Br. Luke DitewigJohn 20:19-31

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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11 Comments

  1. Roben Campbell on April 15, 2020 at 06:54

    Dear Br Luke,

    Since I was a child I have found Holy Week deeply disturbing, that is, with my feelings and much less my mind. I am now seventy one, and the inner disturbance still repeats itself, usually preventing me from being part of the Easter Day celebration. This year (2020) because of coronavirus I performed a private Tenebrae service with great angst, and at the point where Peter denies a second time a dam broke inside me and the effect of it was the most immense powerful feeling of love, for Peter, for Jesus, gratitude and appreciation for the intensity of the drama, similar to the seven last words of Christ. Your words meant much to me, I am no longer an island apart from the main. Thank you.

    Roben Campbell

  2. Sally Baynton on April 14, 2020 at 09:45

    My family and friends took the opportunity to worship virtually this past Holy Week. We were able to sit in silence and reflect on how God has so loved us that He gave up His only son for each of us. To that end, we have reconnected with him in a brilliant new way….through meditation, silence, and contemplation. His love knows NO boundaries!

  3. Sue on April 13, 2020 at 22:54

    Thank you so much, Br. Luke. I forwarded your thoughts to my friend Ginny whose husband recently died of COVID-19. She as very touched by your insight. God bless you!

  4. Alison Inglis on April 13, 2020 at 15:23

    This is such a timely message for this last couple of COVID months and this Easter season. Thank you so much for helping us to embrace the weakness of our humanity and Jesus’s understanding and love for us despite our fears and doubts. This is so comforting – that we can be real with Him with the whole range of our frailness.

  5. Margo on April 13, 2020 at 11:03

    Dear Br. Luke, Your non triumphantilist, gentle, unexpected description of how one comes to know resurrection really resonates with me. This I have experienced, This I know. Thank you.
    Happy Easter. Margo

  6. Rosemary Feal on April 13, 2020 at 10:27

    It’s astounding that you gave this sermon five years ago. It brought me comfort this Easter Monday. You opened up the path that might allow me to accept grief, confusion, and doubt this Easter, and ask only to be with Jesus and to let him into my heart.

  7. Brent on April 13, 2020 at 10:08

    Thank you for these profoundly moving insights, Luke. It is indeed hard right now–and not just right now–to see the risen Christ through the fog of disease, fear, misery and decline that are part of our human condition. Thankfully there is Jesus on the far side, and your words help me–us–to recognize him. Blessings to you.

  8. Jeanne DeFazio on April 13, 2020 at 09:28

    Thanks for these comforting words!

  9. Brenda Griffing on April 13, 2020 at 08:46

    Timeless, yet so very timely. Thank you, Br. Luke.

  10. The Rev. Victoria L. Collins, deacon (retired) on April 13, 2020 at 07:32

    In thanksgiving for your life and ministry:
    SEPARATION
    Our Lord Jesus Christ knows about the pain of separation, loneliness and grief.
    A valued and trusted friend denied he ever knew him.
    Isaiah 53:3 Revised Standard Version (RSV) 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
    A chosen companion sold him to his enemies.
    Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. — Isaiah 53: 4-5
    He was abandoned by those who feared for their own safety.
    45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land[a] until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — Matthew 27: 45-46
    After the devastating loneliness and separation of the cross, he chose to deny any personal contact with Mary Magdalene as he still had a journey to complete. His parting words to her were “No” and “Go”. And he remained alone once again.
    John 20:17 (RSVA) Jesus said to (Mary Magdalene) “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
    It is hard to imagine his anguish as he maintained his physical distance from any earthly comfort or consolation until his heavenly mission was complete. And impossible to comprehend the grief of Mary Magdalene as she was once again denied any contact with the Lord she loved.

    The Good News: As Jesus foretold, because he has returned to his Father his work of salvation is complete. He is eternally alive, and he is eternally present in power and mercy to all who believe in him and seek him.
    And he has promised, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Amen. — Matthew 28:20

  11. Ruth Wilcox on April 13, 2020 at 07:31

    Easter 2020 found many who were alone, isolated and fearful. Closer to how the disciples must have felt that first morning of resurrection. Thank you for telling the resurrection story in a way that each of us could take it to our heart’s and feel God’s love for us in such a big way.

    R. E. Wilcox

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