Alleluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
In that proclamation, we affirm the paschal mystery: the movement of Jesus from death by crucifixion to the risen life of Christ, a new way of being in union with God, offering an eternal and holy presence to all of humankind, in all places and for all time.
God’s liberating power is reflected in the Paschal or ‘Passover’ element of Jesus’ story: release from the bondage of physical death into risen life. The mystery element of Jesus’ story is that we don’t focus our attention on how this Passover happened at the time or how it continues to happen in our world. We don’t necessarily need to know the answer, but it is worth our time to explore and wrestle with why this matters and how Jesus’ Passover is played out in our own lives.
Thomas, in our story this morning, asks a crucial question with far-reaching implications for our relationship with the risen Christ. For Thomas, the question wasn’t “Was Jesus raised?”, but “Was Jesus raised?” He seemed not concerned about whether resurrection was possible, but whether it happened to Jesus. Thomas wanted to know if Jesus’ wounds were still there, for if they were, that would mean two things to him. First, there is an authentic continuity between the Jesus with whom he broke bread and the risen Christ who stood before him in this sealed room. Thomas wanted to see that Jesus’ solidarity with humanity did not end with his resurrection. Secondly, on a more spiritual level, Thomas wanted to see that new and risen life through resurrection found its birth from within Jesus’ wounds. He wanted to know that God didn’t erase the marks Jesus bore of humanity’s violence and evil.
Thomas was a very clear thinker. While the other disciples simply marveled that they no longer had to feel the absence of Jesus, Thomas was focused on what Jesus’ resurrection meant for him and for all of humanity. Thomas was wondering, as Mary did in the garden of the empty tomb, what he would be called upon to do to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection to the world.
Thomas’ questioning of the authenticity of the risen Christ who now stood before him by asking “Was Jesus raised?” could also have framed by the following string of questions: “Have you brought the harsh reality of humanity into your new life or have you forgotten it all and thus forgotten who we were?” “Have you put your pain and all of us behind you?” “Or have you captured the worst of what we are, the violence, evil, and ugliness, and through your resurrection somehow opened up that depravity to the possibility of redemption?” Thomas was concerned that if the risen Christ did not bear the wounds of humanity as Jesus did, then little or nothing could change for us, as we would be left without the hope of something new. Thomas was pushing Jesus to make real to him the difference Jesus’ resurrection would make in the history of the world and in Thomas’ own salvation.
For Thomas, resurrection is Jesus’ invitation to open up the wounds within his own self, or within our own world, to take Jesus’ guiding hand and to touch the wounds which have caused death within his own soul— wounds of disappointment in Jesus, disappointment in himself that he didn’t do what he said he would do (die with Jesus) as he had promised when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the crowd turned against him, wounds of fear that had imprisoned his heart since Jesus’ arrest, wounds of shame over deserting Jesus in his hour of need, wounds of horror that humanity, of whom he is a part, could have done this to Jesus. Thomas needed to know that Jesus’ wounds still existed so he could look within his own hard places and find the risen life now presented to him through Jesus’ resurrection. I can almost hear Thomas saying, “I don’t want new life that ignores or discards the hard places of my heart and soul – I want new life to come through them.”
The holes in Jesus’ hands and the sword-inflicted wound in his side, from which blood and water flowed, showed Thomas that he is not asked to believe in a God whose new life in Jesus obliterated the worst of humanity, pushing aside the ugliness and violence , ignoring the places of pain or horror or absence, but rather to believe in a God who went into that brokenness and breathed the possibility of new life into all the shattered places, because that’s how the resurrection can make a difference to us.
We remember from last week that Jesus did not proclaim his resurrection to Mary in the garden by telling her what happened to him, but rather by inviting something new of her. Here once again, Jesus doesn’t proclaim his resurrection by sharing with Thomas what happened to him, but by inviting something new of him. And Thomas yearns for that, that “passing over” from bondage and pain into a place of freedom and joy. That’s the paschal mystery right there. Thomas understands that the resurrection isn’t just about what God did to Jesus, but about what Thomas is being asked to do and become. Rather than the typical descriptor of Thomas of “Doubting”, I think “Wise and Insightful Thomas” is more apt. He turns into a new way of life, just as Mary did.
