Put Your Hand in My Side
Doubt, Faith and the Church of The Risen Lord
Maple Grove UMC Easter 2, 2021
April 11, 2021
Rev. Patricia Wagner
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
They were hidden in a room. Everything was shuttered, everything shattered, the cross did not hang before them in burnished beauty, it was a gallows, still there outside the city.
The women, Mary, Martha, Salome had told them their experience at the tomb but they doubted them until Jesus enters their locked room and breathes on them. Thomas doubts both what the women said and what the disciples recount until Christ comes to him and then he believes.
John told this story so that those in the early church would realize that their own fears and doubts decades later were no anomaly.
The church began as a community of doubt. And now we are in 2021.
This past year has left us shuttered and shattered. So many questions about whether God was in this with us. All this death, and division among us. Two thousand years on, congregations and pastors are pondering if they can survive what this year has wrought, knowing that they, we, have all been changed.
One way is to hold fast to our precepts, dig into our tradition. On Easter, I asked you to renew your baptism. Encouraged you to answer I Do, and Yes, to ancient questions of faith.
For those who doubt, I asked you to lean into these vows with hope, to affirm even if warily.
I want this for you, I realize, because after decades of continuous movement rom faith to doubt to faith and back again, that these ancient truths, bear a truth deeper than my understanding.
And I was delighted when you said, "yes" and "I do".
But the next day, on Monday this week, a beloved cousin came to visit. One who is not afraid of his questions and doubt, and he pushed back on the creeds and we worked through our ideas and questions together.
I realized that when I nudge you to answer yes, when your hearts and mind say maybe, or no, is to afford you less than the Christ offered his own disciples.
When Jesus appears in the upper room, he doesn't chide or criticize their doubts. He says, "Peace be with you" and then he returns, meets Thomas where he is, fills the room with grace, again and says, again, Peace be with you, put your hand in my wounded side. Believe I have risen.
Those who can believe without seeing, are blessed, says, Jesus, but so, too, was Thomas whom the Christ gave room to question, space to grow.
So, if any of you felt uncomfortable affirming those questions of the faith last week, If you, or someone you love is in a place of perplexity, quietly or openly challenging the faith, asking questions like
Do I have to believe in bodily resurrection? Or what is this holy spirit thing?
Or why do I have to be so lonely, or my loved one to be so sick or to die?
Why is God or Jesus or the Spirit real to other people and not to me?
The same questions Christian have asked through the centuries.
Then I apologize for sidelining you. I myself have only come to faith because I had space to question.
Many years ago, in my first parish, Catherine, an 85 year old woman who headed the altar guild and I were preparing the communion table, and she said to me: I have never understood communion.
What courage it took for her to say that, that the answers to her pondering have never been enough. I humbly shared my own understanding and questions.
Where did we get the idea that faith communities are supposed to be congregations of the certain fortresses of fundamentalism when from the beginning and through the centuries, the church and her saints were places and persons of knowing and unknowing, of clarity and mystery?
A Church where there is only one absolute: love and that is what Jesus showed us: love of neighbor, love of enemy, love of ourselves, doubting and questioning, grieving and believing selves.
Do we want people who are struggling to stay away from church until their unsettling questions cease? Or do we want those who have question, or have felt rejected or abandoned by the church, to feel safe here?
Do we want young people and old people to feel like they are allowed to ask question anything? It seems so!
In 2019 and 2020, this congregation engaged in a process of naming our Core Values and one of the 5 is: To be a Safe Place to questions, seek, grow and demonstrate who we are in Christ.
I think Thomas would love that, I think Jesus loves that.
The church as a community where we give ourselves and one another space to question and to firmly believe, space to seek and to find, to grow and to be rooted in faith, a safe space to work out who we are in Christ.
Now, we are discerning how to live out that and what Jesus in that shuttered and shattered community says comes to mind.
What if that was the first word anyone ever heard from someone here, felt from someone here was: Peace be with you? Whatever your questions, whoever you are, whatever you have come through: Peace be with you.
