When our children were preschoolers and making the transition from a baby car seat to a toddler car seat, I remember very vividly changing the seats in my minivan. I printed out a nametag to tape to the back of their new booster seat, so that if we were in an accident, and I were incapacitated, they could be identified. I had worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital briefly, so I knew the importance of adding one more sentence to their nametag: “we support organ and tissue donation.”
But when it came time to actually tape the nametag to the back of the new toddler car seat, I could barely do it. I cried my fool head off. To do so was to acknowledge that raising children in this world and putting them in a car was exposing them to unseen forces and other’s choices I could not control. It was to admit that bad things happen to good people. It was to recognize that I could not always fix, manage or rescue them from harm. To tape a nametag at all to the back of their car seat was to acknowledge death and I so badly, did not want to do that.
I am reminded of this experience when I put on a mask and gloves to go to the grocery store, or pharmacy, or even up to church. To do so is to acknowledge that we are all exposed to unseen forces and other’s choices that we cannot control. It is to admit that bad things happen to good people, and that we cannot always fix, manage or rescue ourselves or those we love from harm. To don mask and gloves is to acknowledge death and we so badly, do not want to do that.
Perhaps this why the disciples remain in a locked room, sheltering-in-place—because they so badly do not want to acknowledge death. Mary Magdalene has already encountered the risen Lord, but it does not seem real to them, so they remain afraid and locked up inside. They fear that as Jesus followers, death will come for them as well—that those who killed Jesus will be coming for them next. They fear that to go outside and live without Jesus is to acknowledge that death won, and they must live a future they have no idea how to manage. They fear ever putting themselves out there again because the best thing that ever happened to them just went to hell in handbasket, and they are still reeling from the shock of it all. They fear that Mary Magdelene has gone back to being possessed by demons—going off about seeing Jesus alive—and none of them are yet prepared to go back to their old life the way it was before Jesus—no one wants a life without Jesus.
The disciples cannot step out of the house and acknowledge death, so Jesus—who did not need the stone rolled away and now does not need a door opened for him—steps into the house, appearing smack dab in the middle of their sheltered fear.
“Peace be with you” Jesus says. And he shows them his hands and side.
Imagine that moment as the grip of death begins to melt as Jesus promises come flooding back into their minds, washing over their whole being:
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. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ … And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
Jesus’ peace moves over them, like rays of sun rising in the dawn, warming them, softening them, filling them with peace and sweet relief—and as everything he said falls into place like the last piece of a puzzle. Death is not the enemy nor even the end—Jesus is here—alive again—just as he said—meeting us and carrying us through to the other side. It really is Jesus—scars and all—holes in the hands and feet, a slit in the side. Somehow resurrection does not eliminate the past, it transforms its pain into life and peace!
We don’t know where Thomas was that day—perhaps he was out looking for Jesus upon hearing Mary’s testimony, or maybe it was his turn to risk going out to get some food from the market. But regardless of the reason, Thomas’s absence meant that Jesus had to return. How unfortunate that Thomas is branded as a “doubter”—especially because the word “doubt” does not appear in the Greek—a better translation is, “do not be an ‘unbeliever’ but believe!”
Thomas simply wants the same experience the other disciples had—what a compelling mission for the church—for each of us! To share such a moving story of our experience and relationship with Jesus that others come to God asking for the same experience of the risen Lord! Don’t we want all of our testimonies leading others to say, “I want that experience of Jesus, too! When I have that experience of Jesus, I will believe, too!”
That gives meaning to our suffering, and our scars. I believe that’s why Jesus’s scars are still visible after the resurrection instead of completely transformed. Because it is our scars and our suffering that gives rise to our testimony. Not to give us bragging rights about what we have survived, (which I sometimes want to do) but our scars give us a testimony of what God has brought us through. “Look what God has done for me—and God can do the same for you!” God has brought us from death to life, from suffering to victory, from pain to promise—that’s why Jesus still has scars in the resurrection. New life does not discount, ignore, bury, or disregard our pain or difficulty, it transforms them into new life which becomes the basis of our testimony to grow faith in others. “Look at my hands and my chest, my back, my hip, my broken heart—this is how God got me through, and I am here to help show you God will get you through as well.”
Thomas had the courage to ask for what he needed, and Jesus came back and found him, and gave him what he needed. Jesus will use our scars to help find the Thomases of the world who are locked up and afraid, asking for God to show up, and they need someone to share their story.
But Jesus does not leave us to our own devices in this new life and future. Jesus breathes on the disciples and us the Holy Spirit—another one like Jesus—the Paraclete—which literally means the one “called alongside” us. And Jesus does not breathe “on” them—Jesus breathes “into” them the Holy Spirit—like a divine respirator! It’s just like God giving breath to the first humans in Genesis, or Ezekiel’s image of God’s breath into the dry bones—the Holy Spirit is divine respiration and life itself and Jesus’ power all in one! This is why I am always saying that God is as close as our own breath!
It is only with divine respiration and Holy Spirit power that sends the disciples into a new future to share their belief and living relationship with risen Christ. The church is sent to witness—to embody the peace, the hope and the life of a living, breathing relationship with Jesus the Christ—that causes other people to react like Thomas, and say, “I want that too!” The church is wherever God’s people gather, and right now which is in our homes, among our family, on the internet, and when we go out occasionally for work and supplies—the Holy Spirit is blessing us with the peace and power of the risen Christ to be the church where we are and to be sustained by our relationship with the risen Christ, scars and all.
The Holy Spirit who gave them breath and power, equipped the disciples for a new future they did not know, and could not predict or plan. We do not know what the future will look like and how exactly our lives, work, or church will change, but we are already equipped to live into the future. The risen Christ sends us with the power of the Holy Spirit who never leaves us, and like Thomas, always finds us when we ask for his presence with us.
I finally did get those name tags taped to the back of the car seats with a message of support for organ and tissue donation, but not by my own strength. I finally trusted in the risen Christ for my children and me, knowing that no matter what happened, we would never be alone; I would be equipped for the future with what I needed through the Holy Spirit, when the time came. That peace helped me be clear about the values I wanted to live by that day.
That’s the most we can do today—trust in the peace of Christ and the breath of the Holy Spirit—and let that peace guide our highest values and choices today, trusting the risen Lord and his Spirit will be with us in the future we cannot yet see.
Image: Krishen Khanna (Indian, b. 1925)