Archives for April 2014

Building the Kingdom, stone by stone, 5 Easter (A) – 2014

May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60Psalm 31:1-5, 15-161 Peter 2:2-10John 14:1-14

“I go to prepare a place for you. … I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

It sounds so wonderful. It sounds perhaps like what we imagine heaven to be. If that’s so, then it’s a future place, a place that we will “go to.”

That may be part of the promise Jesus was making to his disciples. The other part is in his answer to Thomas: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Yes, we are promised eternal life, but we are also promised that we are already housed by God, fed by God, carried by God. We already have a foot in that place Jesus prepared for us if we but look around, look within and listen. But as nice as that sounds, doesn’t it often seem difficult to imagine that in this world, we should be seeing evidence of Jesus being the way, the truth and the life? If people truly believed that God is very much with us, wouldn’t “the world” be a different place?

Jesus often talked about the Kingdom of heaven being here already – it’s here and now – and that we must be in the process of building it. But we aren’t terribly far away from the kinds of things that happened when our church was still in its formative era.

Today’s reading from Acts shoves a dangerous and dark shadow into our Easter joy. Stephen, even though he was filled with the Holy Spirit and evidently giving witness to what a life lived in imitation of Jesus should look like, is stoned to death by an angry crowd. They covered their ears and shouted. Isn’t that a frightening image? A manic crowd, hostile to goodness. Why? They couldn’t imagine that God would become manifest in Jesus, live among human beings, die on the cross and rise. We might think to ourselves, “How sad. They had Jesus right in their midst and they missed him. We certainly wouldn’t have!”

Yet, look at what happens today. Groups of lay people, priests and sisters are brutally murdered by guerilla groups with machine guns or machetes because they are working for freedom or education or they belong to the wrong tribe. Where is this Kingdom of heaven? For that matter, where is Jesus? Has he gone to prepare a heavenly place for us and forgotten to come back?

Do our hearts become troubled? Yes, very often they do. We wonder how we can build our faith to the point where we can believe in a different world – where we can see God in the midst of hardship.

Look at Peter’s letter and believe that we can drink that pure, spiritual milk that God offers us. That’s where we can begin again, regardless of how old we’ve become in the church. We are offered that nourishment in many ways – through prayer, through the words and symbols of our liturgies, through the example of those who love us into loving ourselves because they believe in God’s love for us.

Perhaps the most powerful way of growing in the spirit is through sharing the Eucharist and believing that Jesus left this with us so we could touch him and know he is in us. There is the power. There is the mystery that explodes within us if we just open our hearts and minds to all God reveals to us. There is the well of power that helps us continue looking for ways to build that Kingdom of heaven here while we wait to take our place in the world to come.

Peter reminds us that we are chosen, we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God. Do you believe that? Do you really?

If not, how can we help you to begin to grasp the meaning of those words?

When people do begin to believe these words, they find themselves doing amazing things. We might first think of those people like Stephen who give their lives for what they believe. But then we must also think of ourselves who may be called to build the kingdom in different ways, through teaching, writing, through the example of our integrity, and genuineness.

Jesus never promised a safe and trouble-free life for those who followed him – far from it. He was always very honest about the fact that “the world” would most often cover its ears and shout, and sometimes throw stones. But if we try – if we believe that we are chosen, that there is truth in the saying that one candle brings light into the darkness – then we are building, piece by piece. We are adding stone upon stone, and we will feel the difference in ourselves.

We need to be careful, however, not to think we have to complete the building of the Kingdom either all by ourselves, or at least in our lifetime. Our human desire to be successful, complete, wholly satisfied, can be a stumbling block for us just as rejecting Jesus was a stumbling block according to Peter.

The Kingdom here will never be finished, it just continues to grow. We are a part, a critical and unique part, but not the whole. There is always more to learn and more to offer of ourselves to others. Evil will never cease trying to destroy the goodness of a holy place. And so the need to continue building ourselves up, but also to work together, pray together, become that holy nation, a holy community, right here with those sitting with and around you.

Each and every one of you is called. Each and every one of you is invited to follow Jesus who is our way, our truth and our life.

The Good News is that Jesus is with us. He has promised never to leave us. We are holy. We are chosen. We are God’s beloved.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is vicar of Petrockstowe in the Torridge Team, Diocese of Exeter, North Devon, England, and is the publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal focused on lectionary-based preaching and ministry.

