We have heard and will soon sing: “The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!”
Perhaps you can sing this with confidence; you know it to be true. If so, give thanks! Perhaps you find this hard or impossible to sing. It may sound good, but life still feels full of strife. Triumph isn’t how you describe reality. Death and cruelty, sickness and sadness remain in the world and weigh on your heart.
Remember the Jesus’ friends. They didn’t wake up singing alleluias. They were confused not confident, shattered not excited, looking straight at death, not imagining something better. They often didn’t recognize Jesus when he appeared. Mary thought Jesus was a gardener. On the road to Emmaus, he seemed a clueless stranger. While fishing, the disciples didn’t realize that it was Jesus beckoning to them on the beach.
They were afraid. That’s the most frequent description at the first Easter: fear. The doors are locked for their fear of the Jews—the religious leaders—and much more. Fear along with the grief and trauma of being disoriented and overwhelmed by loss, the shattered assumptions, and not knowing what will happen next. They were face-first with death and grief.
Resurrection is not easy to accept. Earlier that day, Mary Magdalene had gone to the other disciples and said: “I have seen the Lord.” Hearing the news wasn’t enough. They needed to be shown, not just told.
Jesus came through the locked door, stood among his friends and said: “Peace be with you.” Both the appearance and words are consoling, encouraging and graced gifts. My peace, my wholeness, my shalom is yours. Fear, grief and denial don’t matter. I love you. Peace.
“After he said this, Jesus showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Jesus shows his wounds. Jesus is not simply alive, not simply God. Jesus is both human and divine, crucified and risen. By these wounds, seeing and touching these wounds, we are healed.
But Thomas didn’t see them. Thomas wasn’t there. Again just hearing wasn’t enough. The group didn’t believe what Mary said. Thomas didn’t believe what the group said. Each needed an experience of the risen Christ in person, in flesh.
Thomas also asks, on behalf of all of us, for more: “Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Jesus comes and offers what Thomas needs, invites him to touch the wounds. Touching wounds changes Thomas, and he proclaims: “My Lord and my God.”
Resurrection doesn’t come as we expect. Resurrection comes amid tears in locked rooms, to people face-first with death. In our own loss and grief today, we may believe God is with us, that resurrection is true. But we may not feel it. If you’re afraid or grieving, listen to the good news. You are not alone. That’s how the first Easter was too. Jesus will come to you as you are.
Like Thomas, speak your truth. Pray your need for first-hand experience, for touch. Name what gets in the way. Imagine what more Thomas and the others said together in that locked room. Like them, express and be specific about your grief, your loss, and your limitation to belief.
Like Thomas, speak your truth to and stay in community. Don’t go off alone. Thomas told his companions: this won’t work for me; I need more. Then he waited, and they waited with him … at least another week, which may have felt like ages. If you are waiting for new life, tell a trusted companion or group your experience and let them wait with you. Together with friends, wait and weep to witness the resurrected Christ.
When Jesus comes—and he will come—Jesus looks with love, seeing and knowing what we lack, how we doubt, what we fear. “Peace be with you,” he says. “Put your hand in my side.” Consolation, love and surprising, graphic touch: notice the echo of last week. Remember Jesus reassuring his frightened followers during that last great conversation on Maundy Thursday. Jesus washed each of their feet and then said: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus demonstrated and instructed love with touch. Jesus said: “I’m not your master. I’m your friend. You all be friends.” Love by washing feet. First, let yourself be loved. Like Thomas, show your feet, your need, your imperfection, your hopes and dreams, doubts and grief. Be real, be known. Show your wounds. Let yourself be washed, be listened to, be loved.
Having received, then take the pitcher and towel yourself. Wait with those who weep. Wash feet. Witness and touch wounds tenderly. Put your hand in her side. Listen to your companion’s pain, doubt and fear. Speak consolation, encouragement and grace: Peace be with you.
Slowly, surprisingly, not as expected, we will be shown love alive. Slowly, surprisingly, not as expected, we will touch and begin to sing: Alleluia! Amen.
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