Thomas is also very courageous. It’s hard to make that turn toward new life, as we probably all know. The other disciples had been gathered in fear and, upon seeing the risen Christ, were satisfied with the feeling of peace they were now experiencing. Thomas, on the other hand, was sorting out which questions to ask to make the resurrection real to him and all of humanity. He understood that everlasting peace would only truly come when he turned, and made the choice to enter the wounds and find new life.
In Caravaggio’s famous portrayal of this scene, the risen Christ, still bearing the wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion, stands to the left, chest bared, drawing Thomas’s hand into his wound as two other disciples look on. It is an intimate scene: Christ bows his head over Thomas’ hand, gazing at Thomas as he pulls him toward his wound; Thomas leans in, brow furrowed, the other disciples standing so close behind him they threaten to topple him straight into Jesus. Yet Thomas seems about to tumble into the wound of his own accord. He is doing more than merely looking where Christ leads him; his whole being is absorbed in wonder. We can almost hear Thomas’ inner-most thoughts – There’s another world in there.
Yes, there is another world in there, in that place of redemption of the worst that we have felt or done or had done to us. Thomas sees it and makes it real for us. It is a space that is often sealed and hidden away from explanation. We often describe this other world as a “thin place”, where the veil between the human and the divine is permeable. We often surrender to this other world when we rest into contemplative prayer, or when we receive the body of Christ at the altar rail, or when we are the body of Christ in our world, or when a cross is made upon our forehead with blessed oil and we are marked as Christ’s own forever. It takes courage to go into this other world, a world not entered into through rationality or an extensive study of Christian doctrine. It takes a brave heart ready to name the brokenness and to be healed. Thomas was not asking for concrete proof of the resurrection in asking to see Jesus’ wounds. Thomas wants to enter into the mystery and he’s looking for the passageway. Thomas wants to move from survival, and lugging his old wounds along with him, to living deeply, to allowing his being to be redefined in the glory of the risen Christ’s new life.
“Reach out your hand and put it in my side” was Jesus’ invitation to Thomas, a question that recalls another Jesus posed to those who needed to be healed during his earthly ministry: “Do you want to be made well?” “Do you really want this thing I am offering you?” If so, “Reach out your hand and it will be yours.”
With the same tenderness with which he spoke to Mary in the garden, with the same imploring eyes, with the same loving heart which now filled the room with peace and safety, we can hear Jesus’ sweet yet challenging words to Thomas, “Reach out your hand, let me guide it into my wounds, let me give you what you need to move from unbelieving to believing.” Maybe it was not so much touching Jesus’ wounds but Jesus’ generous offer to do so that convinced Thomas to believe.
Maybe Thomas just needed to know that Jesus’ resurrection was for him. Maybe Thomas needed to know that he was brave enough to “reach out his hand and touch Jesus’ wounds” in order to pass-over into the new life suddenly offered to him.
Maybe we just need to know that Jesus’ resurrection happened for us too. Maybe we need to know that we too can be brave enough to allow Jesus to touch our own wounds, so that we may pass-over into that new life offered to us.
When we shout “Alleluia” we are not just celebrating what God did with Jesus’ dead body which lay in the tomb. We are celebrating what Mary and Thomas knew, that the proclamation, the evidence if you prefer, of the resurrection shows up not in the sightings of the Risen Christ, (though it must have been reassuring to the disciples in the sealed room,) but in our hearts and lives when we accept the invitation to allow something new to be born within us. Thomas shows us today that new birth comes out of our wounds. This is what God is asking of us, “Reach out your hand. Touch your wounds. Let me set you free. Pass-over as Jesus did.” Amen.