Then to allow others to see our wounded selves our pondering selves, our uncertain selves. Put your hand in my side, we say. I am like you.
To not be afraid of other's wounds, the wounds of our neighbors, the wounds of the poor and the homeless, the wounds of the addict, the wounds of the discriminated against, the world's wounds and the questions those bring.
Then to see each other through to the other side of what life will inevitably bring, the challenges and changes and reckonings that will come.
To be a church that lights a candle in the darkness, a beacon that says, here is a safe place to be you, the you you are, the you that Christ is inviting you to be.
What a church that would be! What a church that shall be!
The Resurrection Project
Maple Grove UMC
Rev. Patricia Wagner
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
I remember the moment that I believed in Jesus as the Messiah. The grown up and realizing this for myself, kind of belief. It was Christmas Day, and I was on my way to the airport. And Handel's Messiah came on the radio, and tears started flowing, and I had to pull the car over, and sobbed. I released myself from doubt and just l sort of fell into a place of peace. Of assurance that Jesus is who he says he is.
I didn't understand it all, still don't, and I wondered, still, about forgiveness, how that works, and how a broken body disappear and rise into spirit.
Forgiveness, Brokenness, Resurrection. The counterpoints to our themes this season: Confession, Mending and Rising
Confession and forgiveness is hard, hard even to understand why we need it.
I remember being a girl at the Good Friday services in Richwood, where my father was the pastor. I would hear the women in the balcony sobbing as the story was told and as Were You There was sung.
And I didn't understand it, that lament, that sense of participation in Christ' suffering, that sense that we, too, are accountable. But in my late middle age, I'm starting to get it.
When we drive our cars into each other and kneel on each other's necks and knock each other down or don't help each other up, we need to confess.
This great racial reckoning we're part of. This old, old stuff that has remnants in us, not of our making, but ours to acknowledge, we need to confess.
The prophets told us, that, before we can rise, we have to kneel, kneel in honesty confessing who we are to say, God, I know that I am your creature and I want to live a life of meaning and grace. Help me with my stuff. Show me your way.
And then to be about the mending. Mending is like confessing. It is uncomfortable.
Have you had a broken bone or had a serious surgery? The knitting back together of flesh and bone is miraculous, but also painful.
Maybe it was so for Jesus, too, as his bruised and bloodied and broken body, bound in those linen clothes began to be released into spirit.
But then, Mending is about releasing, isn't it? Allowing ourselves or helping others to be released from that which binds, that keep us in our tombs. That keeps us in darkness.
In Jewish mysticism, there is an expression Tikkum Olam, The repair of the world. Comes from a rabbi’s vision that God created a primordial vessel, into which God poured God's light but the vessel was not strong enough to hold that power, and so the vessels shattered into shards that pierced the world and scattered the light.
And the work of God's creatures is tikkum - to gather together those sparks of light and to help repair the vessel that is the earth. The shards that hurt are embedded in each of us, but also the sparks of light they carried.
Jesus keeps trying to tell us that. That the kingdom is here, that light, is here. That we are children of the light, that we can come together and help one another see it in themselves.
Jesus saw it in the ordinary people from all walks of life. He saw it in Mary of Magdela and the woman with the flow of blood, and the man born blind, He even saw it in Judas who betrayed him. In Peter who denied him.
All part of the kingdom, all with shards in their bones and light to bring forth to repair the world. That's a fearsome thing, isn't it?
We heard Mark's account at the tomb this morning, but we haven't yet heard the last words he wrote. That after they saw that the tomb was empty and the messenger told them to go and tell the other disciples, then, Mark says:
The women said nothing to anyone for they were afraid! Fearful perhaps of the power of God to resurrect, or that the one they loved was more than they thought he was, fearful that they wouldn't be believed, or that others would fear the power of Jesus even in death and endanger them.
They'd come to grieve and been given a fearsome mission. And they were quiet for a time, but at some point they accepted the mission and they told the story. The story in music that I heard as I was driving to that airport and that we heard today.