Sermon April 28, 2019

“Why the Wounds”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
John 20:19-31
April 28, 2019

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. – John 20:20i

Jesus was dead. The room is locked. Jesus now comes and stands in front of them. Jesus, mind you. The text doesn’t speak about someone who appeared to be like Jesus. It doesn’t mention that Jesus, now resurrected, looked very different than He had prior to dying. No. The text says, “Jesus came and stood before them.” So here’s the question: Why is it only after Jesus shows them his hands and side do they rejoice when they saw Jesus. John 20:20 say, “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord? It seems that Thomas isn’t the only one who needs to see the wounds of Jesus before He can truly see seen.

How would you have done it? Wounds or no wounds? Remember, God possess omnipotent power. If God could raise Jesus from the dead, then God certainly could have healed Jesus’ body. Right? But what would you be without your wounds? Have they not shaped and informed you? They have me. I am far more compassionate and have a much richer understanding of the struggles others face because I have passed through struggles of my own. I am who I am because of my wounds. Indeed they may define my character far more than the easy days of my life.

It may not be the way I would have shaped the universe. If I had created all that is, I might have done away with the sorrow woven into our lives. How often have I, as a pastor, had to speak of God’s presence in the midst of life’s tumultuous moments? Yet C. S. Lewis has some important words for all those who think that life should somehow be shaped other than as it is:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is, of course, that what on calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life ── the life God is sending one day by day: What one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

So the task of faith is not to find a formula for life that can avoid moments of pain, sorrow or loss. Rather, the task is to find God working in the mist of the struggles. The greatest quest of the human spirit is not the avoidance of pain but the search for meaning in he midst of it. So while I may have done it differently, life’s transforming power comes in searching for meaning in the midst of life’s darkest moments.

Such a moment confronted the disciples that day long ago. The Bible is often amazingly sparse and its words cryptic. We learn that Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus made His first appearance. The other ten disciples had all seen Jesus but note the words of our text. They did not truly see Him until Jesus showed them His hands and His side. So they had already seen the wounds. Yet it seems that most of us forget this important fact. Thomas is seen as the doubter. He alone is remembered as the one who needed to see the wounds of Jesus. The fact is, they all did. Still, I suspect that we would have glossed over the need to see Christ’s wounds if it had not been for Thomas’s absence at Christ’s first appearance. So what I would suggest is that Thomas gives voice to what they all needed:

‘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 the end, Thomas did not need to touch the wounds. He needed only to see them. Oh, it could be that this is how Thomas, along with the other ten disciples could positively identify Jesus. Perhaps they needed to know that their eyes were not being deceived. Was this someone who looked like Jesus? The wounds would prove that it was indeed the man now risen. I suspect that this is why they needed to see the wounds. It’s like asking to see some identification. I suppose that’s it. That’s why Thomas and the others needed to see the wounds. But there may be another reason. Perhaps they did not doubt that it was Jesus, but they were looking for a reason to believe in Jesus. If there were no wounds, so what? Why believe in a Christ who did not bear the marks of life’s anguish. What does an unblemished Jesus have to do with me? Had Thomas lived in our era, maybe he would have found the words of Jurgen Moltmann a reflection of his need. Moltmann writes:

“Finally, a God who is only omnipotent is in himself an incomplete being, for he cannot experience helplessness and powerlessness. Omnipotence can indeed be longed for and worshiped by helpless men, but omnipotence is never loved; it is only feared. What sort of a being, then, would be a God who was only ‘almighty’? He would be a being without experience, a being without destiny and a being who is loved by no one.”1

The wounds of the risen Lord are the seal of our redemption. This is not an omnipotent being who bears no scars but the triumphant Son of Humankind who, by standing bearing His wounds, let’s us know that even our brokenness cannot hold us. Thomas and the others, perhaps like us all, needed to see the wounds if he was to give his life to Jesus. He, like us, after the wounds are revealed can only say, “My Lord and my God.”

Maybe it goes even deeper. To whom do you go when life has wounded you deeply? I do not go to those who have born no wounds. Is it not our brokenness that makes us most open to each other. If you have not tasted sorrow, can you know the sorrow of others? If you have not known the grief of loss, can you sit in authentic silence with those who mourn? No, my friends, the wounds I bear have not born me down, they have helped to lift me up. My humanity, like your own, is not measured by passing through life unscathed. It is measured in out ability to show our own wounds and live in triumph. It was a great preacher of a former era who wrote:

“Do you not think that part at least of the reason for the rough places of life and its sore discipline is to initiate us into the secret of God, that we may through that difficult experience become agents of God’s help and encouragement to others? Do you not think it must be God’s intention that suffering should be transmuted into love? There is a profound truth surely in the remark that Thornton Wilder puts into the mouth of a character in a play: ‘In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve.’”2

Jesus stood before them and showed them His wounds. He would do the same for Thomas. It was enough for Thomas and the rest to see the broken flesh of Jesus. Jesus rose, wounds and all, and so, too, shall we. Let us pray….

1Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1974)

2James S. Stewart, The Wind of the Spirit, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968), p. 155.

iJohn 20:19-31

19 When 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.’

24 But 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.’

26 A 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.’

30 Now 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.