Making Jesus Real and True
Apr 16, 2023
Second Sunday of Easter
Text: John 20:19-31
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Perhaps you have had the experience of hearing from someone about the “best ever” restaurant or movie or vacation location, but when you went there it was lacking (at least from your perspective.) So, from that point on, you may politely listen to others’ recommendations, but are skeptical. Before you’ll totally believe it’s the “best ever”, you need more evidence, and should you decide to give it a try, it’s with tapped-down expectations. Only then can you offer your own testimony about the “best ever whatever.”
We see this scenario played out every now and then in the New Testament as people encounter Jesus, proclaim their “you’ve got to see this” story, but are met with skepticism until the others encounter Jesus themselves. Just a week ago today we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. In Luke’s Easter account, the women who went to Jesus’ tomb encountered heavenly beings announcing that “He is not here! He is risen!” When they told the 11 disciples and other followers of Jesus about their experience, they were not believed and their report was considered an “idle tale,” Luke reports.
It was a case of people needing their own experience in order to believe. Then there’s today’s continuation of the resurrection account, read every year on the Sunday after Easter. We are told the story of Jesus appearing to his followers as they hid in a locked room on that first Easter evening, afraid that the enemies of Jesus will come for them next. The Risen Lord offers a word of peace, shows them his wounded hands and side, causing significant rejoicing all around.
But, the disciple Thomas missed it, and he needs more than their report if he is to believe. We are not told what his fellow disciples think about Thomas wanting to see Jesus with his own eyes, and touch him with his own hands, to believe. What could they say, really? They did not believe when the women told them what had happened either; it took seeing for themselves for the disciples to believe.
It seems this was true for most, if not all, of Jesus’ closest followers and it’s not surprising. They had experienced trauma, having witnessed the violent death of their friend and leader. Pastor Stephen Fearing notes that they are grieving and when grief is that real it often takes something equally as real to heal it. (1)
What “equally real” encounter does it take for them to believe? Quoting Commentator Chelsey Harmon, “(In John’s Gospel) Mary just had to hear his voice and she believed. The disciples heard the message but did not believe until they saw him for themselves. Thomas wanted the same, and Jesus let him not only see, but touch the wounds that Jesus bore for him.” (2)
Then Jesus said to Thomas, in a more literal translation, “Do not be unbelieving, but instead be believing.” In other words, Jesus is telling Thomas that believing is up to him now, not to doubt what he has just witnessed, which is a beautiful gift, real and true.
But what about us, if believing takes feeling and seeing for oneself, are we, as the old saying goes, “up a creek without a paddle”? Sometimes we overlook the obvious ways that seeing and feeling happen. First, we forget that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not something that we earn or create in ourselves. Second, the primary way we see and feel our Risen Lord is this: the Word, Jesus, is made know to us in the word, scripture, but also in art, music and other very real and true expressions of the Divine.
However, if doubt is a consequence of trauma and grief, as it was for Jesus’ first followers, then it still is true that it takes something equally as real to heal it. Consider that with me for a moment – we are daily faced with news of violence, especially gun violence, stories of abuse, reports of the tragedy of war and accounts of loss due to natural or human-created disasters.
Perhaps you heard on NPR, as I did, the story of how the trauma of the war has impacted Ukrainian children, particularly Aurora and Daniel who were best friends in their kindergarten class before the war broke out. Their families fled Ukraine, and Daniel now lives north of New York City, while Aurora lives in Spain. They both have had to make considerable adjustments, including learning new languages, which have created stress in their young lives.
Their response to their separation has been different; Daniel remembers and longs for his friend Aurora, while Aurora stubbornly insists, even when shown photos of her friend, that she has no memory of Daniel. When her mother reminds her how she always tried to save a place for Daniel and how their teacher would scold them for being too silly, Aurora proclaims that it didn't happen. On the other hand, when Daniel looks through his school’s yearbook and talks about Aurora, he is sad for days, so much so that his parents no longer bring up his life and friends in Ukraine.
Two children who have two very different, very real responses to the same type of trauma and two needs for something equally real to bring healing. Such circumstances are reminders to us that the sacrificial love of our Risen Lord comes to the wounded through us.
Pastor Fearing quotes Professor Elizabeth Johnson. “People are waiting to see the marks. They are not looking for the marks in Jesus’ hands and sides anymore. They wait instead to see the marks of the Church – the wounds in our hands and sides – the evidence that we are really connected to the Jesus who was crucified and raised….” (3)
We, then, are the ones through whom people see and feel our Risen Lord and realize that he is with them and for them. It may take them some time, though, for that realization to dawn. Our lives proclaim the resurrection – we are the ones who make it real and true – for others, and in doing so, for ourselves. AMEN
- “Redeeming Thomas” by the Rev. Stephen Fearing, April 24, 2022
- “Commentary on John 20:19-31” by Chelsey Harmon, April 16, 2023. www/cepreaching.org
- Same as #1