Easter II :: 4.28.2019 | John 20:19-31
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.
Today is perhaps my favorite Sunday of the year. It is known by a variety of names, depending on one’s tradition: Divine Mercy Sunday, Low Sunday, Pascha Clausum, The Octave of Easter, Empty Pew Sunday or, as it is still known among my more incarnational friends from theological school, Side-Wound Sunday. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have frequently called this day Quasi modo Sunday, after the first line of the Introit traditionally sung at the beginning of Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter: Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia. “As newborn babes, alleluia, desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Today the divine gift of mind mixes and comingles with the gifts of flesh and blood; and an encounter with the Risen Lord offers us the new milk of a renewed, guileless knowing. As the risen and glorified body of Jesus meets His broken and weary disciples, so too our weary rationality meets and is gathered up into the reality of the Paschal Mystery. Today we remember that when the faithful doubt in love, God prepares a spring of faith, “gushing up to eternal life.”
When the disciples report to Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he baulks. 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.A twin,Thomas is likely well acquainted with the liabilities of mistaken identity, and John begs us not to hear this as a faithless objection. Chapter twenty of John’s gospel contains three encounters with the Risen Lord, and in each of these encounters, the characters perform poorly. Mary only recognizes Jesus after He speaks her name; gripped by fear, the disciples lock themselves away; and Thomas—who was willing to go to his death with Jesus in chapter eleven—simply asks for something as tangible as the rest of them have received. John is not attempting to paint for us a picture of an inadequate faith. He is attempting something much deeper: a portrait of the complex, enigmatic realities of the paschal encounter, realities where doubt and unknowing become preludes to God’s creative word of truth.
Thomas needs to know that his fellow disciples are not simply mistaken in their grief. He is not sure he can rely on their testimony. We all, as believers after the Ascension, live this tension. Thomas’ doubt is not an indication of an unwillingness or resistance to believing. It is rather John’s reminder to us that our faith does not arise from dogmatic affirmations or creedal confessions, but from the ongoing life of the faithful as they move, again and again, from sites of darkness and unknowing to spaces of encounter—encounter with the Risen Lord.
When Jesus appears to Thomas and the other disciples a week later, he presents to Thomas the wounds of His hands and his side. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach our your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”Seeing thesemarks of pain, torture, and trauma, un-elided and unapologetically on display in Jesus’ glorified body, Thomas knows that the one standing before him can be none other than Jesus. This is the theological climax of John’s gospel: Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”John’s use of the word “God” (theos) in reference to Jesus occurs only twice in the course of his gospel: in chapter one and here, in chapter twenty. After the prologue of John’s gospel, Thomas’s confession, growing out of his initial unknowing, is the strongest and most definitive human claim about Jesus’ identity.
The confession John places on the lips of Thomas is to become our own. As Thomas recognizes the Risen Jesus by his wounds, so too are we to seek the wounded yet Risen One. In an era of triumphalism, Thomas’ encounter reminds the church that there is no resurrection life without the marks of our earthly wounds. For, in the words of James Alison, “the resurrection life has emptied death of its power, by showing the form of death (the marks of crucifixion) without its content.”In a culture that denies wounds or pronounces them illusory, Thomas’s encounter with the slain yet Risen Jesus reassures the church that resurrection life will neither destroy nor erase our wounds, but will transfigure them into fountains of God’s grace and mercy. At a time when the church herself fears she may be mortally wounded, Thomas’s encounter with the Risen Christ urges her to show her wounds to a world that uses death as a threat.
The encounter between Jesus and Thomas invites us to consider all the ways we know the Risen Lord’s presence among us, and all the ways God has lovingly transformed our misunderstanding and our doubts. To trust that “his gratuitous, loving presence, is always present asovercoming death at any given moment.”To know that by trusting the witness and testimony of our ancestors in the faith, we trust the very witness and testimony of our own encounters with the Risen Lord.
Today the divine gift of mind mixes and comingles
with the gifts of flesh and blood;
and an encounter with the Risen Lord
offers us the new milk of a renewed,
As the risen and glorified body of Jesus
meets His broken and weary disciples,
so too our weary rationality meets
and is gathered up into the reality
of the Paschal Mystery.
Today we remember
that when the faithful doubt in love,
God prepares a spring of faith,
“gushing up to eternal life,”
watered from the side
of the one who is forever wounded,
and forever slain,
yet forever raised to life in glory. :: Amen.
Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. * Exsultate Deo adjutori nostro: jubilate Deo Jacob. “As newborn babes, alleluia, desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. * Rejoice to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob.” From 1 Peter 2:2 and Psalm 80:2 from the Introit of Mass.
John 20:24 “But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.”
James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong (New York: Crossroad, 1998), 76.
Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, 76. Emphasis mine.
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