Thomas, it seems, isn’t one to just skip over the fact that the risen Jesus has died! Was buried even! Thomas isn’t jumping from Good Friday to Easter joy, without some proof, some connective evidence, to link death and resurrection.
We all have, or will, experience the death of a loved one. And though painful to our core, it can become, fruitful and life changing – but one dare not jump over the pain and loss, just because we are so well schooled in the resurrection. The dialog between Thomas and Jesus is instructive. “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.” Earlier, Jesus taught his disciples with a very earthy metaphor: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain. But if it dies it bears much fruit.”
Grief is a tricky thing! I will never forget the unfortunate faux pas of our bishop in the NGLS when we lived in the UP. At the wake for Kim’s mom, Tedi, Bishop Tom was nice enough to drive out of his way to pay his respects. But his theology of glory was not what Kim needed. And unfortunately for him, she would not let his office, or even death itself, hold her back from speaking the truth. And so when he led off with, ‘isn’t it great that we can hang onto the promise of the resurrection at times like these,’ he probably, after 15 years, should have known her better. Kim, with eloquence and unswerving focus, would let him know that that’s not what she needed, now. Now, as they stood side by side in front of her mother’s still, and casket-entombed body, Kim was clear that she needed to grieve and remember how Jesus had also died and was buried, and that he continued to carry the marks of the crucifixion in his hands and side, with him, forever. She needed the bishop to remember that we are all ‘dust and to dust we shall return’ – that the pain of loss is real. And the peace that Christ comes to bring us, is accompanied by those scabbed over hands that know the depth of our lives, and all our woundedness.
When our grief is deep, we need peace. Jesus, in his newly resurrected body, appears to the disciples, bringing them shalom. “Peace be with you,” he says. Jesus, understanding the disciples entombed fear, holed up in their hiding place, knew enough to connect the dots between his surprising appearance to them behind locked doors, and so immediately offers to show them his wounds from the crucifixion. And only then, paradoxically, do they rejoice! Oh, here is our Lord! Yes, what a relief to see his scars!
Not much makes sense in times of grieving. Nothing except perhaps, facing up to the pain, and loss, and realizing you can’t make it go away, even if you try. You can only go through the experience, one foot in front of the other. Loss and grief feel like being buried in the ground, and so we can only cling to the hope of Jesus’ promise, lean on friends who water and tend to us, knowing that seeds must first die, before they spring forth and bear much fruit.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain,” said Jesus. “But if it dies it bear much fruit.”
Thomas portrays the paradox of faith to us – Thomas our twin. We don’t demean his doubt, but we acknowledge his human struggle to come to terms with the new reality of the crucified one now resurrected – for we too are somewhere on the boundary of unbelief and becoming a believer.
And, the disciples will come around after they take time to face up to their pain and loss. In our Acts reading we find them a-ways on down the road, when they have already been transformed by this new life, gifted them by the glory of cross and resurrection. They have been united as fledgling-church now, by faith and trust, and this motivates them to restructure how they live together. In a word, they share. “They share all things in common.” Those who are more well-to-do “sell their property, lay it at the apostles’ feet, who distribute it to each as any had need.”
No one knows how long this may have worked, or to what degree it was followed. But Luke, the author of Acts, makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is directing them to form their community around this sharing principle. Today, politicians claiming to be the spokes-people for the bible, run this very principle down as godless, and insist out of thin air, that God wants us to have the unbridled freedom to be successful on our own, individually. Despite Acts Ch 4, and also Ch 2, and throughout the gospels, sharing for them, is some kind of class warfare. Those who are left behind, or left out of their circle of privilege, deserve it, it seems.
But what actually happened to the apostles, is that they faced up to their grief, and they remembered the mark of the nails their risen Lord had showed them. And in this way they came to know that the peace Jesus kept offering over and over to them, was not just a peaceful tranquility to cultivate in their private lives for their own personal betterment. But it was also a peace that was to be shared, and de-clared, to the whole world.
The risen Christ shows his wounds to us, because they are the root of God’s gift of forgiveness. Even in the face of death and painful brokenness, whether done to us voluntarily or involuntarily, we now see in Jesus, the one who is our innocent victim, the crucified Lord who comes back, not for revenge, but to gather his scattered flock – to forgive, that we too may forgive others. In the gift of peace, and the breath of the Holy Spirit from Jesus who has conquered death, we are offered a new way to relate with the world, and to all our sisters and brothers. We are given a grace sufficient to the unity of “heart and soul,” as Acts says. Inner peace begins to give way, to giving peace away – for others! As Martin Luther King liked to say, “justice denied anywhere, diminishes justice everywhere.” Such is Christ’s gift of peace, for all.
I am not advocating that you sell all your possessions and deposit them in our Unity coffers – that would be foolish of me! But I am saying, that when Jesus tells Thomas, “Do not become unbelieving, but believing,” he’s inviting us, the twins of Thomas, into the new life of the resurrection, a life of peace with justice, that does not retaliate, but learns the way of forgiveness and the way of the common good for society. In a word, sharing. When we do the grief work of facing up to the pain and loss we find all around us, it’s hard to ignore – sharing is not class warfare, but it’s the gift of life, the breathe and Spirit of Jesus, in our world.