A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter
The way we’ve shaped the bible into chapters and verses affects how it happens to us. So does the way we read and hear Scripture in worship. We, for example, very rarely read from John 20:31 straight into Chapter 21:1. If we did, we might snag on the way John writes ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.” And then….there’s another page. The writer immediately starts telling us about another sign Jesus performed by the Sea of Tiberias.
It seems like John bottom-lines his reason for writing, wraps up the story, but then starts again. And it seems that way, most scholars agree, because John really did end his Gospel, and then the writer, or another writer in the community, reopened the scroll to add another story. And that’s wonderful, because we get to ask why. I’m convinced that when we reckon with Scripture as inspired, as an action of God to reach toward us, we need to think not only about the words, but about the story of the words. God has moved toward us in the histories of people and communities. But for right now, the important thing is to recognize that we’ve just heard the conclusion of the fourth Gospel: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” There was much more that could have been told, but the writer gave us the story of Jesus and Thomas and decided this was enough—a sign so rich with meaning that John meant this story to be resonating in the hearts of hearers in the silence after the reader sat down. This is a powerful sign!
We could talk about trust, about doubt, about signs and our vision for God in the world. But now, I want to think with you for a little while about how this story lets us see Jesus, and what the Resurrection tells us about the meaning of having a body.
I recently encountered a theologian—Molly Haws— pointing out something that might be obvious, but that we don’t pause over: to be born again, you have to be born. The new life of the spirit requires the prior life of the body—a body that the wind of the spirit breathes new breath into. The breath can make alive the dry, helpless bones. But first, you need bones.
So the body is not a husk or an enemy. As much as we’re often trying to get away from our bodies, to escape our bodies, the Resurrection proclaims the awakening and transformation of the body.
New Testament scholar Candida Moss writes that the way we tend to think of Jesus rising and appearing with his wounds may be a little off. Thomas asks to see the marks of the nails, and to place his hand in the marks. And we imagine wounds; we paint Jesus with wounds; I’ve often spoken about wounds. But the word used to describe the marks made by the nails in Jesus body isn’t a word used to describe open wounds. Used in the context of a body, she argues, its more like a depression or, really, a scar.
You may be wondering why it matters whether Jesus shows up in that room with open wounds or with scars. Here’s why: if Jesus reveals scars, it means that whatever kind of body Jesus rises in, it’s a truly living body. A body that isn’t static. A body in which what was torn knits into scars.
If that’s what Jesus’ risen body is like, the marks aren’t just symbols of his sacrifice, or proof that it really is him. If the wounds of the crucifixion have become scars in the Resurrection, maybe we see in Jesus what glorification is like for all God’s beloved, embodied, wounded ones.
Jesus carries marks of the cross in his wondrous, mysterious risen body because the crucifixion happened to him in his body. That tells us that resurrection doesn’t obliterate our history. No. It breathes new life—life that can heals and grows into the perfection of our identity before God.
So our bodies aren’t something to be discarded or escaped. Our weird, remarkable, rebellious flesh is the place where we are found by and experience God.§
We need to hear that in a culture that holds up the body everywhere as a spectacle, and but which teaches us to be pretty disgusted with our actual bodies. Most of us struggle to have any unashamed peace at all with our bodies. We distrust our bodies. Our bodies are the place where we suffer. We suffer from the collapses and the breakages of our bodies.
And we need to hear that because our bodies are the place where we suffer the costs of sin. The sin of misogyny, the sin of racism—these are, as a great Priest and scholar Chris Bryan points out, evils about the body. He writes “What do they involve if not the claim that because my body is in some way different from your body, that makes me a better person than you, or else perhaps a worse person than you, and it even gives me the right to oppress or abuse you, or you the right to oppress and abuse me.” And, he writes “it is bodies that are starved…and abused.” Its bodies that are assaulted. Its bodies that are condemned to ingest unsafe drinking water.
And if there is in the end justice for what is suffered, God’s healing justice, there must be justice in and for the body. And justice isn’t forgetting, and it isn’t wiping away. Its a redeeming answer to what we have experienced. And that, Father Bryan goes on, is what we are shown in the body of Jesus: Jesus, who knew the struggle and delight of a body, and who offered his body to be broken, receives an answer from the Father—he receives justice—in a body that has been redeemed. And Jesus, the Apostle Paul writes, is the first fruit, of all those who will be gathered out of their graves.
Your body is your story, and your story matters to God. If you are frustrated that you aren’t big enough to reach all the light switches. If you can run so fast, you laugh with delight in what your legs and lungs can can do. Or you are heartbroken at the places your body can no longer take you. If you don’t trust its mystery. Even if your body seems to betray you. Even if you are ashamed of your body. Even if you struggle to claim the goodness of your skin. Even if you hold in yourself the trauma of a wound.
Our story has been written, it is being written, in our bodies. And at our last awakening, the promise of the resurrection is that God will author something new in it.
* Molly Haws observation is found in her essay “Put Your Finger Here: Resurrection and the Construction of the Body” Theology & Sexuality, 13 (2) (2007): 181–194.
† This is the point powerfully made in former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams’ essay “The Body’s Grace”
‡ Candida Moss’ discussion of resurrected body of Jesus can be found in Divine Bodies: Resurrecting Perfection in the New Testament and Early Christianity.
§ Christopher Bryan’s quoted thoughts are found in The Resurrection of the Messiah.