Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Who can believe what we have heard? Upon whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He had no form or beauty, that we should look on him: No charm, that we should find him pleasing. He was despised, shunned by men, a man of suffering, familiar with disease. … He was despised, we held him of no account. Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, smitten and afflicted by God; but he was wounded because of our sins, crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by his bruises we were healed.” (Isaiah 53:1-5).
It’s a week after the Triduum…eight days after Jesus was crucified…died…and laid in the tomb. A week after women stood terrified and amazed outside the suddenly empty tomb pondering the command, “Go tell the disciples, he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.” (Mark 16:7). “Who can believe what we have heard?”
Who can believe what we have seen…standing before us…wounds still gaping in his flesh…”put your finger here,” he says… touch the hands disfigured by rough nails ripping through the flesh… ”reach out your hand…put it in my side”…into the gash made by spears thrust into the corpse as it hung lifeless on the cross…
“He was despised..a man of suffering…we held him of no account…Who can believe what we have heard, and what we have seen?
Easter, in the scriptures, does not come with great proclamations and trumpets…with loud ringing bells and peals of thunder. We’ve added that…in our joy at the resurrection…and our rush to gloss over and quickly move past a lot of what came before…the betrayals of Maundy Thursday…Judas and Peter and everyone else who abandoned Jesus not that long ago…the trauma of Good Friday…the cruel violence enacted by an empire eager to reassert control…egged on by our complicity and our silence…women weeping…bearing witness…to the death…the tomb…We who long to gather again and sing songs of joy…who can’t wait to get outside into the spring warmth and sunshine…we who are understandably overjoyed at what the resurrection means…we are the ones who bring the noise…and the clamor to Easter…and then go back to work…Scripture is much quieter and much more intentional about what happens after the resurrection.
In scripture resurrection is less an event and more like an unspooling…unraveling, a rewind of everything that happened before…reaching back to reclaim, and redeem all that came before…especially the hurt.
The scene at the tomb always fades out and up again on the women…Mary Magdalene…the last to linger with the dead body…and the first to see the risen Christ.
And it moves to Peter who denies Jesus three times before Good Friday…and afterwards is asked by Jesus the same three times… “Peter do you love me?” reweaving his betrayal back into the narrative…reweaving with redemptive power.
Thomas…the only disciple to declare fealty to and solidarity with Jesus before the Passion, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” (John 11:16)…is the one disciple not with him or the others when Jesus first appears…and today Thomas stands face to face with the resurrected Christ and the terrible knowledge that on the night the soldiers came…he too fled, and deserted Jesus. And now with trembling hands he reaches out and touches the blood…the flesh…the wounds…and is healed…is made whole and again becomes the first to declare…”My Lord and my God!”
Moment by moment…in scene after scene, the resurrected Christ recovers and redeems those who denied him…who betrayed him…who mocked and scorned him…who held him of no account…not by shaming them, but by breaking open the scriptures…breaking and sharing bread…revealing the damage inflicted…the damage we inflicted…and inviting us to touch those wounds…And in doing so…we are healed… our transgressions…are not forgotten…but forgiven and rewoven into the narrative.
This quieter, less celebratory post-Easter good news—that even our faults and our failures…our despised past selves…are redeemed and redeemable shows up in all kinds of surprising, and unexpected ways. Most recently, for me, it showed up when I started reading the memoir of singer-songwriter Liz Phair, who in her book Horror Stories writes, ”We spend so much time hiding what we’re ashamed of, denying what we’re wounded by, and portraying ourselves as competent, successful individuals that we don’t always recognize where and when we’ve gone missing…It’s hard to tell the truth about ourselves. It opens us up to being judged and rejected. We’re afraid we will be defined by our worst decisions instead of our best. Our impulse is always to hide the evidence, blame someone else, put the things we feel guilty about or that were traumatizing behind us and act like everything is fine. But that robs us of the opportunity to really know and care about one another. It closes a door that could lead to someone else’s heart. Our flaws and failures make us relatable, not unloveable.”
See, it would have been easy for Thomas to look away…to run away…again…to not show up…to continue despising his past self…and pretending that everything is just as he imagines it…but he doesn’t. He accepts the invitation to see and touch the wounds…and to be healed. And that’s the kind of faith I hope I have…I hope we all have…the faith to stand in the fullness of our humanity…accepting that we are both betrayers and betrayed…acknowledging that we have denied friends and have been denied…feeling the impact of the violence we both suffer and inflict in small and large ways all the time…knowing that we all have, at times, suffered from: a failure of nerve…a lack of faith…we are often not where we need to be…that we have regrets and misgivings and…AND…it is all, ALL redeemable…all forgivable…and part of the narrative…if we but reach out in faith and see and touch and tend the wounds we all carry, and allow ourselves to be healed.
Then…maybe…we will truly know the fullness of Easter…and understand what the resurrection really means…and be able to say along with Thomas, “my Lord and my God.”