April 7/8, 2018
Pr. Michelle Sevig
Although it’s been more than 20 years, my wife, Julie, vividly remembers one of her favorite youth ministry ideas. On a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, adults and teenagers sat around a glowing campfire telling their “scarry stories.” We’re all familiar with the scary stories about ghosts and monsters told in the dark of night. But on this trip, the group spent evenings telling stories about their scars, because, well, there is always a story, right?
I have a scar right here, between my thumb and forefinger—my first and only time needing stitches. I had been preparing for the church council meeting at my internship site. My supervisor was gone and I was to lead the council meeting, which of course meant that I had to make the coffee. As I opened the coffee can (yes, young ones, coffee used to come in a can) the lid slipped and cut the skin deeply between my thumb and finger. Meeting canceled and I spent hours in the ER.
Another scar shows the time I sliced off part of my pinky finger chopping onions. And, of course my biggest scar, right here across my midsection, is from the two c-sections I had to birth my 3 children. (But I won’t show off that one!)
We hear another “scarry story” in today’s gospel. Thomas asks to see the scars of Jesus before he can believe that Jesus is resurrected. And to me, it makes sense. We are sensory people who need to touch, taste, see and smell the resurrection, not only hear about it. “Doubting Thomas,” as he’s been called throughout Christendom, gets a bad rap! Maybe all he needed was a little sensory stimulation to help his unbelief. Because when he touched the wounds of the risen Christ he was transformed.
Thomas would have fit right in here at Holy Trinity! We are a sensory people, too, who value the ways we not only hear the promises of God, or hear about the sacrifices and mystery of the resurrection, but we experience all of this in community, especially during Holy Week and Easter. During these sacred days we waved the palm branches that praise Jesus as king. We gently touched (and washed) the feet of our neighbor, bending down in vulnerability and love. We touched, even kissed, the cross on which the salvation of the whole world is revealed. We held candles and smelled the sweetness of burning beeswax, as we gathered in darkness to hear the ancient stories of God bringing life out of death. The smell of spring flowers and incense invite us into the sweetness of new life. Thomas would have felt right at home here, touching, tasting, smelling and seeing resurrection in our midst.
And, perhaps most importantly, Thomas would have noticed that questions are welcome here too. I can imagine Thomas, like many of you, sitting in the pews asking questions, wondering, doubting; believing, yet with so many unanswered questions. We all come to this place with our own doubts and fears. Our own hopes and expectations. We bring to this community our own scarry stories.
These scars are not visible on the skin, but held deep within. Some of us have lost loved ones unexpectedly, some of us struggle with depression, anxiety or addiction, some of us have lost economic security or failed to get that job or promotion we’d hoped for, some haven’t had children they’ve longed for, some have experienced spiritual or sexual violence, some of our marriages are hurting. And the list goes on. We all carry scars, even open wounds, with us every day.
And not only our personal scars, but we have systemic scars too. These scars affect us all, and too often they are self inflicted. Racism is an open wound for all of us, no matter the color of our skin. We who are white must see and hear the multiple stories and experiences of our brown and black siblings, so we can recognize the ways our complacency in an unjust system has wounded fellow beloved children of God.
The earth is crying out, too, for us to notice her wounds. Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue – it’s a civilization issue. It’s about where our grandchildren will find clean water, how we’ll handle growing epidemics of infectious disease; it’s about hungry and thirsty people competing for scarce resources.
We bring to Jesus all of our woundedness; personal, communal and systemic, and Jesus sees us, touches us and makes us whole. As seminarian Paisley LeRoy said in Bible study this week “The thing about the resurrected Jesus is that he still had scars. Typical sermons around this story revolve around Thomas’ “doubt” and it’s too often turned into a story to shame those who may lack belief. But I think the more important aspect of this story is the fact that Jesus is still wounded. Jesus is not cured of his ailments but is risen, despite – and, in spite – of his scars.” We might expect the Risen One to be perfect—no scars, no wounds—yet the risen and wounded Christ is with us and knows our deepest woundedness. Healing happens, even if the scars never fade away. 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 risen Christ comes to us with outstretched and wounded hands, saying, “Peace be with you.”And this is the beginning of our resurrected life: when we hear and actually take in how much God loves us and how completely we are forgiven and set free to live a new life.
Unlike the disciples in today’s story, we don’t want to huddle in fear. We want to step out together as the Body of Christ and to greet the future with Christ’s love and peace. Whatever our doubts may be, wherever we’re holding back, Jesus invites us today to open ourselves to the gift of his forgiveness and to his energizing Spirit. Jesus has faith in us, and in what we can do in his name.
“Reach out your hand,” Jesus says to Thomas, and to all of us. There is so much healing that we can do, so much power to reconcile that God has given us, so much life that we can help bring forth. The Risen Christ has given us everything we need. Today in this Eucharist we stretch out our hands to receive the body and blood of Christ, just as Thomas stretched out his hands to touch Christ’s wounds. May we open ourselves to receive the love that is stronger than death, the love will never let us go. And may we embody that love to the world around us.