It’s Easter, and I have to say I’m going to miss Holy Week. Though I love the joyful music and the heady scent of lilies, there’s something about our typical Easter celebrations that can get strangely disembodied, at least compared to the fleshiness of waving palms and washing feet and placing hands on foreheads of every shape and size. Why is it that the celebration of Christ’s resurrected body can be so lacking in touch, compared with Holy Week?
Someone – I can’t recall whom – asked in the midst of this week’s commentaries: ‘Why is it that those who most decry the church’s nervousness about human sexuality are those who also get most nervous talking about Jesus’ resurrected body?’ Even more, one might ask, why is it that those who are most likely to fill the bellies of others at a soup kitchen, or advocate for affordable housing and health care; those who are most likely to give to mosquito nets or clean water halfway around the world; those who are most likely to write letters about prenatal care and meaningful sex education -- why is it that we who so willingly stand up for the real embodied needs of our neighbors and try to heal the wounds of those who are most vulnerable in our world are so nervous talking about a physical resurrection?
Maybe, just maybe, it's because we share with Thomas a commitment to reality, and we worry that a declaration of resurrection somehow diminishes the reality of others' suffering, as if we're pasting a happy ending on a story that most certainly isn't over yet. This is where the faith of Thomas is so important to me -- because Thomas is not about to let us forget what happened to Jesus' body.
In John 20, when Thomas declares that he won’t believe until he has seen Jesus in the flesh, he is not just asking about Jesus’ body in general. It’s not a question of whether Jesus is just solid or not. He is asking, quite specifically, about his wounds, the signs of his mortality, the evidence that Jesus suffered a horrible and humiliating death.
It is this wounded one Thomas calls Lord, because no body that wasn’t wounded in this way would be worthy of the name. Thomas needs to know that the way Jesus went was real, that when he went to Jerusalem and his death, it was no joke. And he needs to know – perhaps for the sake of his twin whom we never meet in John– that it is this wounded Jesus that will meet him on the other side of the grave.
In this sense he enacts the central statement of John 1: The Word became flesh –and we have seen his glory.
Jesus' appearance to Thomas is a gift to us as well. He not only offers his wounds to Thomas, he blesses the rest of us who are still not in the room. Those who have not seen, and yet believe.
Perhaps that is why it is so important for us to gather in person. It is why no church worthy of the name of Jesus can ever be totally virtual. Because all the stories in the world over a phone or Internet line don’t compare with the flesh and blood of others. It’s one thing to say Christ is risen in theory. It’s quite another to say it and hear it said standing next to a person who has come close to tasting death themselves. To say it in the presence of those whose loved ones’ flesh is now enclosed in a columbarium; to say it in the presence of bodies that are about to give birth and survived wars and carried heavy loads and undergone chemotherapy. Bodies with stretch marks and wrinkles and acne and limbs bursting with energy.
We dare to say, in the midst of this company, that Christ is indeed risen. That the empty bellies and malaria ridden communities and groaning creation of our world are where we can meet him, wounded yet living, like us, and calling us forward into a new reality where peace reigns and a word of forgiveness can create a whole new reality