Easter 2 B, John 20:19-31
by the Rev. Sarah Buteux
My parents didn’t believe in training wheels. In all fairness, I’m not sure anyone’s parents did back in the early 80’s. It was a lawless time when hair was big, seatbelts were optional, and smoking happened in “sections.”
So when I learned to ride a bike, my Dad just ran alongside me until I found my balance… and then I was off. We lived on a quiet street – a circle in fact – so once I got going I just kept going. My parents waved as I went around and around and around and then finally grew tired and went inside.
That was all well and good until I realized that although I had learned how to ride a bike, I hadn’t yet learned how to stop one. So I rode until I fell – as far away from home as luck and the circle would have it – and there I lay in a heap of self-pity.
My knee was split open and bleeding. My tears were hot and wet. And there was no way I could walk home in such pain and distress.
Thankfully our neighbor, Mr. Conners, was watering the flowers on his front lawn. He saw me fall and ran over to help. He agreed with me 100% that there was no way I could walk home with my knee in such a state which was why I had to – he was very insistent about this -get right back on my bike and ride it all the way home.
He got me up on the seat against my better judgment and ran alongside me until I was going too fast to stop, and then sent me off so I could crash into the safety and softness of my very own lawn. Once there, my parents found me, got me cleaned up, and then allowed me to recuperate for rest of the afternoon on the big lounge chair in the breezeway – my Dad’s chair – with iced tea that my Dad made extra sweet just for me.
That was roughly 40 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday: the joy, the pain, the kindness, the sugar. I remember it every time I look at the scar on my knee.
I know you have one too. Probably more than one. Maybe not on your knee, but I know you bear scars… scars and the stories that go with them, scars on your body and scars on your soul, because life leaves it’s mark on us. Stretch marks and surgeries, break ups and failures, accidents and loss, that time you should have known better and the moment you never saw coming at all.
Scars are as inevitable as they are indelible. “A scar,” says Leonard Cohen, “is what happens when the word is made flesh” ( The Favorite Game). They are the price we pay for being here.
But if today’s story teaches us anything, it teaches us that our scars can be as precious to bear as they were painful to receive. They are not just the story of what happened to us back then, but the story of what it took to become the us that is standing here right now…and sometimes we need them to be seen to be believed.
I’ve been over this story of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples so many times, and like many a preacher before me, I’ve often focused on Thomas’ need to see Jesus’ scars. I’ve always loved Thomas and I really feel for him in the story.
He experienced the ultimate FOMO, poor guy, when he missed out on Jesus’ initial appearance. So Thomas is, understandably, a little grouchy in this story. The disciples are falling all over themselves with excitement as they try to convince him that Jesus is alive, that he has risen from the dead, that maybe, just maybe, everything is going to be ok. And Thomas will have none of it.
“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.” We preachers make a lot of Thomas needing to see Jesus’ scars before he will believe…but this time around I noticed something I’d never seen before. I noticed that when Jesus first appears to the disciples, he says, “Peace be with you,” and then, before they even ask, Jesus shows them his hands and his side.
The Bible tells us that “Then,” and only then, “did they rejoice.” Just like Thomas, they need to see Jesus’ scars in order to believe too…but what really stands out to me is not their need to see. I think we can all relate to that. What stands out for me … honestly what breaks my heart as I read this, is how much Jesus needs to be seen.
He said, “Peace be with you,” and then he showed them his hands and his side.
Jesus needs to be seen and believed. He needs them to bear witness to what he has been through, where he has gone, and what he has come back from. Jesus needed them to see the harm that has been done, the violence he has suffered, that the peace he offers comes at a cost…a cost he has already paid.
But most of all… most of all I think Jesus needs them to see that he both is and is not who he once was. What he has gone through has changed him. What he has suffered has left a mark; a mark Easter does not erase, a mark not even God can take away.
One of the mysteries of the resurrection – beyond the resurrection itself – is that Jesus’ followers have such a hard time recognizing him when he appears. He is both who he was and something more. “Resurrection means something more mysterious than simple resuscitation,” say the good people at SALT. “Jesus has risen, and at the same time he is somehow different.”
Even more confounding, Jesus has risen, but the the world that did its best to destroy him is still very much the same. The mighty were not cast down from their thrones. Men like Caesar, Herod, and Caiaphas, are as powerful on Sunday as they were on Friday.
This is a hard truth for us to face, but face it we must. Friends, resurrection does not make hard things go away for good, any more than the it erases the hurt hard things cause as if they never happened at all. Jesus was crucified and he has the scars to prove it. Jesus died violently and violence and death still exist.
But – and here is the good news- death is not the end of the story. As Frederich Buechner says, “The worst thing is not the last thing.”
The good news of the resurrection is not that all the hard things will go away, but the knowledge that the hard things do not get the last word.
In the light of Easter, suffering is not erased but it can be redeemed.
In the light of Easter, evil is not forgotten but it can be forgiven.
The resurrection does not usher us in to a world without hurt, but a world in which healing is always possible.
Jesus never said, “Behold, I make it all better.”
What Jesus said was: “Behold, I make all things new.”
Friends, we serve a savior who will one day wipe away all of our tears, but not our scars. The scars will remain. The scars are part of the story. They are forever a part of who we are. And after more than a year apart I dare say we all bare some new ones.
They may not be as visible as the scar on my knee, but I think the trauma of the past year – for some of us the trauma of the past four – will mark us forever.
As we emerge from our isolation, we will not function the way we once did, because for better or for worse, we are not who we once were. We will need to learn to live with the holes in our lives, the empty chairs at the table, the opportunities that passed us by, the holidays we couldn’t observe, the milestones we didn’t celebrate, the memories we never made.
And we will need to integrate what all this loss has taught us. We miss a lot about the world as it once was, but there was a lot about that world that still needs to change. Hard things that cause hurt. Hurt we can heal only if we have the eyes to see.
I pray that God will grant us the grace to see and be seen, the grace to believe ourselves and one another when we hold our wounds up into the light. I hope we will honor the hurt and acknowledge the grief.
I hope that we will take the time to remember this past year with one another: the joy, the pain, the kindness, the sugar. Jesus needed to be seen, not just in all his resurrected glory but in all his wounded vulnerability. He needed them to see the holes in his hands and his side… and maybe even his heart.
As we move into this new, strange, and tender time, I believe we will need to see and be seen in all our complexity too. Seen and believed. I think we’re all going to need a little help getting back up.
We may even need someone to get us moving again. Someone to run alongside and point us in the right direction. Someone to remind us that our work is not yet finished, that we still have a ways to go before we make it all the way home.