If the Gospel were drama, you could think of the story that we heard this morning as a play in two short acts, both taking place on the same very simple set, the room where Jesus and his disciples gathered the night before Jesus died.
The first act takes place on the evening of the same day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. And the second takes place exactly one week later, when Jesus returns and shows Thomas his wounds. It might seem like a very bare-bones story, but there’s a lot going on here.
And one question in particular stood out for me as I thought about it over the past week in this year of Our Lord 2021:
Why did the resurrected body of Jesus still bear the wounds of his crucifixion?
His body is different. There’s no doubt about that. For one thing, he’s alive. He can pass through locked doors, apparently. And again and again, people don’t recognize him, starting with Mary, who thought at first that morning that he was the gardener.
The God who brought him back to life after three days in the grave could certainly have healed his broken body, but didn’t. Why is that?
Maybe because it is his wounds that show us exactly who Christ is. He’s a man who wouldn’t back down from speaking his truth, even though he knew that the people in power would bring him down for it. He suffered a horrendous death at the hands of established authority, the government.
And through the power of God, he was raised again three days later, showing us that life will always triumph over death. But our Christ will always bear those wounds. He wanted the very people who were closest to him to recognize him by those horrible scars. And I think it’s important that we remember him that way too.
So the first thing that he does when he comes to them that first time is he shows them his hands and his side. And in that moment, his disciples recognize him and they rejoice. But Thomas, for some reason, isn’t there.
And when the others tell him what has happened—“We have seen the Lord!”—what he says is, I have to see his wounds. I have to touch them to believe.
And when Jesus returns a week later, the first thing he does is invite Thomas to do just that. Now the story doesn’t actually say whether Thomas did touch him. Seeing the wounds was enough for him, it says. In that moment, he believes and he declares his faith in that statement, “My Lord and my God!”
So here’s why those wounds matter. They matter because like Thomas, we also need to see the wounds to know the body of Christ. The brokenness of the body of Christ is how we recognize him. This is as true for us today as it was in the locked room where Thomas saw and believed. And I’m not talking about the image that you see on the cross here in church, I’m talking about recognizing the body of Christ alive and present with us in our broken world today.
There’s an exhibit going on at the Michener Museum called “Essential Work 2020: A Community Portrait.” Maybe some of you have seen it. I mentioned it in my Easter sermon which I preached in a different church last week, as a matter of fact. But I find myself coming back to those images. I think the exhibit says so much, not just about this year that we’ve just come through, but about the human condition.
So, full disclosure: I have a photograph in the exhibit, and maybe some of you also know that Kristin Moore does, too, but this isn’t a brag. I mention this exhibit again because I have been so profoundly moved by the cumulative impact of all of those images taken together. And I went back this week to see it again.
The show is meant to reflect what life was like in 2020, when we lived not just through the pandemic, but we also lived through a divisive election. We experienced widespread political protests, and there was a renewed national reckoning with racial injustice.
So in the exhibit, which is up by the way, I think until July, so if you haven’t seen it, you have time. You have to get a reservation online. It’s very spaced out, so it feels pretty safe to be there. Anyway, there were photos of people waving protest signs and marching, Black Lives Matter signs and others. There’s a picture of a therapist who kept going into people’s homes during the pandemic in order to work with children with special needs. There’s a man celebrating his 94th birthday with his whole family lined up on the other side of the glass. They couldn’t be inside with him. Because of covid they couldn’t come in. There are masked hospital workers taking a moment of silence in memory of George Floyd. Volunteers working to get out the vote.
There’s an elderly couple whose hospice nurse brought them together so they could hold hands one last time, moments—apparently—before the man died of covid. There are people at work. Farmers at work growing food for us to eat; that’s Kristin’s picture. The battered straw hat only of a man, a farm worker from Guatemala who dared not show his face in the photo. And a trash collector just doing his job.
And along with the poignant moments, there are also moments of simple joy, because life is like that. Our human experience is like that. Joy and sorrow are always dancing together in our lives. So there’s a picture of a family just goofing off together. There’s a gray-haired man and his mother playing music at the open door of their home, for the pleasure of anyone who happened to walk by. And the grand prize winner is a tender portrait of a man and a woman comforting each other during protests in support of homeless housing in Philadelphia.
And what I see in all of those photos taken together—and it really does take the whole collection, that’s why I mentioned so many of those images. It takes the whole collection to bring the impact home. What I see is the truth that this past year might have been particular in its intensity. and indeed it has been a time of terrible suffering and cruel injustice and I don’t mean to minimize that. But taken as a whole, what these images show us is exactly what it means to be alive on this earth year after year.
What I see in this picture is in fact the broken body of Christ here with us, alive on earth among us. The wounds that it bears represent God’s promise to be with us in every place where there is suffering.
Jesus invites us to see his wounds, to touch them. So I see the broken body of Christ and I see people tending to its wounds.
“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” Jesus said.
Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Doylestown PA