John 20: 19-31

by | May 7, 2023


Meg Peery McLaughlin
May 7, 2023
John 20: 19-31


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews , Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 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.”
26 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.” 27 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 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.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue[e] to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,[f] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

It was late in the afternoon,
the sun was streaming in through the wooden blinds.
We were sitting around the table.
In addition to the weary elbows of family members,
strewn across the table were half full cups of coffee,
some pictures,
her younger brother’s ipod,
the small rectangular business card of the funeral home director,
and a box of Kleenex.

Rachel had died and we didn’t have answers.
She was young and there was no good reason.
The pain in that room was almost as thick as the shock.
We talked about it, about Rachel, until there weren’t anymore words.
And then her dad, he pulled his head out of his hands,
looked up and in what was almost a scream, said
My God, this hurts.

I remember his words just hovering there
and then the sound of Kleenex ripping out of the box.
I watched as the dust from that tissue floated up into the rays of sunlight,
and then settled.
And I couldn’t find any words.

What can you say? “I know”?
Could you really say, “I know how it hurts.”

Do you have a daughter? A daughter that has taken life?
Did your 12 year old son walk in and find her?
The truth is that we don’t know.
It is one of the great conundrums of life, I think.

When we pour out a painful story—a testimony of truth and torment,
When like a t-shirt, we turn our feelings inside out,
we don’t want someone to say, “I know. I know exactly what that feels like.”
Because it’s my hurt, my story. Unique. Singular.
No one else can really know what it feels like.

Yes, perhaps you know what it feels like to lose a spouse,
but you don’t know what it feels like to lose my spouse.
Maybe you know what it feels like to look for a job,
but you don’t know what it means for me, for my family, for my finances, for my ego.
Maybe you know about cancer because you had a lumpectomy,
but you don’t know my weariness and worry,
you don’t know my hot flashes and headaches.
You don’t know.

It is a conundrum, I think, because on the other hand,
when we do find the courage to share the epi-center of pain inside,
we do want someone to put their hand on our knee and say, “I know.”
It is simply too much to bear to be the only person who knows
what broken-heartedness feels like. We want someone to know.

I think this is partly why the #metoo movement took off amongst women in the US.
There was this wave of recognition
that many of us were all in a club we didn’t ever ask to join—one where
where boundaries were broken, power abused, sanity questioned,
bodies and integrity violated. And all of a sudden there was permission, or courage,
to point to the hurt, instead of covering it up in shame. Me too, we said. Me too.

Whatever our gender,
whatever the injury,
whatever the story,
we all have a hunger, I think, a need, for someone to say
“You’re not the only one who has been there in the dark.
I know what it’s like to hurt like this.”

How much more powerful then,
is it when God is one who can say that to us?

How much more humbling
that God’s deepest connection with you
is through your own story whatever it may be?

It was William Temple who said,
“the wounds of Christ are his credentials to the suffering race of humanity.”

Perhaps this is why we have the story of Thomas.

For it was Thomas who demanded to see those credentials.

It makes sense to me that he wasn’t around the first time Jesus shows himself to the disciples. Pain makes us lose our way, grief changes all our routines,
past tense hope it keeps us walking roads to nowhere.
Of course Thomas wasn’t there at first.

The following week Thomas is there,
hiding away behind locked doors with the others,
—all of them cocooning and afraid—
Jesus comes again. Speaking peace.

But that doesn’t do the trick, of course.

It’s not until Thomas sees the wounds that he opens up.

One scholar (Richard Hays) wisely asks:

Isn’t it curious that God could raise Jesus from the dead but didn’t heal the nail wounds in his hands? Was this an oversight? Surely not. The power of death is conquered but the wounds remain. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples, when Thomas wasn’t there, “he showed them his hands and his side.” Why? Nobody requested that.

He was saying, “Here is my signature.” Thomas’ instinct was right in demanding to see the marks of the nails and spear. He didn’t say, “Unless I see his halo, I’ll never believe.” He understood that the Christ of faith must be the Jesus who was crucified, dead and buried. Anything else, anything less, would trivialize the struggle, trivialize the power of evil in the world, trivialize the resurrection. The power of death is conquered-the wounds remain.

It is almost as if Jesus points to his hands and says, Thomas, me too—
and points to his sides and says Thomas, I know. I know what it’s like.

Thomas sees the scabs, the red-around-the edge ripped skin
and then he knows—and out pours his confession: “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas is able to utter his creed when he realizes that the Risen Christ knows how bad it hurts.

Thomas moves from unbelief to belief when he realizes that there will never again be a time when his own pain stands alone—all by it’s unique self.

Sue Monk Kidd said there is no pain on earth that does not crave a benevolent witness. I believe this to be true, oh so true, but we have more than a witness.

We have a savior.
One who not only sees the pain, but has entered it.
One who is still marked by the wounds this world inevitably deals.
One who takes that suffering into his very self
and refuses to let it define him,
one who rises up,
and enables new life to flourish even in places we’d covered over in shame and grief.

When we recognize that
there is no stopping our confession:
we know this is the good news
we know a love that heals
we know a freedom that sends us out
we know a God of life and life abundant.

Alleluia! Amen.