Photo credit: Phillipp Birmes
Readings: Psalm 16, John 20:19-22, 24-28, Divine Providence 3:2 (see below)
See also on YouTube here
So, here we are, the Sunday after Easter. Depending where you are in the world, spring continues to abound, I know it does here. As the world bursts into bloom and generativity, that might feel in stark contrast with the confinement of our current circumstances. In the news this week, and this has certainly in lots of people’s minds for a while now, is the question of when and how will our lives return to normal?
There is so much longing held in that question. We want to be able to see our friends, to go back to our jobs or to school, to not have this sense of anxiety and uncertainty following us around constantly.
But to a lot of people, we must remember that normal wasn’t working. As we sit here on this threshold, in this moment that one I article I read called The Great Pause,(1) as nations and governments start to release their plans for how to phase back safely into our lives as we knew them, we also need to recognize what an incredible moment this has been and what it has revealed to us.
In the last few years, many a theologian has pointed out the meaning of the word apocalypse, which is “an unveiling.” This is a powerful reminder that when things seem to be falling apart, there is also an opportunity to see what we might not otherwise have been open to seeing. Certainly, the last few years have been ripe for an unveiling of many kinds. The US elections in 2016 revealed a level of racism and xenophobia that some thought no longer existed (although marginalized communities could have told us all along that it still did). A year later, the #metoo movement revealed the extent to which women have always had to deal with sexual harassment and assault, and the ways in which the powerful worked to cover up their transgressions. And now the spread of Covid-19 is revealing to us some other things too. As millions lose their jobs due to a pandemic, perhaps we might wonder if connecting health insurance to employment is the right approach. As air quality in major cities miraculously clears when no one is driving anymore, we might no longer be able to deny how much we all contribute to the degradation of our environment. As food bank use explodes, we come to realize just how many of our neighbors were only barely squeaking by, how unevenly resources are distributed by our economic system. We are seeing all this and so much more, on personal, communal and national levels.
The disciples were also living interesting times. Our text today finds them uncertain as to what was going to happen. They were likewise locked in their room in fear (though at least they were together). Jesus appears to them, offers them peace, breathes the holy spirit upon them. Thomas wasn’t with them though, and would not believe until he had seen Jesus himself. So the next time, Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger upon his wounds, his hand in his side.
We often frame this episode in terms of doubt, that the wounds were proof of the resurrection, that it wasn’t some trick, or that Jesus was not a spirit. This can be a reasonable and productive angle. But also think it is interesting that Thomas was invited to really experience the woundedness of Jesus in a way that the other disciples didn’t. To not look away from the wounds, to really feel them. In the first encounter with the rest of the disciples, the main emotion was joy. Which is wonderful, of course it was. Jesus did show them his wounds but they didn’t seem to dwell on them. And so we might wonder how much in the moment did the disciples eyes pass over the wounds, how much were they tempted to pretend, now that Jesus was back, that everything might return to normal, might return to what they had expected might happen before the crucifixion derailed everything. But Thomas needed to account for what happened, for the trauma of it. He put his hand in the wounds and really saw them, and then he was able to imagine the resurrection as a real event. The reality is, as much as the disciples might have wanted their lives to go back to normal, they were not going to. Jesus would be leaving them soon and from that moment on they would be apostles, and their lives would be dedicated to bringing alive to others what had been revealed to them.
We have also been in our metaphorical tomb, experiencing various traumas and crucifixions and losses but before we fast forward into the joy of the resurrection, I believe we must ask ourselves, are we willing to see the the wounds that have now been revealed to us? Are we willing to put our hands in Jesus’ side and really sit with the implications of how an innocent person was put to death, really grapple with the forces that wounded him, really grapple with the scars and trauma that remain? As we consider and imagine “getting back to normal,” how willing are we re-imagine what normal should be?
Let us not waste this moment. Let us be like Thomas and not be afraid to put our hand in the wound, to see its existence and to feel its contours. Let us really assimilate what is being revealed to us during this time: the potential for resurrection —yes, and always— but also how resurrection must contain and include the ways that we and the world and our neighbor have been wounded. How resurrection must seek their active healing and integration. How Jesus’ whole ministry pointed towards a woundedness that was just below the surface all along.
So I love that Psalm 16 is part of the lectionary today because it expresses a beautiful balance between the ways that God guides us and our own agency in creating the contours of our realities.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. (v.5-7)
In these days of upheaval and re-evaluation, perhaps now it is a good time to take a look at where our boundary lines have fallen. Before, they might have been in pleasant places for us, but not for others. Or maybe they fell in ways we weren’t conscious of, or we didn’t want to examine, or maybe they fell somewhere out of necessity. Maybe we followed the crowd. Maybe we have changed now. Maybe we got it almost right but it needs a tweak. Maybe we need to start from scratch.
So, let’s do something a little different. I’m going to ask you to go get a piece of paper and a pen, and to write down something that you know you want to hold on to from this time, something that has been revealed to you, something you don’t want to lose when life goes back to normal. Go ahead, pause me and come back! You can’t do this to me when I’m in the pulpit but you can do it now! Ok, have you done it? Have you written something down? Maybe you want to keep family game night, maybe you want to keep an increased awareness of local food insecurity, maybe you want to keep a sense of God’s care, or Sabbath, maybe you want to keep a renewed interest in protecting the environment. There are so many beautiful and personal options. And now let’s just pray upon these things for a moment:
“Lord, you have given us the gift of this insight. You have given us counsel, and our hearts have instructed us. Let us resist the call to rush back to normal but rather to consider what You would now have us bring into being. Let us pause and remember.” Amen.
I love the final sentence in our Swedenborg reading today: Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being. We will endure, our world will endure, our nation will endure, our economy will endure, our way of life will endure. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be exactly the same. True endurance, true resilience, holds within it a sense of constant creation, a constant coming into being, a coming into newness.
So let us not wish to back to normal but rather forward into a new normal. There will be many things we bring with us, that we return to with joy, just as there are things we will need to be re-imagined or re-invigorated. Let us embrace this fact and this opportunity, one that is supported by the very way in which God made all of creation.
(1) Julio Vincent Gambuto, Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting, medium.com, https://forge.medium.com/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you." 3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. 4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. 7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
John 20:19-22, 24–28
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
24 Now Thomas…one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Divine Providence 3:2
 Everything that meets our eyes in this world can serve to convince us that the universe and absolutely everything in it was created out of divine love by means of divine wisdom. Take any particular thing…a tree--or its seed, its fruit, its flower, or its leaf. Collect your wits and look through a good microscope and you will see incredible things; and the deeper things that you cannot see are even more incredible….The goal it is headed for is a seed that has a new power to reproduce. If you are willing to think spiritually…surely you see wisdom in this. Then too, if you are willing to press your spiritual thinking further, surely you see that this power does not come from the seed or from our world's sun, which is nothing but fire, but that it was put into the seed by a creator God who has infinite wisdom. This is not just something that happened at its creation; it is something that has been happening constantly ever since. Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being.