Baptism into the fold, 4 Easter (A) – 2014

May 11, 2014

Acts 2:42-47Psalm 231 Peter 2:19-25John 10:1-10

In her retirement, some years ago, a woman lived in the English countryside. And from her living-room window, she could see a large hill, at the top of which was the ancient parish church. One of the bell-ringers who helped summon people to worship was a shepherd. In lambing season, his flashlight could be seen at all times of the night, seeking out newborn lambs, making sure they were safely delivered and that the mothers were safe and fine. The young lambs were suitable prey for the foxes that lived in the surrounding woods.

The shepherd’s job was to feed, guard and care for all the sheep who lived within the enclosure of the field. In the gospel today we see a similar imagery. The Jewish shepherd brought his lambs into a enclosure, surrounded by a wall of stones, into which there was a single entrance. Because the flock constituted the wealth of the owner, his available property, the job of the shepherd was so guard the flock, if necessary, with his life.

Jesus takes this familiar imagery and applies it to teach about his relationship with his church. This section of John’s gospel is chosen during the Easter season because it points to the Easter themes. In the early church, converts were brought to baptism on Easter eve. Eastertide was, for them, a time when they began to enjoy a new life, a new identity and a new purpose. The new converts had spent up to three years leaning about the Faith. During that period they were not permitted to join the Christian community around the altar. They couldn’t receive communion. They were at the gate to the fold, but not yet inside it.

One may imagine their thrill and joy once they were brought through the gate, as they were baptized into and through Jesus and assumed the name “Christian.” or “the Savior’s People.” Of course, the step they had taken involved danger. Many lost the support of family and friends, lost their jobs, and in times of persecution, faced danger and death.

It’s important for us to grasp the fact that these new Christians had been led by the Risen Lord into a fellowship.  Today we have become used to what might be termed “personal religion”: “Jesus saved me,” and “I’m going to go to Heaven when I die.”  At first glance, that is what Jesus seems to be saying: “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

The people who first heard John’s gospel would have heard something quite different. They did not come from our culture of individualism. We need to listen with their ears. The words “enters by me” meant to the first Christians – and should mean to us – baptism. We don’t baptize ourselves. We are baptized in church, on a Sunday, surrounded by Christians. From that moment on, we have pasture, we may be fed at the Lord’s Table, by the Lord’s bounty. We become part of those who have been “enclosed” in the communion of the church.

To the first Christians, “coming in and going out” happened in the context of the church’s growth and the church’s danger. The people doing the growing were those who had been “saved,” rescued, taken out of a hostile world. As they shared their new faith and brought others to the door to the fold, the church grew by leaps and bounds. Someone said of them, “See these are they who turn the world upside down.”  Because of their success, they threatened the power of the Roman Empire, whose “thieves” sought to invade and destroy the fold, the church.

Yes, this new community, the church looked forward eagerly to the final result of salvation, when God would rescue the world, the universe he made and loves and restores his people to the Garden from which they were expelled in the Genesis story. Do note that when we talk about the Genesis story, we aren’t talking about history, but we are talking about truth. When we seek to envision the New Heaven and Earth, we struggle for adequate words, as did the John who wrote the last mysterious book in the Bible, Revelation. Yet what is expressed is the truth-in-hope the Christians of St. John’s time had embraced.

We, too, have entered into the fold through our baptism. We share a common essential identity as Christians. We gather in the fold of the local church to have fellowship, to be taught, to be fed. We go out to make disciples, to work for the Kingdom, to love justice and mercy, to care for the poor and the outcast.

Such a corporate calling is exciting and demanding and continues to cost. Today, somewhere in the world, Christians are losing their lives simply because they are Christians. They may live in distant land, but in the fold of the church, they are our sisters and brothers. The words Peter wrote, that we heard this morning, hit hard with our persecuted friends:

“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”

We are safe from such suffering. However, we are called to sacrifice much if we are to gain more. Grasping these truths challenges us to live a much more extraordinary life than merely believing that somehow by attending church we are validating a ticket to Heaven.

