Leaning In

Leaning In

Lord, take our eyes and see through them,
Take our lips and speak through them,
Take our hands and work through them,
Take our hearts and set them on fire. AMEN

Thomas is a very real disciple. He demands proof. This resurrection business sounds a little too remarkable. And so he says, show me Jesus walking around. Show me Jesus with his wounds, unless I see (the marks) and put my finger into his hands, I will not believe. Here are three stories that resonate for me when I think about Thomas.

I coached the sport of rowing. About ten years ago (right about this time of year), I was making a switch on the water (switching two rowers between boats). As the motorboat came up to the crew shell, one rower, Susie, put her hand against some bolts on the side and she tried to slow down my motorboat. Of course, she couldn’t and her palm was badly injured and we spent the next five hours in the emergency room. I held her hand and watched as the hand surgeon opened things up, cleaned things out, and then stitched her back together. I remember hearing this Thomas gospel the very next day and thinking about what it must have been like for Thomas when he put his hands in. It would not have been pleasant. Yet, he says, Unless I see…and touch…I will not believe.

The church I served in CT many years ago had a very large urban ministry to the homeless.  Every day, we would provide lunch at our soup kitchen. Jill would attend services at noon during the week. She lived on the street and years before had been caught in a burning abandoned house and had survived. But her face was burned and because she did not have the insurance to pay for cosmetic surgery and extensive skin grafts, one side of her face retained some pretty horrendous scars. She was self-conscious about that, but she would attend church during the week and come up for communion. It was very powerful to literally face Jill’s wounds. You wanted to look away. But when she came up for communion, scars and faith were there together. Unless I see...and touch…I will not believe.

Twenty years ago, I went to South Africa with a school choir. Nothing could have prepared me for this trip. We stood in the heart of Soweto, where the first student uprisings against apartheid occurred, we gathered in the Regina Mundi church to look at the stone altar broken by the butt of a soldier’s rifle during a worship service, we walked through a township outside of Capetown, and there in a little orphanage, we met a woman named Mama Rosie. Twelve years before, Rosie Mashale woke up and opened her front door and found a baby, a little boy who had been left on the doorstep by his mother. Rosie took the baby in. Within the next month, more babies kept showing up on Rosie’s doorstep. She cared for them all spending the little that she had on food and clothes. Then some western visitors heard about her story. Rosie thought that she would never be able to keep the orphanage going, but she told me that she had faith, and that she was doing God’s work, and that she believed the Lord would provide each day. When the choir visited Rosie’s orphanage of Baphumelele, we met Rosie and many of the 150 orphans that she and other women now care for in what has become a sprawling compound in the township of Khalitsha. We played with the children, many of whom are HIV positive, and who are cared for by volunteers who visit throughout the year. In the years since that visit, Rosie has created a house for adolescent orphans so that they can have a home while they attend school.  

I read today’s gospel and thought about Susie and Jill and Rosie and Thomas. We all start somewhere…sometimes with the belief and faith of Rosie and sometimes with the doubt and questioning of Thomas. For most of us seeing leads to believing. Our beliefs spur us on to experience and our experiences (what we see) clarify and sharpen our beliefs. No matter what, we need to lean into the experiences that we have.  

The Christian faith requires leaning in. That seems to be at the heart of this Thomas story.  Leaning in. I think it lies at the very heart of the Easter message. Thomas is the everyman who stands for all of us in his honest and courageous doubt. In the end, he leaned in and he saw and touched the wounds. 

One thing is common to every representation of the resurrected Jesus: he is always shown with the wounds of crucifixion. Resurrection does not remove them because confronting the wounds seems to be important. What was required of Thomas is also required of us. Leaning in. Touching the wounds. Lord knows we may often want to lean away.  

When he appears to the apostles again, when Thomas is there, Jesus tells them “Peace be with you” and then he tells Thomas, “Come here, I know you are doubting…Put your hand in.”  And Jesus in the gospel story comes to us today with our unbelief, with our doubts, inviting us to also put our hands in.

The purpose of being here in the tomb of the resurrection is to leave it. It is empty after all. We gather to be sent, not to sit still and perpetuate an empty sentimentality. I think we gather to be sent: to go out and start to put our hands in - to the dirty, messy, often repellant wounds of the world. God knows we do not have to go far to find them. We need to put our hands in to the wounds of exclusion and loneliness suffered by family and friends. We need to put our hands in to the wounds of those who feel lonely and broken by grief or pain or heartbreak. We need to put our hands in to the wounds of the homeless and the hungry just a few miles down the street. We need to put our hands in to the experience of those who may hold very different political or social views than the ones we hold on to, but who long to be in communion in this body of Christ made up of so many different members. We need to put our hands in to the woundedness of human community wherever we confront it or wherever it confronts us burned and diseased and broken. And then and only then we might discover what Thomas discovered when he put his hands in. From his deepest doubt came this moment of deepest faith when he said, “My Lord and My God.”  

The risen Jesus is known in his wounds wherever and however they show up. When we touch them, we know the truth of crucifixion and resurrection at the same time. We see and we believe when we put our hands in. We gather to be sent, looking for the places where Christ’s wounds appear in our families, with our friends, in our places of work, in our selves. The risen Jesus invites us to put our hands in. Amen.