Peace and Wounds
John 20:19-31

The nurses at NIH thought it was horrible that we had to spend Easter there and couldn’t go home. But it was sunny and up in the 50s in D.C. Chicago had a white Easter from what I hear. In fact, when the nurses apologized about us having to stay there over the holiday, my response was, “It’s snowing in Chicago. The weather is much better here.” And for the the first time I saw what Craig Kocher talked about in last week’s Blogging toward Sunday: “Peace and wounds dine together on Easter.” Peace and wounds dine together on Easter. I didn’t have the words for it Easter Sunday, but that is what happened. For the Easter service at the NIH chapel, there were some very sick people. Two of them wore masks to protect them. They were probably in one of the cancer programs, and had little to no immune systems from their treatments. The young boy was also in a wheel chair, and you could tell by his eyes, he was so happy to be there. Sitting among people who were so sick, and yet so filled hope, this was an Easter where the resurrection, its power and hope were center stage, believed and proclaimed in full faith. Peace and wounds dined together.We normally don’t think about wounds on Easter Sunday. That’s what we did on Good Friday. The resurrection has happened. Now it’s time to get on to the “hallelujahs,” pretty dresses, hats, and Easter egg hunts. We are quick to move from the nails and spear of Good Friday, forgetting that Jesus still carried those wounds on the first Easter. It was when the disciples saw Jesus’ wounds that they knew it was him and began to rejoice. It wasn’t the glory of heaven that tipped them off: it was the nail and spear wounds that still showed, even after the resurrection.

Peace be unto you.” These are the first words Jesus says to his disciples after his resurrection. He appeared to Mary early that morning, but for some reason, he does not come to the disciples until that night. They’re huddled up in a room with the doors locked still scared of the authorities. Apparently they have not believed Mary’s story or her testimony, “I have seen the Lord.” They are sitting, locked in a room, trying to figure out what in the world has happened the last couple of days. Then out of nowhere, Jesus is there. There was no knock on the door. They didn’t hear a footstep. Jesus didn’t wait to be invited in. He was just there. In the midst of them. Giving them peace–his peace. The peace he promised them on the night before he died. Before his death, Jesus told the disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus gives peace that isn’t dependent on what’s going on in the world or who is in charge. This peace flows from Jesus’ resurrection, not his political takeover. This peace flows from God’s power, not ours, not the government’s, or even the power of religious authorities. This peace comes from God, is given by God and sustained by God.

After Jesus gives them his peace, he shows them his hands and side. It is only then that the disciples believe that this is Jesus–raised from the dead–and they begin to rejoice. Jesus once again gives them God’s peace, and then commissions them: “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” In John the disciples do not have to wait until after the Ascension onto Pentecost for the Holy Spirit. The giving of the Holy Spirit is also less spectacular in John and much more intimate.

Craig Kocher notes that you have to get close to someone to breathe on them. You have to invade their personal space. Sharing breath is something couples and families share. It’s a familial intimacy; an act shared by lovers. It’s normally not how we pass the peace in the church. There are social graces to keep after all. Jesus did not think so. He comes close to the disciples. The same ones who abandoned him two days ago are now receiving the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ breath. The Spirit Jesus promised them would give them the words to say, would teach them all things, and always be with them was now fulfilled. They were equipped to go into the world as Jesus had and share the peace of Christ with that hurting and broken world.

But one of the disciples is missing on the night of the Resurrection: Thomas. Poor Thomas. I think he is one of the most maligned people in the Bible, and really for no reason. He’s nicknamed “doubting.” But which of the disciples believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead without first seeing him? None of them. The eleven didn’t believe Mary when she told them she had seen Jesus that morning. And Thomas didn’t believe those who told him they had seen Jesus earlier that night. Thomas wanted to see and touch the same thing the others had. They hadn’t believed until they saw Jesus’ wounds. Thomas is no different than the others. No more or less doubting. No more or less unbelieving. He’s just the same.

And Jesus gives him what he wants. Eight days later the situation hasn’t changed much. The disciples are still shut away in a room. Doors locked. Once again Jesus appears to them. Once again he doesn’t use the door or knock. He just comes. He once again blesses the disciples with peace. Then he turns to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” There is no scolding or berating. There is no disappointment. Jesus simply gives Thomas what he needs to believe. He comes, and he shows his wounds. Seeing is apparently enough for Thomas, and he calls Jesus his Lord and God.

In our self made hells in our fears in the corners we get ourselves backed into, Jesus comes. Jesus comes and he shows us his love–see his hands, his side. He comes into fear and trepidation, and he says: “Peace.” Peace. Through the locked doors, the fears, the “what ifs” whispered behind hands. Into this fear-filled, cowardly crowd, Jesus comes. Jesus appears to them. There is no chiding. There is no “why didn’t you believe Mary?” Or “why didn’t you believe the others?” No, Jesus comes to the depressed and frightened disciples–he just appears. Locked doors no more. He appears in our midst and says one thing: Peace. He came to the men who did not believe the woman and said peace. He came to Thomas who did not believe the men and said peace.

He comes to us and says peace. He comes to our little worlds, to our locked rooms, he finds us walking and fishing, and he says peace. Jesus comes and gives us peace–his peace. But he doesn’t give us his peace to hoard and keep for ourselves. Like the disciples, with his peace, Jesus also gives his Spirit to go out in the world and share that peace. Easter is a triumphant celebration, but it is not always pretty. It is not all Easter lilies and bonnets. It comes with wounds. Not only the wounds of Christ, but the wounds of the world. We are sent with the peace of Christ to share that peace with a broken, wounded, and dying world.

I skipped over verse 23 the first time Jesus visited the disciples. After Jesus breathes the Spirit on them, he says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Of course Protestants, particularly Evangelicals have a big problem with this. Like the Pharisees, when Jesus healed the man lowered through the roof by his friends, we say “Who forgives sin but God alone?” Listen to how Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse: “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” When a person repents of sin, the sin is forgiven, and we are to recognize that. Parker Palmer wrote that “the mission of the church is not to enlarge its membership, not to bring outsiders to accept its terms, but simply to love the world in every possible way–to love the world as God did and does.” Of this verse Gail O’Day says, “The faith community’s mission is not to be the arbiter of right and wrong, but to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus”

Our job is to live the love, peace, and forgiveness of Jesus in our world. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always pretty, but that is what we are called to do. This wounded world will only be healed through and by the wounds of Christ.

The picture is from the He Qi Gallery.