Second Sunday of Easter, Year B, 2015 – Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
“Put your finger here and see my hands, and take your hand and put it in my side; do not doubt but believe.” So Jesus says to Thomas on this day, the 8th day of the Resurrection.
Earlier this week Jonathan sent round an astonishing video: David Cameron’s Easter Message. Happy Easter, the British Prime Minister said. And then he began to talk about the good works that Christians do. “When people are homeless,” he said, “the church is there with hot meals and shelter. When people are addicted or in debt; when people are suffering or grieving, the church is there. Christians don’t just talk ‘loving thy neighbor’; they live it out, in prisons, in faith schools, in community groups.” We can be glad to say, he said, that this is a Christian country.
I was flabbergasted…and also enormously cheered. Because he is right: this is what Christians do—or ought to do. This is our faith, the road on which we set out in the great adventure of following Jesus Christ. It is as Ephraim said last week: to believe in Jesus and in his cross and in the power of his resurrection is to be people who hope and who therefore care; people for whom self-giving—what we can offer of ourselves to and for other people—to be people for whom self-giving is the truest thing about life. “Let your light so shine before others”: from the moment we are baptized into Christ, we are people called not just to talk about loving, but to live it.
Why? The answer is given on this day, in Thomas’ doubt and insistence; in the nail-marks on the hands of the risen Lord.
“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and put my finger in the mark of the nails and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas speaks for everyone who knows that death is real. Despite all our euphemisms, we do not “pass”, we die. Death is the dark constant at the heart of our life. It goes back to Eden. “And God commanded the man, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day you eat of it twmt twm, you shall surely die.” Ever since Adam chose to go his own way, ever since he ate the fruit and hid from God in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, we are dust and to dust we shall return. We share in Adam’s turning away and in his death. This is what it means to be mortal.
Thomas recognizes this truth about life. In Adam all men die. It is the truth we speak every Ash Wednesday; it is the truth that is written on the forehead of the world without God. And it is the truth that is written on Good Friday on the body of the Christ.
Thomas has seen Christ crucified; he has seen in those nails the life of the world hammered to the cross. He has seen in those nails the sign and fruit of human sin and the death that it brings. Thomas knows death to be true.
This is why the nail-marks are so important. Thomas is not the great skeptic. He is the man who will go to the wall for what is true. He is not looking for easy assurances; he would have no time for the vague “spiritualities” of our day, some kind of faith-feeling floating around in a disembodied fog. He wants to see the hands and the feet because death is real and sin is real; our estrangement from God is real, and it affects us body and soul. A pilot drives a plane into a mountain: the problem is that concrete. Thomas would not say “He passed” (leaving the dead dangling in a permanently unfinished construction). Thomas says, “Christ has died.” That is the historical fact.
And if you are going to say “Christ is risen,” show me the nail-marks in his hands. Show me the nail-marks in the hands of the Christ, because this is the only hope that is true. I will believe only in the Crucified One. I will believe only if it is the Crucified One who lives, because this is the only life worth having. This is the life that is true. This is the truth that ends all strife; this is the life that killeth death.
When Thomas puts his finger in the nail-marks on Jesus’ hands, he touches the turn of the ages. Taste and see that the Lord is good: taste, and touch, and see! Put your hand in my side and feel, there, your hope: because death’s dread powers have done their worst, and see, Jesus lives. Jesus lives, who died, and that changes everything.
What is it that the nail-marks say in the hand of the risen Christ? They say “Grace.” They say, “This is the love of God: that I should not leave you in your God-forsakenness; that I am with you always, even there.” They say, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” He gave his Son to us, for us, even unto death—our death, the life that is hammered in an agony of God-forsakeness to the cross—so that we might come, once again, to life.
Thomas puts his finger in the nail-marks and finds there the hope that is real.
He finds in the hands of the risen Lord a life that is forever marked with our death: Jesus Lamb of God, bearing our sin on his back. In the nail-marks the life of the Lord forever marked with our death…so that our death, these mortal bodies, may be forever, now, marked with his life.
Jesus signs our bodies with his cross, and marks us as Christ’s own forever. Our death his; his life ours. Alleluia.
Through the Red Sea brought at last, we sing: in that cloud and in that sea, buried and baptized were we. Earthly night brought us light, which is ours eternally. Alleluia.
My Lord and my God, Thomas says, to the one with the nail-marks in his hands.
This is the miracle and the mystery and the joy, our great hope. God is bringing us, in Christ, out of the darkness we have made, really out of death into life.
The candle that we will give these children today marks the miracle. Jesus’ night—see his hands and his side—has brought us light. We who are baptized into his death live no longer for death but for life.
We live no longer for darkness but for light.
And that light is as real as the nail-marks in Jesus’ hands, as solid as a candle. This sure and certain hope running like laughter under all things, this hope that is ours, is a concrete thing. It is particular. It is known in the things we do: the hands that reach out like Christ’s, to comfort and to heal. It is known in the feet that walk with others in grief and in pain, and in hope. Always, in hope. Our daily lives, the place where our faith shines; our homes and neighborhoods the place where Jesus may be known. Let your light so shine before others.
For Christ is risen with nail-marks in his hands; Jesus lives, body and soul, and body and soul we proclaim the good news. What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and our hands have touched: this word of life, written on the bodies of Christ’s people as we become the body of Christ.