Second Sunday of Easter
Easter was glorious, wasn’t it? Our worship space filled with flowers, music that stirred our souls, and lots of smiling people. The atmosphere was joyous! How very easy to forget that only two days earlier Jesus hung on a cross until he died. We had little thought to Jesus’ pierced flesh. We have no problem putting that in the past and disconnecting it from Jesus’ victory over death.
When it was evening on that day. That day was the first day of the week, the same day that Mary stood weeping outside the empty tomb, and the same day she saw the resurrected Jesus. On that day, his disciples retreated, shutting the doors of the house and locking the world out. Now Jesus stood in front of them, and his first words were, Peace be with you. The Risen Christ’s first words were his gift of grace. See my hands and my sides, he invited them. Thomas wasn’t with them at the time, but a week later, Jesus came to the house again. Put your finger here, he said. Put your hand inmy side. They weren’t scars. They were wounds, and deep enough to put your hand in. The places where the nails and the spear pierced Jesus’ flesh were so fresh, they might bleed if you touched them.
How many of us are walking around with fresh wounds? Who among us does not bear scars? When you experience something awful, is it literally gut-wrenching? Our bodies react in various ways,–headaches, upset stomachs, and our heart pounding so hard we can hear it in our ears. If the upset is constant, we may try to shut it off with drugs or alcohol. People who study trauma have found that it can lodge itself into our bodies.
Bessel van der Kolk, a leading innovator in the treatment of traumatic stress, tells a story from the 1970’s when he began working with the Veterans Administration. The first patient he saw was a Vietnam veteran who suffered with terrible nightmares. He prescribed medication, which the veteran never took. Van de Kolk’s patient explained, “’I did not take your medicines because I realized I need to have my nightmares because I need to be a living memorial to my friends who died in Vietnam.”
Trauma victims hold in “their hearts and minds and bodies and brains” things that no longer exist. Their experience never fades; the memory of it remains as if it were happening currently. Trauma lands in the parts of the brain that help people see clearly. There responses and decisions become impaired. Perhaps that is what made the man in California filled with hate, so much that he killed one and wounded three other Jewish people gathered at their synagogue.
To a lesser degree, all of us at one time or another become impaired. We experience parts of our brain shutting down when our emotions are high. Van der Kolk provides this example: You get really upset with your partner or your kid, suddenly you take leave of your senses and you say horrible things to that person. And afterwards, you say, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to say that.’”
The things that happen to us, chronic illness, addiction, abuse, violence, anything that leaves scars, become part of who we are. Our woundedness goes with us wherever we go. Jesus entered the locked room, carrying his wounds with him. Even in his resurrection, Jesus shares our humanity. When the Word became flesh, God affirmed the goodness of our bodies. When that flesh became broken, God honored our experiences. Jesus’ raw wounds did not define him, but rather testified to his real presence. The same is true for us. We are more than the things that happen to us.
Thomas returned to the house. We know him as Doubting Thomas, even though he did not ask for anything the other disciples had not already experienced. His need to verify was not unique to him. After all, the women who saw the empty tomb were thought to be telling an idle tale at first. But now Thomas was in the middle of believing people, his friends, who had already seen Jesus. In front of them all, Thomas declared his doubt. We should all be brave enough to voice our doubts! He had so many questions for Jesus floating around in his head. Why would someone as sinless as you suffer? Are you staying? What does this all mean? What questions are you asking?
In the house with Thomas were his grief, his fear and his uncertainty. Wounded Jesus showed up and said, “Peace be with you.” Suddenly, Thomas didn’t need to touch him, or to ask any questions. He needed nothing else but Jesus to be right there next to him. When Thomas’ doubt met Jesus still bearing wounds, something happened. He saw the world differently. He began to live into a new identity and new stories. Thomas began to live resurrection life.
I think trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst,Bessel van der Kolk says. You see the horrendous things that people do to each other, but you also see resiliency, the power of love, the power of caring, the power of commitment, the power of commitment to oneself, the knowledge that there are things that are larger than our individual survival. And in some ways, I don’t think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you also know the dark side of life.
Each of us has known that dark side of life. Together, we are the wounded body of Christ. We are witnesses who have survived our brokenness. We are living testimony that through Christ, we have life of abundance. The risen Christ is with us this day, in our sharing of the peace, in our prayers and in our praise, and in the hearing of the word. Christ comes to us in the breaking of the bread, and the drinking of the wine, the body and blood of Christ. In all these ways, Christ comes to be with us.
Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan said, “If the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened, then nothing else really matters. If the Resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen, then nothing else really matters.” Our belief in the resurrection is more than a confession of faith. It is a declaration of a relationship. He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
https://onbeing.org/programs/bessel-van-der-kolk-how-trauma-lodges-in-the-body-mar2017/. Accessed April 23, 2019.
Bruner, Frederick Dale. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012, 1163.