April 8, 2018
Second Sunday of Eastertide
John 20: 19-31
For the last couple of weeks, when I’ve not been preparing for Holy Week or not in a coma from Holy Week, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my family’s genealogy. Because I come from one of those families that has been here so long, that we have forgotten where we are from. I grew up in Tennessee and remember asking my great grandmother where we were from and she said, “Well, our people immigrated here from Virginia.” Yeah, since that wasn’t exactly the answer I was looking for, I’ve had to strike out on my own. But one of the first things I noticed when I started looking at all these family trees is that I started to find way more kings, princes, and duchesses, and Lord barons than made sense. I mean, it seems to me that what a lot of folks are after is to paint this really flattering picture of their family, that they descended from royalty or that their 7th great grandparents came over on the Mayflower. But I’m not really interested in that. I’d much rather find out which of my ancestors had 6 wives and who suspiciously got married 9 months before their first child was born. Like I got pretty excited when I found some clues that one of my ancestors was a bonded servant who kept running away from his bondsmen. Like, I thought it was pretty cool to think about all the lives that had come from this one prisoner’s life, a life that was only worth a couple dollars about 200 years ago. But as I traced the line of my family tree and the sins of my ancestors got a lot closer to home, when I started to realize that the pain of the past was just relegated to the past, but persisted into the present, that’s when my family being a mixed bag started to bother me. Because I’m okay having scars, I’m okay knowing that the wounds of the past can lead to healing in the future. But what I don’t want is for those scars to still be tender. I don’t want the wounds of yesterday to still sting today.
And so, as I read this week’s Gospel, the part that struck me wasn’t that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that Jesus was raised together with his wounds. That when Jesus descended into Hell and trampled down death by death, he did not leave behind the marks of his past but those marks started with him and became a part of his new resurrected life. That’s the part that baffles me. And I’m wondering if that’s the part that really baffled Thomas as well. It certainly seems so because when Thomas hears that the disciples have seen Jesus, he doesn’t say I’ll believe it if I see him. He says, “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.” It’s as if what Thomas cannot believe is that God didn’t do a little divine plastic surgery on Jesus just before he raised him from the dead. That God didn’t smooth over the marks of the betrayal by the disciples and erase the shame of the crucifixion. It’s as if what truly confuses Thomas is that the resurrection didn’t totally obliterate all the pain that came before.
And I get that, because I can accept that a lot of the great things in my life happened only as a result of having gone through some pretty awful stuff first, but what I’m not so happy about is when, in good times, those awful things still sting. Because what I want is for the good things to erase the bad, what I want is for the Resurrection to make the Crucifixion as if it didn’t happen.
This week I had the opportunity to tell the story of the first time I fell in love and also the first time I got dumped, like dumped really really hard. It was the kind of breakup that I just couldn’t shake and my life really fell apart for a long time afterwards. However, as I told the story, I talked about much I learned from my life going down the tubes and how everything I went through then led directly to all the awesome stuff in my life right now. But as I continued to tell the story, all of a sudden, I started to cry and then I got mad at myself for crying. I got mad that remembering that part of my life still stings and that all the beautiful stuff that has happened since hasn’t made me forget what it felt like to lose something I cared deeply about. Because deep down, I know there’s a part of me that honestly wants to forget the bad stuff and that believes that for things to be good, the bad must cease to exist.
I wonder if that was Thomas’ expectation. I wonder if Thomas had no problem believing that Jesus was standing right in front of him, but was just hoping that Jesus would have cleaned up better, having gone through the Resurrection and all. That Thomas just couldn’t believe that the Messiah, the one Thomas believed to be the savior of the whole world, that the messiah would be permanently marked by the powers that killed him. And yet, as soon as Thomas actually put his hand into Jesus’ side and touched the mark on his hands, he suddenly realizes that Jesus really has been raised from the dead with his wounds. And if Jesus was raised with his wounds, then everything that came before has not been forgotten, even though it has been forgiven. That our new life in Jesus is not an erasure of the old, but its transformation. And that is good news because now we can have confidence that when our old life occasionally still stings that doesn’t mean that the new life hasn’t begun. That in the coming days when Thomas felt again the sting of their betrayal, and on those nights when the disciples would wake up drenched in sweat from nightmares remembering the moment the Empire sunk a sword into their beloved’s side, and that still today in those moments where my past comes back to haunt me and your pasts rear their ugly heads, those moments of the past breaking into the present are not signs of our defeat, but signs of God’s victory. They are signs that God is dragging everything – the good, the bad and the ugly – towards the kingdom of God, where it will all be transformed.
If Christ’s wounds were a part of his resurrection, then that means our wounds are also a part of our resurrection. And yet, I still struggle with this. Because I like to separate things from my life as absolutely good things or absolutely bad things. I prefer to filter my world monochromatically, instead of seeing the full spectrum of colors, which is the way God sees.
And to a degree, this is the way I’ve been taught to see things. Growing up, I was taught to believe that I came from a good family, while some of the other kids at school came from bad families. I was taught that the United States is a good country, while other countries – most other countries – are bad countries. But when I sat down for the first time with a therapist in my 20s and they took a hard look at my family; and when I studied abroad in college and started to see my country from the outside looking in, I did a complete 180 and for years my new story was that I came from a bad family and the US is a totally evil nation. Which was just another way of maintaining that same monochromatic perspective. Things are either good or bad. They can’t be both.
But as I’ve continued to be shaped by the God who raised Jesus from the dead with his wounds, I’ve slowly been molded to be able to hold the good and the bad together. And I’ve come to realize that even when the bad still hurts, that doesn’t make the good any less good. And especially now, in a time when our nation’s wounds seem to wide open and we are feeling the sins of our past come back to haunt us, the wounds of the resurrected Christ give me hope and that there is nothing to be gained in forgetting our past. But that our only hope is in the God who never forgets where we came from, but holds onto our wounds, dragging all of us and every part of us into God’s kingdom of peace. Because if Christ is still wounded after the resurrection, then it is because God does not abandon any part of it. All of us and every piece of our story are needed in the kingdom of God and they are needed so that every bit of us can be healed. So that every cut up and banged up part of us can stand around the throne of God together and be transformed and repaired together by the love of God.
At Good Friday, we prayed:
Lord, you are punctured, no longer divided between inside and out, take us through the narrow door from which an endless river flows into a new body – wounded but unafraid;
May this be our prayer each and every day, as we follow our risen and wounded God. Amen.