Acts 2:14a, 22-32 • 1 Peter 1:3-9 • John 20:19-31
One of my favorite current TV shows is Modern Family. Do any of you watch it? Did you see the one from last week where Phil Dunfee went to Australia for a vacation because he had been conceived there, and his mother had always wanted him to go and visit? He’s finally decided to go fulfill her dying wish, and the rest of the family decided to tag along.
The problem is that things don’t go very well for Phil. As soon as they arrive he has an allergic reaction to a local fruit. Then he gets stung by a jellyfish. Then, in one of the best physical bits I’ve seen in a long time, he gets punched in the eye by a kangaroo that he thinks is the spirit of his mother. That’s worth the half-hour all by itself.
To add insult to injury, the rest of the family keeps deserting him all along the way, leaving him to face his trials mostly alone.
Finally, when Phil Dunfee has had enough he walks to a deserted rocky plateau above the ocean. The sun in setting and the sky is a brilliant pink. It is a perfectly idyllic setting… and he slaps his neck where a bug has just stung him. He cries out, “Why, Australia, why!” And suddenly from behind him someone says, “Hey mate.”
Phil wheels around to see a man right behind him, hands on hips. “Everything ok here? If you don’t mind me saying, you look a bit beaten up.”
“I love your country,” Phil tells him, “but your country doesn’t love me back. Australia’s rejected me.”
In response, the man shows Phil a huge semi-circular scar on his left forearm. “You see this right here? That’s from a croc bite.” He turns around. “This one here on my back. I was hit by a tram in Melbourne. This right here, that’s an irregular mole… I should probably get that checked out.”
“The point is,” he continues, “Australia is nice to tourists, but it is tough on its own people. Congratulations mate, you’re one of us.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Phil asks.
“I think I am,” comes the reply.
“I’m Crocodile Dunfee.”
“That’s not what I was saying at all.” He says.
Have you found yourself wondering why Thomas needed to see the wounds in order to believe that this was really Jesus, risen, that had appeared to Mary and to the others? Have you wondered why he had to see and touch before he could believe this resurrection story so many of his friends had told him about?
Thomas wasn’t the only one to have doubts, after all. He is given the moniker “doubting Thomas” as if he is the designated doubter, but Mary Magdalene did not believe until the risen Christ spoke to her directly and personally. The disciples dismissed Mary’s affirmation that she had seen the Lord because they had not seen for themselves. And they locked themselves in a room to hide.
I suppose one response to the question is that they all needed living proof. They needed verifiable evidence. But if that were the case, then we all are in trouble, aren’t we? You and I missed Easter by almost 2000 years. We have never lived at any time other than the time after Easter. We did not see and touch and experience it for ourselves. We can hear and witness, but we were not really there.
And, for that matter, neither did the author of John. That gospel wasn’t written until at least 60 years after that first Easter. And as much as we might like to think otherwise, it likely wasn’t written by eyewitnesses. It was written by someone within the second generation of the early Christian community.
So it’s not the actual, physical scars of Jesus, I suspect, that lead to faith, as if faith were some kind of science experiment. In fact, in the gospels, faith is never a noun. It is never a thing. It is always a verb. It is always something that is done. It is always something that we do.
And, as Crocodile Dunfee realized, it can sometimes be rough on its own people.
And as true as that is, I don’t think that’s the whole story. Or else, why would we do this thing? Why would we follow this one and this way known only by this story that has been handed to us—surely a tenuous, fragile thing if there ever was one.
I think the astonishing truth of Easter faith is this: it is known by its scars. As ironic and unlikely as it sounds to our modern, American ears, faith is known by its suffering if it is known by anything. Faithful people have many scars to show for their efforts. There are times we walk out into the crosswalk to help someone across only to get flattened by a well-meaning but horribly off-the-mark tram. As often as not it seems we are bitten by the mouth we seek to feed.
Faith is known by its scars, and by the forgiveness and the hope we carry of new life on the other side of them. Christ is known by the story of love that our own scars tell.
To put it simply, life is not easy, and it most certainly isn’t fair. At our best we are hurt by people who at least mean well. Life is filled with scars.
And the thing is, this is no less true for people without faith as it is people of faith. I do believe, though, that there is a difference. And it is a difference that makes all the difference in the world.
If we follow this one with scars on his hands and feet and side, we understand that he heals us by way of our own scars. We do not seek out our injuries, mind you. Nor should we. Nor does our faith ask us to. It simply acknowledges they will come, rest assured. And it gently puts its fingers in the holes where the nails went, and sees in them a fundamental move toward love, toward self-giving that makes a way for us to move toward life.
Perhaps you noticed that three times in this gospel story the risen Christ breathes peace on these frightened, uncertain, and doubting disciples. I suspect it was not so much a hollow gesture, as it was a response to a huge need—a need for peace. A huge need to go firmly in the midst of trying, fearful, uncertain circumstances.
It makes me think of that thing we do just about every time we gather together for worship, right before we sing that great song I am growing to love with its great bass line and movement: Glory to God, whose goodness shines on me. We sing that in response to sharing peace with one another. Now, I know that sometimes that’s just another way for us to say good morning, to catch up on the news, to check in. That’s ok.
But at its best it is so much more. It is a prayer. It is a gesture of good will and self-giving. It is a blessing of deep peace for someone else we are connected to not by blood, not by mutual benefit, but only by virtue of this one who shows us that peace comes by way of our bearing our injuries and carrying our scars with love for the sake of others. This is the only way that I know of that seems to have any promise to it. It is the only way I know of where the breath of life seems to be blowing. It is the only way of new life emerging from death, of hope resurrected, of Easter—whether in your families, your work or anywhere else you find yourselves.
To put it another way, this seems to be the way of love—a love that can transform, a love that can change me and you. My best sense is that this is the only real way we encounter the risen Christ today: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet come to believe,” Jesus tells Thomas. And the way this happens, I believe, is in the evidence of woundedness that our love bears for the sake of one another.
Christ is known by the story of love that our own scars tell.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve wondered about this business of forgiveness, and how it ends up in this story. Do you remember this part?
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.”
It’s always left me scratching my head a bit. But now, I think it makes perfect sense. Forgiveness is what happens on the other side of injury. It is, in fact, the only way forward once injury has been done. And as you well know, forgiveness is not a given. It is just as easy to bear a grudge with our scars. But forgiveness is, I believe, the only way by which new life can be found—for us and for others: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.
It is this grace that we can offer for one another, this peace that we can give, that is in our power to give, by virtue of our own wounded hands and feet and hearts, that has the power to unleash new life. And we have this power because we too have been forgiven. The Spirit of God breathes into it.
You see, at the heart of this Easter story is the understanding that grace—that undeserved kindness and generosity, that forgiveness—is the only way to bring about the fullness of life that we crave. Hearts are not changed with force. They are changed by the love we have first encountered in the scars of the one who says, “Do not doubt, but believe.” Our most intimate and important relationships are only nurtured by truth-telling that is accompanied by forgiveness. Only love breeds love. Only forgiveness breeds peace. Only this way gives way to new life.
Thanks be to God.
St. Andrew Sermons