It is for all the literalists of the imagination
that miracle is possible, possible and essential.
Are some intricate minds nourished on concept
as epiphytes flourish high in the canopy?
Can they subsist on the light,
on the half of metaphor that’s not grounded
in dust, grit, heavy carnal clay?
Do signs contain and utter for them
all the reality that they need,
resurrection for them an internal power,
and not a matter of flesh?
For the others, of whom I am one,
miracles, ultimate need, bread of life,
are miracles just because those so tuned
to the hum drum laws – gravity, mortality –
can’t open to symbol’s power unless convinced of its ground,
its roots in bone and blood.
We must feel the pulse in the wound to believe
that with God all things are possible,
taste bread at Emmaus
that warm hands broke and blessed.
We must feel the pulse in the wound, Denise Levertov writes. We must feel the pulse in the wound to believe that with God all things are possible. Belief in the resurrection is not about manufacturing faith. It’s about living into the story of new life in the wake of death. Sometimes we need proof – firsthand experience. We are like Thomas, unable to join in the hallelujahs without first seeing evidence that death does not have the final word. We need that something we can point to and say, “See here, this is God-with-us, alive, able to be and move among us.”
It is Easter night. The disciples have locked themselves in the house, fearing who might come to the door. Since Mary’s news of the empty tomb, they thought it best to lay low for a while. Their teacher and friend was murdered because he was perceived to be a threat to law and order. It’s the same thing that happened to John, the baptizer, not so long ago. An empty tomb is just the excuse the authorities need. The disciples wonder who will be next. None of this was how it was supposed to go. Jesus was supposed to usher in the new kingdom. But, nothing has changed. Poverty, injustice, corruption are still as alive today as they were yesterday. They were supposed to have died with Jesus. What now? Have all the efforts, all the sacrifices, been for naught?
In the midst of the disciples’ confusion and pain and fear and anger Jesus appears. He brings a message of peace. He shows them his hands and his side. They see it really is their beloved rabbi. And when they do, the text tells us, they rejoice. When they next see Thomas, they rejoice: “Peace be with you, Thomas! Our rabbi lives! We have seen it with our own eyes!” To which Thomas replies, “Are you sure you haven’t seen a ghost? There’s no way. I saw his body. I was there when Joseph laid him in the tomb. “
It is one thing to witness a miracle. It is another thing to be told about it. As much as Thomas trusted his friends, there are some things that have to be experienced to be believed. And Jesus does not disappoint. When he shows up again, a week later, Jesus addresses Thomas specifically, supplying him what he needs for faith. I imagine Jesus speaking with gentleness and compassion, “Thomas, Come to me. Touch my wounds. Feel – there is yet life in my veins. It is true, Thomas, that all things are possible with God. There is hope after disappointment. Life does emerge from death.”
This is the message also for us. There is hope after disappointment. Life does emerge from death. All is not lost. There are times we need this message. There are times when our hope seems to have died. When the principle does nothing about the bullying. When one more doctor cannot find anything wrong. When she once again doesn’t respond, but shrinks, under his words. When another week passes without an interview. When one more black man is killed by one more white police officer, it is hard to believe that all things are possible. These are times we need some evidence of resurrection. We need Jesus to show up for us.
We do need Jesus to show up, but that’s not all. Not in relation to Walter Scott and the all too many like him. If we only wait on Jesus, it implies we are passive to resurrection in this case. But that cannot be. Here are the facts:
1. Everybody’s got biases. Most of us have an unconscious preference for white folk. According to Harvard University’s Project Implicit, 70% of white folk and 50% of black folk in the US prefer whiteness. This they measured by testing how quickly one associates bad or good qualities with white skin or brown skin. Everybody’s got biases.
2. Race is a factor. In all of it, including law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Racial bias is part of the water we drink and the air we breathe. It is one of the unhelpful inheritances from growing up in this country. It takes a whole lot of work to shed this inheritance. It takes a whole lot of coming to terms with the reality of privilege. It take a whole lot of intentional seeking out dis-confirmation of our racial biases. It takes a whole lot of spiritual work to let go of prejudices based on race. Even then, those pesky habits we grew up with return, and remind us, we are still on the journey.
3. We have power. As a rule, we white folk don’t need to prove ourselves worthy to have our voice be heard. Our voices are privileged. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like this is the case. Prejudice and racial bias are systemic. What is our voice in comparison to the culture of a nation?
For a long time this is what kept me silent. I didn’t know where to begin or what to say. I wondered what good my lone voice is among the clamor. I wanted to say, “No. This is wrong. People shouldn’t die because of assumptions others make based on skin color.” But I didn’t think that would be enough. I wanted to say something helpful, but didn’t know what that could be. I didn’t think my voice counted because I am white. It’s not my story to tell.
Except it is. I am one with biases that mirror those which uphold our system of law enforcement. A system in which people are often not held responsible for killing a fellow human being. It is precisely my voice which needs to be heard. It is precisely the voices of white Americans which needs to be heard. And not because we are some kind of savior or we are better than. But because the current systems of power benefit and cater to us in ways they do not benefit or cater to our sisters and brothers of color. Our voice is still privileged.
This is the pulse: Our willingness to free ourselves from denial, to educate ourselves, and finally to speak. This is how we will know resurrection is possible. It is a pulse which becomes stronger as more of us join in the efforts. This is cause for hope.
Hear the good news: death, and the forces of death do not have the last word. Jesus does show up. There is a pulse in the wound. Hear the good news: those times when we need to see more to believe, we remain disciples. There will be times when we struggle to find hope. This is part of our journey. Thomas, though he struggled, was always still a beloved disciple. Jesus didn’t show up to kick Thomas out, saying he failed the faith test. No. Jesus welcomes Thomas with grace, helping him to move forward. Hear the good news: though we may have to wait, Jesus will not disappoint. Thomas heard of the resurrection, and he wanted to believe. It was a week before he got the proof he needed. We may have to wait a week, but Jesus does not disappoint. It may be a loooooong week. But Jesus is faithful to show up.
Jesus shows up, and invites us, “come and see and believe.” We feel the pulse – the beginnings of justice. We feel the pulse – finally, a request for an interview. We feel the pulse – she finds the courage to leave. We feel the pulse – he acknowledges his control and seeks help. We feel the pulse – a diagnosis. We feel the pulse – a teacher who offers safe space and genuine encouragement. We feel the pulse, and we rejoice.
We rejoice and we continue in the journey. We continue the story, discovering as we go all the places new life springs forth in the wake of death. There will be times when we rejoice heartily, as the disciples who first saw Jesus. Times when faith comes easier. There will be times, too, when we, like Thomas, need to feel the pulse in the wound to believe that things will work out. We feel the pulse and we know all is not lost. We feel the pulse and we know resurrection is possible. We feel the pulse and we know there is hope. Hallelujah and amen.
This is a sermon based on John 20.19-31.