Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Second Sunday of Easter
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – April 8, 2018
Today we begin a sermon series entitled “The Gifts of Easter.” Pr. Joe and I wanted to focus on the difference that Easter makes because it’s not just that we celebrate, eat delicious food, and carry on as usual. No – Christ raised from the dead changes everything! New life springs from death, confidence from confusion, hope from despair, healing from woundedness, and forgiveness from sin. We celebrate Easter for 50 days, recalling Christ’s appearances to the disciples and the way his resurrection shapes our lives as his followers. We rejoice because our lives have been transformed through his dying and rising, and our journey of dying and rising with him. Because we are a resurrected people, freed and forgiven, as we remember each time we gather together, hear God’s word, recall our baptism, and share Holy Communion with one another. That is a gift. That is the gift of Easter.
As we hear John’s Gospel this morning, we are focusing on the first gift of Easter: forgiveness. The text tells us that the disciples were locked away “for fear of the Jews.” Immediately I hear this and think, “of whom are they really afraid? The Jews? The Romans? Themselves? Maybe even Jesus? After all, they have heard from Mary, Peter, and John that the tomb is empty. That’s shocking and unsettling. They might be wondering what precisely is happening and, if Jesus is back, what he going to do with those who scattered, abandoned, and disappointed him. I’d be feeling a bit nervous about what might be coming. I’d be wrestling with grief and confusion, but also guilt and shame over fleeing in Jesus’ hour of need. They were probably just as afraid of internal struggles and enemies as external ones.
So when Jesus appears in the locked room, they must have been downright astonished and terrified. However, rather than chastise them or punish them for their failures, shortcomings, and mistakes, Jesus offers peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The very first thing he does is say, “peace be with you.” It is an act of forgiveness. But the next part is something we can’t miss. He shows them his hands and side. He shows them his wounds. It’s as if to say, “yes, it really happened, and it’s really me.” And the disciples rejoice knowing that it is truly Jesus.
I wonder if this was also to help them acknowledge the truth of what had happened. It’s as if they must face it head on to accept it, to receive forgiveness, and to move forward. When they tell Thomas what has happened, he asks for the same opportunity: “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.” And it’s upon seeing Christ’s wounds, he professes: “My Lord and my God!” It’s as if he can finally wrap his head around the event and its ramifications.
In showing them his hands and side, Jesus helps the disciples acknowledge his wounds as well as their own – their shame and guilt over deserting and denying him, their pain and grief. His wounds are a reflection of their own brokenness. They come face-to-face with their sin and oddly enough, this enables them to see Christ, recognize him, and receive his peace. It is only through confessing our sin and owning it, that we are truly able to hear and receive God’s grace for the miraculous gift it is. It is in knowing our need of that grace that we are able to humbly and joyfully receive the forgiveness of Christ. As Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “the genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve its only promised wholeness…” It is there we find healing.
Twice Jesus speaks shalom to them before he tells them he is sending them into the world as the Father has sent him. He breathes on them, saying, “‘receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Jesus transforms them through his forgiveness and the bestowing of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he is empowering them to carry on his life-giving mission in the world. Because Jesus’ exchange with Thomas offers a moment to touch his wounds, but it signifies something much bigger. It is an invitation to touch and be intimately connected with our own wounds and the wounds of the world. Jesus forgives and knowing his forgiveness, we are able to share that same love and grace with the world. Because life in Christ – resurrected life – is a life of being forgiven and forgiving others.
Jean Vanier writes of this beautifully, “Jesus invites each one of us, through Thomas, to touch not only his wounds, but those wounds in others and in ourselves, wounds that can make us hate others and ourselves and can be a sign of separation and division. These wounds will be transformed into a sign of forgiveness through the love of Jesus and will bring people together in love. These wounds reveal that we need each other. These wounds become the place of mutual compassion, of indwelling and of thanksgiving.”
Each of us carries wounds within us, known or unknown. Each of us has inflicted wounds on others that we are called to acknowledge or confront in order to work toward healing and reconciliation. April 4th was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Part of the anniversary was the A.C.T. to End Racism Rally organized by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. As Pr. Joe and I attended the prayer gathering on Tuesday evening, we learned that A.C.T. was an acronym standing for “awaken, confront, transform.” We were challenged to awaken to the fact that racism is present in our country; to confront racism in ourselves, our institutions, and to stand against injustice; and to together transform the hearts, minds, and behaviors of people and structures that shape society. Through bold speakers of all different backgrounds and races, I was confronted with and reminded of my own prejudices and privileges. I found myself glimpsing the wounds of our country. And I was reminded that without recognition and confession, there can be no change or transformation – not individually or as a society.
We may struggle mightily with admitting and confessing sin. But I take heart hearing that Jesus showed up again and again to the disciples, speaking peace and forgiveness to their wounded and broken souls. Even when they stubbornly stayed locked away in that room, he showed up again speaking wholeness. He frees us from those rooms in which we’ve locked ourselves. Rooms of anger. Hate. Grief. Pain. Sin. Resentment. Denial. … Experiencing that freedom, how can we keep that grace to ourselves? The world desperately needs that kind of healing and we are called, in Christ’s name, to speak peace and forgiveness to those who find themselves behind locked doors. That’s an amazing gift and responsibility!
So what do you need to confront or acknowledge in order to receive grace and healing? What do you need to forgive or receive forgiveness for? In Christ’s death and resurrection we have been forgiven. What a beautiful healing and transformative gift! How might you share it this Easter season? Amen.