April 16, 2023
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘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.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” ***
Welcome to the week after. After the triumph and trumpets. After the lilies and alleluias. After the egg hunts and brunches. Christ is risen, death has been defeated. Love wins. The victory is ours. Nothing will ever be the same again. Or will it.
This week I had to take a break from reading and watching the news from Wisconsin and beyond. The Easter leftovers weren’t yet consumed when daily news caused me to ask myself if the resurrection really matters today. If so, then “Now what?”
It is good that my weekly discipline includes this word-crafting based on the assigned Gospel for the day because this story of Jesus facing Thomas’ questions reminds me that the resurrection story honors the question we ask. Our glorious Easter celebrations notwithstanding, the Week After has had its share of disappointment. In fact, struggle seems to be intrinsic to the post-Easter story.
This Gospel reading reflects how real life looks after the empty tomb.
Jesus appears to his disciples in a body that is resurrected but still wounded. Christians put a lot of stock in victory. We value the race won, the mountain scaled, the enemy defeated, the obstacle overcome. We are open to stories of failure, but only when those stories are shared in retrospect, long after the sordid worst is over. But challenges that won’t ease up? Doubt that dominates? A wound — physical, psychological, or relational — that remains? We squirm. We turn our eyes away.
Jesus’s wounded body reminds me that some hurts are for keeps. Some markers of pain, loss, trauma, and horror leave traces that no amount of piety or persistent prayer will take away. For some people, painful, hurtful events of the past will never fully fade. Thomas teaches us that some wounds remain, even after resurrection.
Healing, change and growth occur slowly. Transformations almost never happen instantly. It seems to me that the changes that matter most have always come sideways and in fits and starts, often without my conscious understanding or effort. Anyone who has battled an addiction, or stuck it out in a challenging relationship, or lived with a chronic illness, will testify that genuine conversion is lifelong. Maybe this is why the earliest Christians referred to their new faith as “The Way” meaning it is not a destination. Rather it is a road to walk and a quest to keep.
This vivid biblical story tells us Jesus’ resurrected body retained its scars. They were fresh, still raw enough to allow a doubting disciple to place his fingers inside. Imagine Jesus wincing when Thomas touched him. He really was alive. His presence was sure. The touching provided Thomas with the word he needed to hear the most: “I am here and with you. Death and resurrection are real, I am not holographically with you. I am here with you even in the thick of fear, grief, confusion and doubt. I am here exactly where you dwell.”
All around us, people package and market themselves into versions of perfection that choke their souls. But if Jesus, fresh from his resurrection victory, sported his open wounds without shame or apology, then maybe we don’t need to worry so much about glossy presentation. Maybe Christianity’s best appeal is in its willingness to embrace bodies of real scars, hearts of real pain.
Jesus honored the body, bruised, wounded and scarred. The wounds we live with aren’t pretty, and they don’t tell the whole story of who we are. But the stories they tell are holy. If Jesus himself didn’t fear the bruised and the wounded, then perhaps those of us walking in his footsteps don’t need to fear them.
Thomas teaches us so much. He yearned for a living encounter with Jesus, not settling for someone else’s experience of resurrection. A man who dared to confess uncertainty in the midst of those who were certain. A man who recognized the Divine in woundedness, not glory.
Thomas had to wait in suspense and uncertainty for a whole week after his friends first told him they’d seen Jesus. Imagine what that week felt like for him. Imagine his prayers.
Yet, without shame or guilt, Thomas spoke openly, questioning whether the resurrection was real: “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.” Yet, his faith community allowed him to speak plainly. Imagine if all Christian churches today were so gracious and tolerant.
Imagine if all Christians embraced the Jesus who encounters Thomas right where he was, freely offering him the evidence of his own wounds and pain. Imagine the tenderness and urgency with which Thomas was able to repeat Jesus’s words to other doubters: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Because isn’t this all of us at one time or another? Don’t we all wrestle with hidden doubts and fears? Don’t we all wonder sometimes if the miracle of resurrection will hold in those dark, painful, uncertain times?
Thomas offers the reassurance that faith doesn’t have to be straightforward; the business of embracing resurrection, of living it out, of sharing it with the world, is tough. It’s okay to waver. It’s okay to take our time. It’s okay to hope for more.
Wounds and doubts. The encounter between them is what life looks like after the tomb. When Thomas’s doubts met Jesus’s wounds, new life burst out, faith blossomed, and the community grew. Resurrection happened all over again. During this Week After, may the same be true for us and this world.
Image:1) newwaysministry.org; 2) Communio