In 1977, my friend Caroline and I made a pact. We were coming home from Pittsfield after having seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Driving down Route 183 by Gould Meadows overlooking Stockbridge Bowl, a full moon shone on the white and frigid earth. Everything was crystal clear. A perfect place to see a UFO!
We agreed then and there that if either of us ever told the other we had seen a UFO or met an alien, we would believe each other.
Perhaps Mary Magdalene, who seems to have understood Jesus’s message better than the male disciples, should have made a similar pact with them.
There are so many concepts to ponder in today’s Gospel, and for me, the least of them is Thomas.
Poor Thomas, whose name has come down through the centuries to be synonymous with “doubt.” Derivation of doubt? In fact, most of the disciples were doubters at that point.
A week before, with Thomas absent, they were living behind locked doors. Jesus appeared to them, they rejoiced, then said good-bye and re-locked the doors. Hmmmm.
There is also the question of why, when Mary saw him, Jesus told her not to touch him because he was in an in-between state of life and death. Yet when he appeared to those in the locked room, he invited them all to touch him.
Each of the Gospels has different versions of Jesus’s post-Resurrection, pre-Ascension appearances to the disciples, and you can find quite a lot written on whether these were dreams, or visions, or hallucinations.
Regardless, John’s is the Gospel in which everything is a metaphor for something else. So for me, the locked doors and the image of seeing Jesus’s wounds are what John wants us to focus on here, and they are closely related.
They are also crucial to our own responses both to Jesus and to the world we live in.
Have you ever seen a horror movie where the heroine couldn’t get out of the house because, in her panic, she couldn’t unlock the door. When you lock your door at night, it’s so that no one can enter. But what if the thing you fear is already in the house?
When we lock a door, we also lock ourselves in.
When we lock our minds, we lock out knowledge that might be helpful. When we close our consciousness to realities we don’t want to deal with, when we are fearful and won’t let ourselves admit to that which scares us, we keep that fear locked inside. The realities are there no matter what.
The Good News is that Jesus can break through the locks and bolts and closed minds and let in the light of understanding, of comfort, of guidance, of reassurance. If we let Him.
The Rev. Michael March, an Episcopal priest from Texas, points out on his blog the irony that while Jesus’s tomb was empty, the disciples had created their own tomb in which they had interred themselves. But Jesus found a way in anyway; Mr. March called it “eastering in us” and every year we have this most wonderful reminder that Jesus can break through any barrier.
For the disciples, this took place just one week after the Resurrection. We are now just one week after Easter. Are we different from the disciples? Are our lives perceptibly changed? Or have our minds and hearts gone back on lockdown?
Here’s where Jesus’s wounds come in.
During Lent, those who participated in the gatherings at Crissy Farm watched a short video of a TED talk by Brene Brown, in which she suggested that faith depends upon vulnerability.
She didn’t say it, but the word “vulnerable” comes from Latin roots meaning the capacity to be wounded. In no other instance do we make ourselves more vulnerable than when we dare to show our wounds.
Jesus the Christ is the ultimate archetype of vulnerability. First, he became human. Second, he came as a homeless baby. Third, he spoke truth to power in a dangerous age. Fourth, he willingly accepted a painful, horrifying death. Fifth, He loved us all the while and loves us still.
Inviting someone to touch a wound is an extremely intimate and vulnerable act. Do we allow ourselves to be that vulnerable? Do we allow ourselves to be fully human? Do we allow our spiritual or emotional wounds to show, or do we put on a stoic face and act as if we have everything together?
If we saw someone walking around with a physical wound, wouldn’t we take that person to the ER or get gauze and bandages? What about all the people, including ourselves, walking around with psychic wounds; how do we help them?
Why should we show our wounds? What’s the point in that?
Well, John’s Gospel today answers that. Jesus showing His wounds is how the light got in to the disciples’ minds. Jesus is also showing us that showing our wounds is how we let Him in so that we can advance to full Easter life and bring His message out into a broken Good Friday world.
Leonard Cohen knew it. He said it in the refrain to his song “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
We have many examples of people who were given what I believe was divine strength to use the cracks in their own worlds to bring light to the world. From Mamie Till-Mobley insisting that her son Emmett’s casket be opened so that people could see what Jim Crow really meant to Twelve-Step groups where people share their “experience, strength and hope” right up to Margery Stoneman Douglas students using their grief to spark a worldwide movement to call a halt to the proliferation of military-style weapons that can murder 17 people in a few minutes.
From #BlackLives Matter to #MeToo to #NeverAgain, young people are making themselves vulnerable in the public square, risking insults, slurs and even death threats to shine a spotlight on the injustices of our society.
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it,” said the Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston. She knew a lot about pain.
We’ll turn, though, to James’s letter for the last word. He says that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”
In that fellowship with God is the sanctification of our own wounds that gives us the strength to bring Jesus’s light to others. So “forget your perfect offering” and “ring the bells that still can ring.” “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”