This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is based on John 20:19-31. You are invited to first read the scripture text here.
This morning, when the scene of our scripture passage opens, we might be surprised to remember that it is Easter day itself. It is the very day of the resurrection, but the disciples of Jesus are hiding behind closed doors and living in fear. Mary Magdalene, one of their own, has shared incredible news with them. She has already told them that she has seen Jesus alive, but they have yet not seen Jesus themselves. Perhaps some of them might risk wondering if it really could be true. . . Others, as we know, dismissed her story entirely. They believed it to be an idle tale.
So there they are hiding behind locked doors, scared for their lives, and the resurrected Jesus chooses to meet them right there. He shows up on the other side of that locked door right in their midst. And what does he say? He speaks words of comfort: “Peace be with you,” he says. Then the story tells us that after he greeted them with these comforting words, he “showed them his hands and his side.”
That’s an interesting thing to do, isn’t it?
He showed them his wounds from the crucifixion.
The disciples rejoiced in his presence. They had been locked away from life, and yet, life met them right where they were. Jesus, risen to new life, stood among them, and he commissioned them to service. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit. This moment changed everything, and all of them were called to new life. All of them were astounded, and all of them were sent forward from his presence.
Well, all of them except Thomas.
Thomas wasn’t there in that moment when Jesus appeared to his disciples behind the locked doors. We don’t know what he was doing. Perhaps he was behind locked doors somewhere else, or perhaps he was living outside with greater courage.
But this is what we know: He missed it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to hear all of this amazing news secondhand without encountering Jesus himself. Maybe Thomas had grief. Maybe he had isolation after missing out. Maybe he had doubt about it all.
It seems to be that way. Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” So Thomas continued to stay connected to these disciples, believing something different than they did and perhaps feeling something different than they did.
Whatever he believed, and whatever he felt, Jesus met Thomas right in that place too. One week later, all the disciples were gathered together, and this time, Thomas was there. Interestingly, the door was shut yet again, but Jesus appears in that house with them. He stood among them, and once more, he said, “Peace be with you.”
Then Jesus looked straight at Thomas. Jesus met him in his grief. He met him in his isolation. He met him in his doubt. Jesus said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Do not doubt but believe.
Believe, Thomas. . . that is, trust, Thomas. . .
Jesus is standing before Thomas, meeting him right where he was struggling.
Jesus is standing before Thomas, as one who has known suffering and pain,
one who has known grief and isolation in his body,
and that very one – the one who suffered and died – is risen to new life.
Both of these realities are overwhelmingly powerful. Jesus is risen from suffering and death. And God, found in the human embodiment of Jesus, is a God who still bears wounds. This God is one who knows what it means to suffer and chooses to bear those marks of woundedness forever. This is the God who meets Thomas, and this is the God who appears to us today.
Thomas is overwhelmed. Both of these realities – the suffering and the resurrection – are absolutely powerful. Thomas is overcome, and he exclaims with joy and wonder, “My Lord and my God!” He has moved from doubt to the highest profession of faith. Thomas sees the living God with wounds. He sees life standing before him, meeting him in his own place of woundedness. This changes everything.
Jesus didn’t leave Thomas out of the resurrection experience, and so I imagine that Jesus didn’t leave Thomas out of the commission either. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In our scripture text, we don’t hear Jesus saying those words again, but I’m sure the calling remains constant. Thomas was included in that also.
And as we are gathered here this morning, we may very much be like Thomas. Perhaps we carry own grief, isolation, or doubt, but we are bold to tell one another that there is a God who is living and breathing. That there is is one among us who is truly human and truly God, who is standing before us today, knowing what it is to suffer and even experience death. That is the one who loves us to the core of our being, and that is the one who is sending us out today.
Perhaps we hear those words for ourselves this morning. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And here’s where it becomes challenging and life-giving at once:
If we are sent today from this place as the Father has sent Jesus, and
If we are sent today from this place with the gift of the Holy Spirit,
we are being sent forward toward the world’s woundedness.
We are called to stand in the presence of great suffering and pain. We are called to believe the stories behind it — never doubting, but believing. These stories of human pain are real.
And we are called to speak the new life of resurrection which God breathes into the world and desires for every human being. That is how high this calling is. It is challenging and life-giving at once.
The God we worship chooses to bear wounds, and this God cares for those who carry their own wounds. But so often, people doubt not only God but the stories of the wounds themselves.
I have a friend named Sarah Watkins who wrote something succinct on Facebook, but I thought it spoke volumes in its power. She said, “If you want to be a good ally to someone, believe them. Do you know how often people who are marginalized and abused are doubted about their own experiences?”
She goes on to say,
“I believe you were assaulted.
I believe you were blocked from voting.
I believe you are in constant pain.
I believe the cop pulled you over because of your skin color.
I believe your boss/supervisor/colleague harassed you.
I believe you.”
We can believe. And when we do this among our neighbors, I think we are all called to new, resurrected life.
I’ll close with another story. When I think of people I have felt most privileged to meet, Dr. Allan Aubrey Boesak easily comes to mind. Dr. Boesak is a prolific writer and theologian. Most importantly, he is a genuine fellow human being who stands alongside any who have been marginalized and oppressed.
I have seen this on display has he has told stories about his experience living under Apartheid in South Africa. Allan Boesak was a tireless advocate for justice in that context, working to change laws and restore dignity to so many who faced discrimination and were even killed because of the color of their skin.
I have heard Allan Boesak speak a couple of times, and once, I had the great privilege of leading worship with him. Then I heard him speak at the Next Church conference a couple years ago in Atlanta. He ended a keynote lecture there in a powerful way. He said that at the end of our lives, and at the end of time when God has reconciled all things, perhaps God will say to us, ‘Show me your wounds.’
In that moment – even as people of resurrection – if we have none to show, perhaps God will ask us, ‘Wait. Was there nothing worth fighting for?’
And in that moment, he said, even if we stand there with no obvious signs of solidarity, this very God will show us his hands and his wounded side, and we will know that we were worth fighting for.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
As we leave this place, we have work to do.
We have stories to believe.
We have truth to tell.
We have human lives worth standing beside.
We have resurrection to live.
Thanks be to God.