Our Lord offers us “abundant life” now.  We are called to build Christ’s church and to suffer for those who are the victims in our society, the poor, the sick and the lonely. We embraced this calling in baptism.

This morning, as we gather around the Table to be “strengthened for service,” we commit ourselves afresh to living out our faith, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “not only with our lips, but in our lives by giving ourselves in Your service.”

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

God’s Passion, our passion, Good Friday (A,B,C) – 2014

April 18, 2014

Isaiah 52:13-53:12Psalm 22Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9John 18:1-19:42

Each year, year after year after year, Christians gather on Good Friday to rehearse this story – what we call the Passion Narrative. On Palm Sunday we read versions from Matthew, Mark and Luke. On Good Friday it has always been from John. Each gospel offers a slightly different view of what happened on that day nearly 2,000 years ago. It is like looking at a diamond from different angles – one sees different facets, different sparkles, different ways the light plays off the gem stone.

For John, Jesus is Light – and His Light is the Life of the world. We call it Good Friday, even though it looks as if the light is extinguished. But for people of faith, we know that is just not the case. We know the rest of the story. We know that the darkness has not overcome the light.

But we do know a few things about darkness in today’s world. We see it from far off, we see it up close and personal. From the tragedy at the World Trade Towers, the tragedies of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we see it in friends and family members who suffer from ailments like cancer and Alzheimer’s, we see it in young men whose lives are so broken they go on senseless shooting sprees in schools, movie theaters, churches and shopping malls.

There is darkness for those who have lost their jobs, for the child born of a mother addicted to crack cocaine, for the homeless, the hungry, the destitute and those without jobs here and around the world. For those who live under oppressive military dictatorships, for those mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers who sit on death row, for those who live with HIV/AIDS. We know something about darkness.

Darkness for John is evil – specifically the evil of living under the military yoke of Rome. Even more so, John and his community hold the memory of Jesus standing up to evil, to the imperial powers and the ruling religious authorities, to say that a lot of people, most people, are not getting the kind of care and support they need to survive – the kind of care and support our God commands us to provide as individuals and as a community.

This month, on April 4, we celebrated the life and death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the church we observe the date of the martyr’s death, not his birthday like the rest of the country does in January. The night before he was assassinated, he had been in Memphis, Tennessee, to support the sanitation workers, garbage men, who were striking for a living wage. In his last days he was also an outspoken critic of our country’s involvement in Southeast Asia, against the war in Viet Nam. Some years before that, Dr. King was incarcerated in the Birmingham, Alabama, jail, from which he wrote a series of letters urging white Christians to join his movement to end racial discrimination – segregation, what amounted to apartheid in America.

In one of these letters, Dr. King quotes one of the 20th century’s most renowned theologians, Reinhold Neibuhr. Quoting from Neibuhr’s book, “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” Dr. King reminds the white clergy of Birmingham that “groups are more immoral than individuals.” It has been observed that individuals rarely act immorally or practice bad ethics on their own. Such behavior patterns usually emerge in the actions and attitudes of a group – however large or small. It is the group mentality, or to quote the sociologist Erik Fromm, the “herd mentality” that drives greater hatred than the individual. Think of the Holocaust, the Ku Klux Klan, Rawanda, Pol Pot, the Inquisition, the Expulsion by the Church of the Jews from Spain, the Crusades and numerous other similar movements throughout history.

This theory suggests that evil always needs help. Evil needs companions! Evil, the devil, does not and cannot act on its own in order to achieve its intended goal. By comparison, “goodness” or “godliness” can always stand and act on its own merits.

This is what is going on in this story about Jesus. Evil had just enough companions to crucify him on that Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Passover, which, that year, was to be on the Sabbath. The collusion and collaboration between the Roman soldiers, politicians, religious authorities already on the payroll of Rome, and the usual crowd of “rubberneckers” always looking for a gory site to behold, was just enough to put him on a cross and let him hang there for all to see what the consequences may be for those who dare to act out of goodness and godliness to speak truth to power.

It is the Day of Preparation before the Passover. Jesus has been arrested. People all over Jerusalem are preparing for the Passover feast. Lambs are slaughtered for the Passover feast. Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Pilate cannot understand that Jesus is Truth. No one seems to understand, even to this day, that God’s new revelation and God’s Good News is not a doctrine or an idea, but a person – a person like any one of us. “A person,” writes Evelyn Underhill in her book “The School of Charity”:

 “whose story and statements, in every point and detail, give us some deep truth about the life and will of God who creates and sustains us, and about the power and vocation of a soul which is transformed in Him, and pays ungrudgingly the price of generous love.”

