloria is back. If we remember, we start punctuating our liturgical responses with Alleluias. 

The gold in our vestments, the joyful tone of our prayers and hymns, and the move from fasting to feasting all proclaim the celebration that is this season of Easter. 

But Good Friday wasn’t that long ago. 

It isn’t that long since we were around that supper table passing the bread, keeping watch in the night and walking the way of the cross. 

Sometimes it can seem like it is just turning a page and enjoying the new day. Surely it is the most important season of the year because it is marked by joy and new beginnings- and those hours in the darkness can be left behind. We need some closure, don’t we? At least until next year? 

The Easter readings give us one encounter after another with the risen Christ and we see the transformation in Jesus’ followers when they grasp that he has risen indeed. Today we see disciples who are shut away in a room in fear suddenly filled with joy at the appearance of Jesus in their midst. But instead of just celebrating with them, Jesus straight away shows them his hands and his side.   

It seems out of place- I mean, why focus on the pain of Friday when Sunday has come?

But there is more. Thomas, who apparently wasn’t huddling away in fear with the others, missed seeing the Lord. Thomas, who had once declared his intention to go and die with Jesus, cannot believe what his friends tell him. He says, for him to believe, he needs to actually put his finger in the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands and insert his own hand into the wound at Jesus’ side. 

What an intimate and rather macabre request! What is it really about? 

Some might think that this is to verify if it is really Jesus they are seeing or someone else? But if that were the case, there are less ghastly ways of establishing identity. 

If it has anything to do with identity checks, it is about establishing beyond all doubt that God had been revealed as a crucified Messiah. That God had raised to glory the one who had been shamed and executed. 

For the joy of the resurrection to really break upon the disciples and restore Thomas’ faith, they don’t just need a vision of Christ- they need to see the Jesus who was betrayed, stripped, beaten, mocked, crucified and now risen from the dead. 

To understand this more deeply, we might need to put ourselves in the place of the disciples in this moment. 

It was evening. The disciples had only heard that very day the testimony of Mary Magdalene; that she had seen the Lord. Now they were clearly frightened and confused. The last time they had been with Jesus was that sleepy night in the garden- the night when they awoke to that crowd with their swords and their clubs who had come to take Jesus away. This is the night they had all let Jesus down. There was Judas who had handed him over, but they in turn had done their own betraying- in the fleeing, the hiding and the denying.  Then came the horrors of seeing Jesus alone and paraded through the streets to his execution. This man, Jesus, who they thought was going to help them turn around the oppressive violence of the Romans, was himself completely subjugated to Roman power and hung up outside the city walls as one who is beyond redemption. And they, his friends, had left him to his fate. 

Can you imagine, then, how it must have felt for these disciples, when Jesus appears before them. Their minds must have still been filled with the trauma of so brutal and inhuman an execution. They must surely in seeing him, have been all too aware of their own faithlessness and failure. 

It is in this light that we may understand why Jesus brings the focus back to the wounds that scar his body; because you see, there is no joy to be found in the resurrection unless there it is a triumph of love over fear, failure and violence. Jesus appears proclaiming not vengeance but forgiveness, and shows them his wounds. 

Those terrible events of Friday are not forgotten. The betrayal, the humiliation, the pain and the loneliness all still painfully matter. Jesus wounds bear mute testimony to what was done to him. But Jesus shows them his wounds and proclaims peace- because his coming to them means reconciliation. 

Resurrection does not erase the past as if it never happened. This terrible execution, and their own failure would have haunted the disciples, and it needed to be confronted. After his friends look in wonder at the scars Jesus bears, there would have been a new and joyful understanding when Jesus pronounces peace to them a second time. Even their failure, their betrayal, their fear, could not annihilate life and love. What does it mean to us to know that our failures, our fears, all our petty betrayals…do not annihilate the life into which God calls us and the love which God bears for us? 

But what about Thomas? 

Thomas hears of this meeting but wants even more concrete proof. Of what? That resurrection was possible? The far bigger question is why God would choose to raise someone who was executed in such humiliating and degrading circumstances. A crucified Messiah was a nonsense- a contradiction in terms. This is what Thomas would not and could not believe. How could someone who was so powerless against the machinery of imperial violence actually be the Saviour of the world? 

Where is the glory of God in so much shame? 

Thomas could not believe that Friday’s grotesque execution could be redeemed and transformed unless Jesus’ body still bore the scars. He knows the horrors of that day and of the suffering in their world were too great to be wiped away and forgotten by any apparition. So he demands to touch, to probe…to experience with all his senses that Jesus has carried those wounds into newness of life and the pain and the shame has been transformed

And Jesus honours his request.  “Go on”, says Jesus, “Just do it.” 

Thomas of course in that moment finds he doesn’t need to, crying, “My Lord, and my God.” 

Easter has come to Thomas because the aching pain and shame of Friday is not forgotten but transformed into a final word of life, love and reconciliation. 

And this is how we can live in these post-Easter days. It is not by trying to forget, but by recognizing that God takes the worst of human evil and violence and creates from it healing and wholeness. This week Sri Lanka has been visited by some of the worst of human violence that will never and should never be forgotten. But as resurrection people, even as we cry out to God when faced with such darkness, we trust that light will shine and love and reconciliation will be rise from the midst of the pain. 

We cannot divide our own lives into the good and the bad, and strive to leave behind us all that has been painful or humiliating.  Maybe we think that in the next life all that has hurt us in the past will be obliterated from memory.

These resurrection stories suggest otherwise. Our God is a redeeming God; one who is able to stand with us and face even the most painful experiences- our greatest wounds- and transform them so that we are made whole once more. Our story- all of our story – matters to God and is gathered up in love. 

Easter is not about forgetting the horrors of Good Friday so we can celebrate the new day. The terrible visitation of violence in Sri Lanka on this very day when we celebrate life means that for many, Easter Day also now holds the memory of fear, suffering and loss. Yet the power of Christ’s resurrection is that the grim realities of violence, oppression, terror and death have been faced and defeated, and love and forgiveness speak the penultimate word. How do we know this? Because the Christ who has been raised in victory still bears the scars. 

So may you meet the risen Christ and breathe in the new life and forgiveness offered. And as you receive the peace of Christ, may you go and be agents of healing and reconciliation in a wounded world. 

+Amen.

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