Sermon - 22nd April 2012
Wounds and Healing
Scripture - John 20:24-29
Rev Andy Braunston
Introduction – Thomas
Today’s reading is very well known and tells much of the story of the person we usually refer to as “doubting Thomas” but who should, probably, be called “believing Thomas” as we are left not with his doubt but with his statement of faith. We don’t know much about Thomas really – he is called “twin” and his name in Aramaic means Twin but we don’t know who his sibling is. The earliest histories of the church claim he travelled to India to spread the Gospel there and the churches in India honour him as their founder. There is a Gospel named after him which is distinctly odd so didn’t make it into the New Testament and it’s doubtful it was written by him. In the John’s Gospel he does crop up a few times: when the disciples were loathe to go to Bethany – after Lazarus had died – because they feared trouble from the authorities, Thomas persuades them to go rashly saying “ Let us also go with him, that we may die with him. (11:16) He interrupts Jesus’ speech at the Last Supper saying that they don’t know the way so they can’t follow Jesus but the passage we heard today is the most we hear of Thomas and, as such, it’s interesting.
A Bit About John
The writer of John’s gospel has a particular purpose in writing his work – he wanted to create a book that would help the church believe. He wanted to counter some ideas about Jesus which were wrong and were circulating in the earliest church and he arranged his material to help him in his goal of helping his readers believe. John uses Thomas to create a link with us – his listeners and readers – Thomas wasn’t there at the first Easter – nor were we. So we can understand Thomas and his angst. We may think a bit about the typical sibling rivalry of twins who are always concerned that they are treated fairly – maybe his twin was one of the disciples who saw the Risen Lord. Maybe Thomas was wounded by the fact that the Lord didn’t appear to him too.
A Bit About Belief
John is making quite profound points about belief through the depiction of Thomas and his doubt and later belief. It’s plain from the story that Thomas doesn’t actually go and touch the Lord’s wounds – he was invited to and the picture we saw earlier portrays Thomas doing just that. Maybe he had learnt when he saw the Risen Lord that senses are not the instruments of being sure that he had believed them to be. It’s the Holy Spirit working in that moment that gave Thomas the ability to believe – and Thomas is the link between that Easter moment and our own lives. We don’t have Jesus standing in front of us showing us his scars; we believe because the Holy Spirit moves within us enabling us to take that step of faith and trust. But Thomas’ belief isn’t just in a Risen Lord – it’s in what that resurrection means. He declares that Jesus is his “Lord and God” which shows that he grasped what resurrection is about – in the words of a former Anglican Bishop of Durham - it’s more than a conjuring trick with bones. Thomas doesn’t end up believing in a resuscitated Jesus, but a Risen, transformed Lord whose glory shows that he is God. In Jesus’ wounds Thomas saw God. In Jesus’ scars Thomas found faith and healing of his own doubt.
There is a deeply profound truth at work here which we see in Scripture. In the reading from Isaiah that the Church hears on Good Friday the words “by his wounds we are healed” echo round the stark bare church. It’s a theme that the writer of 1 Peter takes up again and it’s a theme we see again and again in our own lives. Thomas found healing from his wounds in Jesus’ wounds: he found faith in Jesus’ resurrected, yet wounded, body.
We find God in our periods of brokenness and woundedness. This clip from the film Latter Days shows a young gay lad who has been incredibly wounded by his faith and his family return to a friend whom he had helped earlier on in the film and shows how in his darkest hour he found strength to heal.
The end of a relationship can be incredibly painful and we can feel broken, wounded, hurt, bitter, confused and angry. Yet we are given (often an unwanted) a gift here. We are given a gift of space to re-evaluate what’s important to us that may have been put to one side. When my previous relationship broke down I was devastated – I’d moved city, left my secular job and my former congregation in order to move to the North. Yet within a few months that relationship was in tatters, I was unemployed and without a pastoral ministry. In that time of woundedness and brokenness I found new a new space, a new sense of purpose, this congregation and, eventually, Ian. It wasn’t easy but in my brokenness I found new faith and purpose.
A time of sickness can be a time to realise our dependence on God. Serious illness is debilitating, leaving us without energy and often without social contact if we’re not able to work. There can be physical, or mental pain, which drains us and effects our mood. In the pain, depression and misery of illness we are reminded of our dependence on God.
A time of unemployment can be incredibly painful. Not only are there the obvious things around lack of money and lack of purpose, there is the issue that so much of our social identities are bound up with what we do. When we meet new people “what do you do?” is one of the first questions – if we don’t do anything it can be very hard to keep a sense of self-esteem. Yet a period without work can give us space to discern what God wants us to do with our lives and maybe make radical decisions about a change of direction.
A time of mourning can be dreadful. The waves of emotion which are so raw wash over us, often at the most unexpected moments. The tears come unbidden and the sense of loss can be overwhelming. It’s not helped by the knowledge that nothing can make us feel better and that we have simply to endure this most difficult of journeys. Yet this period can make us closer to God as we remember with affection the love that has been and thank God for all that our loved one meant to us and how they impacted upon us.
In all these examples we find that periods of brokenness and woundedness lead to healing and wholeness. Thomas’ lack of faith, his anger at being left out was resolved in Jesus’ wounds. The marks of Jesus’ death stayed with him as he rose from the tomb. They weren’t erased or forgotten and his new life was marked, literally, by the pain of his old. Yet that pain was transformed and Jesus’ wounds and brokenness become places where we are made whole.
When we doubt, when we are in pain we join ourselves to this story of Thomas and Jesus. Jesus who experienced profound and brutal pain, injustice, and oppression and Thomas whose doubts and anger were resolved in the brokenness of the one he came to see as Lord and God.