The Second Sunday after Easter
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. Easter is here. Though, as Sue so frankly reminded us last week, it is one of the most ridiculous celebrations in human experience. “
Ridiculous and incredible was how the miracle of Easter He is sometimes known as Doubting Thomas and it is not lost on me that he is the patron saint of our church, St. Thomas’.
One of the terrific things about this parish is that questions and doubts are welcome. This is a place where it is alright to voice the questions and doubts we have – questions about God, about faith, about ourselves and what it means and does not mean to be Christian.
This is a place where questions and doubts honestly articulated and thoughtfully engaged, often give way to faith and hope and very often, more questions and sometimes, new doubts. . If Thomas the Apostle were looking for a church in Richmond, Virginia, he would feel most welcome here.
So here is the story. It was the week after the crucifixion. The disciples were gathered in a house and they had the doors locked because they were afraid that the crowd that called for the crucifixion of Jesus might now come for them. They were afraid because the last they saw of their Lord was when Joseph of Arimathea took his body down from the cross and carried it away for burial. They were gathered to comfort one another and to try to decide what they would do next.
Then, in the midst of them, Jesus was there. He did not open and come through the locked door but he came to be with them. He said, “Peace be with You.” , " After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced . Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. And he went on to tell them what they were to do.
He sent them to do that which he also had been sent by God to do. He may have talked about healing and feeding and welcoming and teaching. But what was written down, what was the core of the message, was how the disciples were to have the authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. The ministry of forgiveness and absolution was what Jesus sent the disciples to do.
For some unknown reason, Thomas was not there that day and when he came back and heard what had taken place, he did not believe it. He doubted that the one who was among them was Jesus and said, “ "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."
In a very short time, Thomas had the opportunity to do just that. Jesus appeared to them again about a week later and this time, Thomas was there. Again, Jesus’ said "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
When Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds, when Thomas saw the brokenness of the Body of Christ, he recognized who Jesus was and called him “My Lord and my God.” He acknowledged the resurrected Jesus and claimed the relationship. My Lord and my God.
When I was in my late twenties, I did a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, in a level 1 trauma center in Louisville, Kentucky. A trauma center is a hospital equipped to provide comprehensive emergency medical services to patients suffering traumatic injuries. Trauma centers grew into existence out of the realization that traumatic injury is a disease process unto itself requiring specialized and experienced multidisciplinary treatment and specialized resources. (en.wiki.org/trauma center)
Among the specialized resources provided for patients and their families were chaplaincy services. The Clinical Pastoral Education program in which I enrolled provided many of those chaplains.
The prerequisites for the program were a couple of years of seminary education, a series of interviews and the ability to serve several full shifts at the hospital each week. On the first day of the course, after a brief and may I say, completely inadequate tour of the hospital, the program participants were given their schedules and name tags. My nametag said, June Hardy, Chaplain, and my schedule said that I was on duty right then and for the next 24 hours. I was given a pager and sent to the ER where the victims of a serious automobile accident were being brought by helicopter.
I didn’t go immediately because I was sure there had been some mistake. Surely my nametag was supposed to say something like “Student Chaplain” or “Chaplain in training” or “Chaplain who might one day know how to be a chaplain but has no clue what to do today.” Surely there was some seasoned mentor chaplain who I was supposed to shadow and watch and assist.
But the shrill pitch of the pager and increasingly frequent loudspeaker summons of “On duty chaplain to ER, Stat!” couldn’t be ignored, so I went to the ER and to try to be the chaplain that my nametag said I was.
The automobile accident was serious and involved a tractor trailer and multiple cars, at least two which carried soldiers from the nearby army base. At one point, I ended up at the bedside of one of the young soldiers who was quite bloody but deemed to have less severe injuries than some of the others. He was conscious and had asked for a chaplain. As I approached his bedside, he began to cry, and through his tears, he asked me to pray with him. He had swollen and bloody knuckles with tattoos on his fingers. He folded his hands across his chest. I asked if there was anything in particular he wanted me to pray about, he said, I want you to pray for forgiveness for my sins. So I said the words and we prayed and for a while I just sat with him. Soon they came to take him into surgery. I later learned that he had been the driver of one of the cars and that one of his buddies who was riding with him had been killed in the accident.
Thomas recognized Jesus by his wounds and then declared, My Lord and My God. During the course of that program, I would see many wounds and many wounded. My sense of competence as a chaplain only increased slightly but what did increase was the belief that God’s love and mercy and presence was real and that it was provided for the wounded patients, their families, the staff and the chaplains. What I came to believe was that the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus were as important to healing as the skills and equipment of the gifted trauma team.
Friends, there are wounds around us and wounds in us. There are wounds in our homes, our neighborhood, city and the world. When we encounter these wounds with our eyes on the wounds of Jesus, we too can say with Thomas, “My Lord and My God” . When we have been with the resurrected Lord, -- in our hearts, in this place, with one another, in God’s work in the world and at the table – we too are sent out to proclaim forgiveness. For through forgiveness comes reconciliation and with reconciliation comes wholeness.
The wounded Christ is risen. The healing power of resurrection love is real. May we greet these days with such a proclamation and live into them with grace and mercy.