Thomas

Shame, Scars, and Resurrection Hope

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3–9
John 20:19–31

I have too many scars.

Some of the most prominent are actually from small scratches. One on my arm is from rubbing carelessly against a branch doing yard work over a decade ago, causing a small but inch-long scrape along my forearm. But my body develops what is called keloid tissue, so that what for others would certainly not have even left a mark becomes an evident reminder of my chronic klutziness – and my body’s tendency to embarrassingly proclaim my history, to tell tales about how I what I have done or had done to me.

As I reflected on these texts, I puzzle over this encounter with the risen Christ and the disciples. I have always thought Thomas gets a rather bum rap; who can blame him for thinking some collective psychosis has overtaken his friends? Hoping in a resurrection seems delusional; to give oneself to it exposes us to ridicule by others or seems to indulge in intellectual dishonesty.

Then I focused on the strange sequence before Thomas’ infamous interaction. Remarkably, the disciples do not recognize Jesus as himself – they do not respond with the delight appropriate to this astonishing appearance – until he shows them his wounds. It is not his face or his eyes that makes him recognizable or reveals his identity. Rather, it is the viewing of his wounds – that very aspect of his life story meant to render him ineffective and gut his witness to God’s peculiar power – that evokes joy in his friends. Read more

The Walking Dead and Waking Saints

Passion Sunday

Matthew 27:11-54

The nice thing about having to preach or write about the scriptures is that some time or other you run across a piece of a familiar passage that is utterly strange.  This happened when I read one of the options for the Gospel this Passion Sunday, Matthew 27:11-54.

It starts out familiarly enough: Jesus goes before Pontius Pilate, is condemned and then crucified.  When Jesus died we all know that the earth shook and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  What I barely remembered though was this verse: “The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many” (27:52-53; NRSV).

In a pop culture that is obsessed with zombies it is hard not to imagine this scene as a clip from “The Walking Dead.”  I can see the streets of Jerusalem with rotted bodies wandering through the alleys, clothed in tattered robes.  It would be a terrifying sight to be sure.  Read more

God and Graves

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

We’re nearing the end of Lent, a season that we Christians started by proclaiming our mortality and wearing a symbol of death on our foreheads. It seems appropriate, then, that we spend this last Sunday before Holy Week with God messing around in graves.

Lazarus has died, despite the efforts of his two distraught sisters, Mary and Martha. The community in Bethany has come to sit shiva, when they hear that Jesus is on his way to the house. John tells us that Mary and Martha independently greet Jesus with the same statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The underlying expectation – healing illness to prolong life – is the same that we often bring to modern medicine. In Mary and Martha’s case, it’s a reasonable expectation that Jesus could have doctored Lazarus. He had recently healed a blind man, an event that the gathered mourners know about (11:37). Read more

Break in the Cup

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

David Wilcox calls “Break in the Cup” the “anti-love song,” his protest against the romantic mythology that says all we have to do is find that one person who will make us forever happy, and how hard could that possibly be?

The couple in the song have the dreamy-eyed notion that the nectar of their love should slake every possible thirst. As a result, they drive each other crazy because they fail to recognize that there is “a break in the cup that holds love inside us all.”

I sometimes wonder if by overstressing “personal relationship” in the vocabulary of our faith, we fall prey to a similar kind of romantic mythology, substituting Jesus for that one person who will make us happy. Of course the blessed fellowship of the Trinity overflows instead of leaks out, but such an emphasis on the relationship that always fulfills can make us forget that there is still a break in our cup. Read more

The Womb of the Church

Second Sunday of Lent

John 3:1-17 (18-21)

It is dark, night, perhaps even the evening after Jesus goes on a rampage in the temple, flipping tables, coins flying, would-be sacrifices scattering. The Jews had confronted him, asking for a sign. He’d made quite the scene.
Now in the dark, Nicodemus comes to Jesus.

A leader of the Jews, an authority in the temple where such a scene was made, he comes to appease, smooth things over a little, perhaps appeal to the madman in hopes of preventing further disruption. It’s Passover, after all, and the temple at that. A repeat of such antics would be deeply shaming.

Or perhaps the dark is more than simple night, and Nicodemus wants in, closer to the power he sees in the signs. Something real is at work in Jesus, something light, something that looks like God.

Perhaps, he comes for a little of both. Read more