Sermon, April 28, 2019 by Rev Gloria Christian
Acts 5: 27-32
John 20: 19-31
“The Seeing Heart”
The presence of the risen Christ comes in a miraculous manner and grants to the disciples the peace of God. Jesus does not rebuke them because of the fear that has paralyzed the disciples and driven them into hiding after his crucifixion. Jesus appearance is purely positive; it brings peace. The disciples are over-joyed at the sight of Jesus. Their joy is far more than a selfish experience; it is a joy that comes from Jesus’ commission to service filled with the Holy Spirit, thus making them real Christians or they would have said, “Little Christs”. Now Jesus’ disciples as then and throughout the centuries do the will and work of God. The light still shines from the darkness of Good Friday.
In the next scene this morning, we discover through Thomas that reasonable doubts do not disqualify us from discipleship. We have never known Christ in the flesh. We have never seen him crucified, die and be buried. Today, we know of the world-wide belief in the Resurrection and of Christ’s real presence in the world. For us, the reality is that lives of faith gather in abundance to worship because of the presence of the living Christ in our lives. We are blessed because we believe but have not seen.
And so, the disciples in their belief, go out and do the will and work of God. The setting of our reading from Acts is of the disciples before the Jewish leaders. The arrest in the first place of the disciples happens because of their teaching and healing in the Temple; the arrest happens because of the jealousy of the Sadducees. Peter and the apostles miraculous escape from prison happens with the aid of an angel who opened the prison doors and brings them out. This reading this morning is the exchange between the High Priest and Peter, at the time, of the second arrest, after the escape. The disciples were flogged and were told not to preach anymore but they did not stop. The disciples saw the scars on Jesus’ hands and feet; they heard the commission to serve; and disciples to this day do not stop doing God’s will and work. I keep thinking about scars and how our scars depict our identity having them, on this Doubting Thomas Sunday.
I was twelve, maybe thirteen years old. I had been assigned to the back of the camper to push and my dad was waiting to guide the camper into place over the trailer hitch. Only the wheels were caught on some kind of grade and try as I might I couldn’t seem to get it to budge. My dad shouted at me to push just one more time and I gave it all I had and felt it give.
Before I could fully understand what had happened, our mother was driving him to the local emergency room with a towel wrapped around his bleeding hand. I was left to sit and wait around a now cold campfire — I remember carrying the guilt heavy in those waiting hours for I knew it was my extra effort that had hurt him.
A few hours later they were back. His wounded hand now sported a couple of stitches and a big white bandage. He was quick to assure me that it was his fault, not mine, for I was only doing as I was told. And then he went on to say that he was glad it was his hand that took the blow… for he knew the damage to my much smaller hand would have been far worse. Like any loving parent, he would willingly take the pain in place of his child any time and every time if he possibly could.
He bore the scars of that particular afternoon for the rest of his life. I sometimes think the mark on the palm of his hand said as much about who he was as anything else did.
Indeed, I suppose it is so for all of us. Our scars tell part of the story of who we are, what has mattered to us, what has happened to us, the risks we’ve taken, the gifts we’ve given. And as we are reminded in the story before us in John’s Gospel, this was surely also so with Jesus, too.
Which is why Thomas insisted he needed to see, no more than that, feel the scars in his hands and put his own hand in Jesus’ side to be sure that it was him. One would think he would have recognized him with from the features of his face or the sound of his voice, but no, for Thomas, Jesus had become something more since that long walk to the cross a week before. Jesus’ very identity was now defined by his scars. A death made most visible in those wounds that by then could have only begun to heal.
Doubting is not necessarily a terrible thing. To be sure, doubt is not comfortable, and depending on the circumstances can be downright terrifying. And yet, for me, it’s only when I’ve allowed myself to stand still in my own doubt that I have discovered answers and meaning and hope again. In fact, in a little book, Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is, Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams name doubt in the second chapter as something for which we should give profound thanks. For as they write,
There is simply a point in life when reason fails to satisfy our awareness of what is clearly unreasonable and clearly real at the same time — like love and self-sacrifice and trust and good. Data does not exist to explain these unexplainable things. Then only the doubt that opens our hearts to what we cannot comprehend, only the doubt that makes us rabidly pursue the truth, only the doubt that moves us beyond complacency, only the doubt that corrects mythologies not worthy of faith can lead us to the purer air of spiritual truth. Then we are ready to move beyond the senses into the mystical, where faith shows us those penetrating truths the eye cannot see. This quote is powerfully written; reason and faith, both unreasonable and both clear at the same time.
Oh, it is so that we do sometimes recognize one another by our scars. Thomas thought he needed to see and touch Jesus’ scars to be certain it was him. In his quest for the truth he was not afraid to ask the hard questions which led him to an ever-deeper faith. But, in the end, as the story is passed on, he didn’t need what he thought he did to believe. When Jesus simply stood right before him, Thomas was able to embrace the truth of who Jesus is with all-of his being. The scars told part of the story, but only part of it, it seems. I wonder though. Would Thomas have gotten to that point in his faith if he hadn’t asked the questions, if he hadn’t ‘doubted’ first? What do you think? Have you ever been a doubting Thomas in your faith?… Amen