John’s passion has numerous unique details: Jesus sends Judas out from the Last Supper; Jesus is not identified by Judas’ kiss but steps forward announcing, “I am he”; Jesus is not silent before Pilate, but speaks to him; Jesus carries his own cross and does not stumble or fall. But is there any more tender and yet powerful moment than when Jesus, already nailed to the cross, as his last act of divine charity gives up his spirit – or, as we used to say, handed over his spirit?

It is that “giving up” that compels us to pay attention to this story year in and year out. In both Hebrew and in Greek there is just one word that means “spirit,” “breath” and “wind.” All three are understood to come from God. God’s breath is our breath, God’s spirit is what sustains our life, and God’s wind fills our sails and directs us and sends us places we would never imagine going ourselves to do things we could never imagine doing. Here in his final act of charity toward humankind, Jesus gives up his spirit – he hands over, he offers us His Spirit: the Spirit of God.

Jesus does not give in to the herd mentality. He does not give in to group evil. He remains steadfast in speaking truth to power, just like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ghandhi, Pauli Murray, Pete Seeger, Rosa Parks, Martin King, just like so many other individuals throughout human history who have made a difference.

This story we read together today is drenched with meaning. Today let us focus on the fact that the choice is ours. The choice is always ours. Evil is always looking for companions. Evil is always looking for help. And the choice to side with evil is often attractive. There always appears to be something in it for us, even if it is just the cheap thrill of watching someone else suffer.

The other choice, of course, is to stand up to evil. To stand our ground. Not to give in to the group. To speak truth to power. Or to simply walk away and say we will not participate.

The world is still a dangerous place. There is no limit, however, to how much goodness and godliness even one person can give to the world. If there is one moment to remember from this Passion Narrative of John’s, it is that final moment, when Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit – that moment when God’s Passion becomes our Passion.

He gives it to us. He is still giving it to us. The man who healed people, helped people, fed people, gave outsiders dignity, and welcomed all to sit at his table and share a meal, gives his spirit to us. The question that resides deep within the rites and rituals of Good Friday, however, is, will we accept his spirit?

Will we take God’s Spirit and make it our own? Will we set our sails to capture God’s divine wind, breath and spirit and allow it to direct us and take us to places we have never been to do things we have never done?

The world needs His Spirit. The world needs your spirit. The church needs your spirit. You can accept His Spirit, which he gives away, which is given for the world, not just for Christians, not just for believers, but for the whole world, and you can do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit.

The World needs you. The church needs you. God needs you. We all need one another.

Our choice must be to accept that spirit of goodness and godliness, the spirit of God’s divine charity, and make it our own. We must allow God’s Passion to become our Passion. When we do, what looks like a tragic story becomes good – a very good story. This is why we call it Good Friday!

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Recalling the Resurrected Jesus, 3 Easter (A) – 2014

 May 4, 2014

Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

It is hard to understand how two faithful disciples of Jesus could have traveled with him, side by side, without recognizing him. Maybe disappointment blinded their eyes and their hearts to the truth. In Jerusalem, they had learned the devastating news about Jesus’ death. Despite having heard about the women and other disciples reporting that Jesus was still alive, they continued to focus on his death. They had hoped he was the one to bring redemption to the oppressed and subjugated people of Israel. But Cleopas and his friend concluded that he was not the one. They did not understand how he could be alive or how the transformation of life Jesus had begun could continue. For them it was still Good Friday, and they left for home.

But their experience along the road and at dinner in Emmaus changed their disappointment to joy and hope. When the disciples heard Jesus blessing the bread for the meal and saw him break it and give it to them, they suddenly began to understand. They recalled the glory of Jesus in his last days. And they remembered how they had begun to gain new insight on the road, when Jesus had recalled for them the great stories of Israel’s past and compared them with himself. These actions provided a telling insight into the reality they had missed.

Though Jesus disappeared from them, they now knew they had experienced the presence of the resurrected Jesus. The context of living out their disappointments while somehow remaining open to what seemed impossible, allowed them to discover for themselves that what the women at the tomb had witnessed was true after all.

