Craig Wiley has served as pastoral intern at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church during the 2013-14 school year. He has worked extensively with our youth programs, in particular the Love of God student-led retreat program. I am grateful for his presence and company along the road this year.
Craig preached this sermon last Sunday, on John 20:19-31, the story of Doubting Thomas. I was deeply moved and asked permission to share it. He has graciously provided the transcript for his sermon. Thank you, Craig!
We start in a dark room – maybe lamplight, maybe still a bit of evening glow through a window. No light through any doorways, though. The doors are shut and the disciples huddle together. The resurrection has already happened, Jesus has been seen by Mary Magdalene – but his disciples, theones who remain of the twelve, still live in the wake of the crucifixion, in terror, doubt, and loss. They are together, but in fear. Like many of us, they have chosen to live with their loss and their pain and their fear of more loss and more pain by locking the door. By shutting out the outside world. Best to keep it that way for now – best not to let word get out where we are.
–Hey where’s Thomas?
– I thought you were getting Thomas!
– Is someone going to go get Thomas?
– Nah it’s getting dark. Just lock the doors and hope he remembers the secret knock. We’ll have to do our cowering without him.
– So is everyone else here? Well, we’re missing Judas and we’re missing Thomas, so 12 minus two should be – six-seven-eight-nine ten….eleven? Eleven
And then an oddly familiar voice says “PEACE TO YOU.” And there he stands. Jesus. Not kicking down the door or leading armies of angels or even standing at the door to knock. He appears already in their midst, where they are afraid, where they are locked in, where they have shut out the frightening world. And he speaks – “PEACE” – before ten different apologies can come out of ten different mouths. He does not wait. He shows them his hands and he shows them his side. His wounds, still open, his lacerations, the place he was pierced where the nails made prints and the spear was thrust in.
I am no medical professional, but it seems to me that “puncture wound” is an easier fix than “dead three days.” Jesus has been raised to life again and entered the apostles locked room. The one who healed the lame and made the blind to see and made the lame to walk could have said to his flesh “cover my wound” and it would do his will. Or perhaps he might demand heavenly stitches to suture up that place where the open air is entering his side.
So it seems that Christ has here made a choice in appearing before his disciples. Christ has chosen wounded hands. Whether in memory of his love shared on that cross or of its pain, those wounded hands are now a part of who God is. It is those wounds that show to his disciples who he truly is: a savior who has chosen wounded hands.
Seeing those wounded hands might change how you hear those words, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” Those holes in the skin come from the place Christ was sent. To be sent into the world can come with a cost. It also comes with power: “whenever you release someone’s sins, they are released; but when you hold them, they are held.” Christ gives thisterrifying power into the hands of those who have stumbled and gotten it wrong time and time and time again; the people in the locked room, the forsakers, the cowards. The chosen.
These are the people who are sent as Christ is sent? The same reaction is one that can turn inward: We are sent as Christ is sent? Me? There have to be braver and smarter and better people to send, to make these choices. People who haven’t spent so much time wearing sweatpants on the couch, eating Cheetos and watching daytime TV. People who don’t have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. People who have done less drinking and less smoking and paid more attention to the people around them and never avoid making eye-contact with those in need. Who never lash out at the people who love them or say hurtful things to their family and friends orfeel like drop-kicking something over comments about us. People get hit hard and pickthemselves right back up. Who don’t get so exhausted and worn out and pull back from the work they have set out to do. Who take every adversity with patience. People not laid low by life, who do not feel trapped nursing so many wounds. People who do not hold on so tightly to their hurts.
Surely Jesus could choose people who spring forth and stride tall and strong in the full light of day, people who will be healing hands and tireless feet and shine like a beacon and lift high the banner of the Gospel. Who will make people point and cheer and say “Look! See! These, these here are the hands and the feet of God who shine in this dark world!”
But what we have seen of Christ, here in the locked room, is that Christ has chosen wounded hands. And now Christ has chosen wounded people, to go, to be his wounded hands in the world. Those wounded people are sitting afraid in their locked room.
Of course, they won’t be staying there. He is sending them out. But first he breathes on them. He says “receive the Holy Spirit.” Why breathing? This is 1800 years, by the way, before the invention of Listerine) Why not laying on of hands, or a simple declaration, or the descent of a dove from heaven? There’s precedent for any of those.
If you take your Bible in your hand and flip backward, back before the Gospels, before the prophets, before the story of the exile, past King David and Moses, and Abraham, past the first wounds and the first guilt, to Genesis 2, you can read an old old story of who we are:
God took up the dirt – the dust and the clay – and shaped the muddy shape of HUMANand molded nostrils and BREATHED life into those nostrils. And the human became a living being. Whatever we may have done after, that’s what we have remained: walking clay, breathing mud, dust brought to life by the breath of God.
And much later, Christ took on that same flesh, became that clay and that dust. And his clay hands were wounded by iron nails and hung on a wood cross. And he surrendered his spirit and stopped breathing. And then in the tomb – only wounds in the lifeless dust of dead flesh.
And on the third day when the Word of God rose by the spirit of God, he took that wounded clay into his new life. And he returned to that locked room, to those frightened, hidinglumps of clay. He showed them that body which had been brought down to the dust.
And he breathed on them. Just as God breathed into the mud and the clay and gave it life so Christ breathed upon the disciples, upon their wounded and fearful clay, and gave to them the new life which he lives in the Holy Spirit. This is something new. This is something we have never been before. Something beyond that first human, that first Adam. This is re-Creation.
This is what we are given by the risen Christ. Paul means it when he says “whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” We are new creations in Christ’s death and resurrection.
We may have kept our wounds –- our doubts and fears and deep hurts -- hidden from the world in locked rooms. We put up in our internal defenses, bar the doors, to stay safe from the outside world. But Christ already meets us there, and breathes his new life into our Cheetos-eating, couch-sitting, wounded lives. Christ sends us from those locked rooms, out of our comfortable defenses, to be his hands and his feet in the world. Even marked by all our wounds and scars.
And so the disciples – some of those first wounded hands Christ has chosen, go out to do just that. And they try to convey this new life to one of their number. To Thomas.
Thomas is one of the few unlucky enough to have a nickname that stuck – “Doubting Thomas.” It’s a bit unfair: after all, you don’t hear people call others “squabbling James and John” or “Denies-three-times-Peter.” Thomas has been deeply wounded by what happened toChrist, and by his own absence from the company of the apostles on that first Easter evening. He faces deep wounds of doubt.
And the ten who were there – they fail to convey to him the new life that they have been given. They can’t do justice to what they have seen. They are preaching the Gospel to someone who saw Christ work miracles; someone who is one of the twelve disciples. There are ten of them, all talking about what they have seen. This should be the easiest it ever gets and they blow it! “Doubting Thomas” is accurate, but it might also be accurate to say “Lousy evangelist apostles.”
Still, the disciples remain sent. In all their follies and flaws and in all of their bumbling, Christ has chosen them and will continue to choose them. He has entrusted into their hands the work of the forgiveness of sins. They will grow day by day into the new life they have been given. They will be healing hands and tireless feet and shine like a beacon and lift high the banner of the Gospel – even in all of their weakness and wounds – because it depends not on their own power but on the power of God.
As for Thomas: he does receive the new life – what all of the words of all of his friends could not accomplish is indeed accomplished. He encounters the risen Christ. He takes his hand and he thrusts it along the path that the hammer and the nails took, into Christ’s wounded hands and wounded side.
And Thomas’ wounds of doubt make his proclamation shine out all the brighter. His exclamation is one of the sharpest exclamations in all of the Gospels of who Jesus is:
“MY LORD AND MY GOD.”