Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter, April 11, 2021
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Acts 4:32–35 | Psalm 133 | 1 John 1:1—2:2 | John 20:19–31
The evening of the resurrection, the male disciples haven’t believed what Mary Magdalene told them: About the empty tomb, the angels and seeing Jesus in the garden. They are huddled up, hoping to be ignored and forgotten. That is, to stay “safe.” What they get instead is an unexpected visit. So much for hoping!
Since Mark’s gospel ends rather abruptly, we go to John and hear get this accounting of the risen Jesus. There is this pattern of seeing that leading to believing—or better translated perhaps, “trusting”—which was possible to do in this literal way, only for a few. Note that what we see—these many years later—through their eyes, is that the risen Jesus is one who still bears the mark of trauma on his body. These wounds haven’t gone away just because he has journeyed into death and back to life again. In fact, they become the touchstone particularly for Thomas of his willingness to truly see—and therefore to trust. While in recent times and particularly in the protestant tradition, depictions of Jesus shy away from his woundedness, these serve as an important part of his risen body: New life doesn’t mean that nothing came before. It doesn’t wipe away everything that happens—it redeems and remakes it by OUR participation in “belief” or “trust” and the deep workings of GOD’s love.
I think—often—that we’d also prefer to be ignored or forgotten—to hunker down and hide—out of fear and also not to see the wounds on ourselves or others. This appearance of a scarred Jesus behind the closed doors isn’t just a trick to get his “brothers" to somehow believe beyond a doubt that everything will now be wonderful. In some ways it will be! But the world is still the world. Brokenness remains, with the wounds that are inflicted. While the promise of life in God and Jesus’ demonstration of love and forgiveness is a shining light this Easter, there’s also no glossing-over what still IS. Rome still rules with a heavy hand. Religion is used for power and oppression. Many still struggle with hunger and disease. In I John, we hear those words that are familiar to one of our community confessions: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” We want to jump to the cleansing, but it starts with seeing first. Others. Our own hearts: Something we have gotten particularly bad at. (I know I have.) We think we already know. And shut the door.
This past week at a conference, I listened to the voices of people of color: Many of the presenters had doctorates and additional degrees and certifications and awards. They ran consulting firms and performed surgery. One told about a niece in her 40s with no previous health issues, who was sick with COVID. After several days on a ventilator, the family was given the recommendation for hospice care: Meaning, they expected her to die. When the attending doctor was asked if she’d been given the drug that was helping many people, they were told—yes and that she hadn’t responded. Calls remained un-returned until our presenter called up her own doctor friends, who called the pharmacist, who said the niece had never received the miracle drug. With more connected calls, the hospital doctors became more responsive and the dose was given, and the niece who was given up for dead was feeling better in, literally, 10 minutes. This is not an uncommon experience for black/African-American people in this country who end up in the hospital. They all know this. Many of us just don’t see—and prefer not to: What is unjust, broken. Even when it is plainly in front of us… And yet a crucial part of the resurrection is the wounds that Jesus shows.
Perhaps what struck me most in my conference was the sweet young woman in one of my small groups (on Zoom, of course) who said she wanted to be a part of changing things because she just wants to be able to stop pretending. And have others stop pretending, too. And be able to show up in whatever space—just as who she is. And as thoughtful, seeing people of all colors and races acknowledge- wounded and capable of wounding as we all are—is what we all want: To be truly seen.
I’m glad that Jesus shows—and Thomas wants to see- the wounds of Jesus. The trauma, not hidden. And to actually SEE and TOUCH this part of the risen Jesus. It’s not some fairy tale that there is any bit of suffering that does not also break the heart of God through the brokenness of his son. The wounds remain in the living body of Jesus. And maybe we can move to that resurrection life—IF we bring our WHOLE selves to the table in admission that things are not as they could be. That these broken and unequal ways of relating to and treating one another are not the kind of righteous and justice that God had in mind. Jesus sees us as we are: The good and the bad. In 1 John’s passage, the nature of God is repeated: “ . . . he who is faithful and just.” And knowing this, “this one will forgive our sins AND cleanses us from unrighteousness.” This is new life!
Today we see Jesus, for whom walls, life, death—are now all permeable; Jesus, who is doing that creation-thing again by repeating what God did in Genesis: by blowing his breath/ spirit/ wind on them in order to stir up life. (We’ll hear about this again at Pentecost in a more public way.) And the newness comes with a commissioning: A sending and a call to creating a culture of forgiveness.Which also means confessing. Which will take that trust—because who would have thought that things could other than into further division and dislike and destruction? But Jesus still sends us. Jesus shows up. Jesus who forgives us. And we have the words, if not the seeing, that gives life. The WORD of Life as I John says
We’ll see again soon—when the disciples finally go back to Galilee, that Jesus will come to them on the shore. Once again, they fail to see him. Maybe this is the pattern we are destined to repeat—all of us. And perhaps we’ll have to pay attention once again: Witnessing the wounds. Confessing. Being breathed upon/ New Life. Going out again. Walls being no matter. Thanks be to God. Amen.