St. Luke’s story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus is very instructive for us. Like the disciples in this account, we, too, can miss the resurrected Jesus in our midst. But also like them, we can use our experience in recalling the deeper truths of scripture to transform our lives.

Our experiences on Sunday mornings and at other times in worship, for example, help us repeat again and again the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recall the scriptures and place them in the extraordinary context of Jesus, our Christ. And we recall his powerful moment at the Last Supper, when he gave his closest followers bread and wine, his body and blood, to provide nourishment and meaning and direction for having a fulfilled life.

For us, in so recalling, we are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. In so recalling, we are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. Such experience is a kind of reverse post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead of trauma, though, we recall and relive the most glorious reality of knowing the resurrected Jesus and feeling that we are as much in the presence of God as were the disciples of old.

In worship, we experience both examples from today’s gospel account of reliving the resurrected Jesus. Both are critically important – word and sacrament – as we recall who and what we are as followers of Christ no less than the two men on the road to Emmaus. The church recognizes this in setting the Holy Eucharist into two equal parts in the prayer book: “The Word of God” and “The Holy Communion.” The font size for each of those two titles is the same in the Book of Common Prayer, revealing the fact that each is equally important and equally necessary for our spiritual health. We hear the scriptures and experience them interpreted for us. This sets a specific, weekly context for the communion in which we recall Jesus instituting the special meal, meant for each of us.

With the word of God still resonating in our minds, drawing out the meaningful contexts of our lives, we reach the altar rail and literally experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each another. Everything is focused on the love that is God – that is the resurrected Jesus in our presence. Everything is as it should be as we recall in peace the moment that expresses all the values of God.

This experience regularly re-empowers us to walk with the resurrected Jesus throughout the rest of the week, at work and home, at school and play. On our journeys of faith, we find truth in action, in living out the daily reality of re-calling Jesus to our presence.

Again and again, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can overcome our discouragement, our sense of being lost, and go to where the re-birthed action lies. The resurrected Jesus can show us that the forces of evil and destruction will not prevail against the power of love.

Again and again, we recall that we are the body of Christ – and so in our lives, in our actions and in our words, we can reach others, helping them understand the presence of the resurrected Jesus. As Jesus did with the bread and wine, making it his body and blood, God in our midst empowers us to discover in the ordinary what is truly holy.

The encounter of two disciples with the resurrected Jesus came in the commonest, most familiar of ways. They came to know him walking and talking on a road, and sitting down with him to eat and pray. We encounter him, too, in common, familiar ways. The resurrected Jesus is with us, available to us, within us – always, as we live our daily lives.

When Cleopas and his companion began to realize that they had experienced the resurrected Jesus, they recognized that their hearts had been burning as he taught them on the road. They responded to their experience by going to Jerusalem to tell the others.

Can we, too, recognize the resurrected Jesus in the experiences of our lives? Will we, too, feel our hearts burning? Or will we miss the opportunity, ignoring it as minor indigestion? Can we open our hearts and our minds, the action of our lives; to the challenge of the resurrected Jesus in order to live out in our time what he lived and died to prove? Can we open ourselves to the possibility of using the life-giving force of renewal and newness – or will we just wonder what has upset us so?

When we encounter the resurrected Jesus in our midst, will we respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus? Will we respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to meet the world head on, ready to face the risk and change that his presence allows? Or will we do nothing and just add to the heap of escapism and apathy and negativity that characterize what Peter in today’s epistle called “a corrupt generation”?

The disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus that Jesus could be, and was, alive again, that God’s work begun in him could go on among his followers. Can we become like them? Will our hearts, too, burn with the desire to use the power of the resurrected Jesus? Will we use this burning as a light to recognize that God loves us? Will we use this burning to empower us to reveal God’s love to others, continuing his ministry through our acts of compassion and caring to help heal a broken world?

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of “John E. Hines: Granite on Fire” (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

Jesus of the Scars, 2 Easter (A) – 2014

April 27, 2014

Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

We live in an age of scoffing; the people in today’s lessons lived in an age of belief. Of course, Jerusalem was filled with believers; however inadequate, that was the proper way to be for the Jews of the first century. Among them, in that multicultural city, there were many other believers, and gods abounded. But this god, the one who visits the disciples in the locked room, the one to whom they later testify with such eagerness, this was the only god with scars. And that is the huge difference.

It’s the evening of the first day. The disciples are afraid and confused. They are behind closed doors. They have just lived through the most horrific three days of their lives, having lost their best friend and teacher to the most terrible of slow deaths.

But on this day, the first day, they have received startling news. And though they are not sophisticated people, they are Jews who observe the Law, and they have avoided superstition. But one of their friends, the smart and loyal Mary of Magdala, has told them a story that has shaken them. “I have seen the Lord,” she had announced to them early in the morning, and they are not quite sure what to make of it. They are smart enough to know that after that awful death by crucifixion, reserved for the worst of criminals by the Romans, they themselves are suspect and what they say and do from now on will be taken by the enemies of Jesus as an excuse to discount his reality and his message. So they are together, waiting, confused, trying to decide.

And then Jesus comes. Jesus came to them when they needed him the most, and he offered them his peace. It seems that they didn’t immediately recognize him. The last time they had seen this body and this face they were torn, deformed and bleeding, not a pleasing sight for those who loved him. But this body before them is wholeness itself. After his greeting, Jesus shows them his scars. And now they know him. We can only guess at their joy.

What happens next is the beginning of the church as the body of Christ. He breathes on them as he says, Receive holy “breath” or  “spirit.” It is important to note that in Greek the word pneuma means both breath and spirit, and also important to note that in its original use, it does not have the definitive article in front of spirit. In the Greek, the noun comes before the adjective here. It should be read: “Receive breath that is holy.”

Jesus breathes on all of them, the community of them, and to this community he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The baptism in Spirit, as John the Baptist had predicted, has arrived.

This is a dramatic story in two parts. One of the remaining 11 apostles is missing, and he will not be left out. We can imagine his friends seeing him after the first Sunday and crying out, “We have seen the Lord!” And we can imagine Thomas saying, “Unless I see and touch the scars in his hands and plunge my own hand in that hole on his side, I will not believe it.” We know Thomas. We are like him. We are creatures who demand proof, the proof of three of our senses, most especially: seeing, touching, hearing. For the dogs that love us, the sense of smell is enough, but we need more, much more in order to recognize, understand and believe. We need to dissect, analyze, compare. And in this age, when we have abandoned mystery, it becomes harder and harder to believe.

The resurrected Christ, ever mindful of those he has chosen and loved, grants Thomas his wish. A week later, they are all together again, Thomas among them, and Jesus appears as before to offer them his peace. He has come for Thomas, and he turns to him immediately. “Bring your finger here and see my hands; bring your hand and plunge it in my side.”

Thomas, without needing to touch, cries out the one declaration of belief that matters: “My Lord and my God.” He is confronted not by the familiar Jesus, but by the Christ of God. He doesn’t need to touch to know. He sees before him his beloved teacher who now bears the scars of human suffering unto eternity. We also, who have not seen, are blessed at this moment: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The disciples are beginning to comprehend the Incarnation, and they are ready to change the world, even though they don’t know it yet. The energy of God, the Holy Spirit, has been breathed into them. But they do understand that now they are to do the work that Christ has asked them to do: to bear witness to Christ by proclaiming the good news. They lived in a world where belief in a god was a given. Jerusalem, a multicultural city, was filled with Jews from other lands who worshiped the One God, and with pagans worshiping many gods. In that environment, Peter stands up to proclaim a particular incarnate god, crucified and resurrected.

In this season of Easter, we, too, need to be reassured and energized by the presence of Christ. We are surrounded by scoffers. And our ease of communication today makes us aware of the suffering of people we will never see or know. We want to experience the joy of resurrection, not just for ourselves, but for the world.

A century ago, the First World War created unimaginable death and suffering. Poets examined that suffering in their writings, longing to believe in a God who would allow such horrors among people who were supposed to be civilized. One of those poets, a Christian by the name of Edward Shillito, found the only answer that made sense to him:

“He showed them His hands and His side.”

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

We give thanks for this Jesus of the Scars, the resurrected Christ who has breathed new life into us.

 

— Katerina Whitley is an author and retreat leader. She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.