Preached at Summit Presbyterian Church April 23, 2017
Scripture: John 20:19-31, Philippians 2:5-11
One of the biggest theological controversies - maybe ever - is the complex issue of the nature of Jesus. When we profess our faith, we say that Christ is fully human and fully God. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus is both vulnerable to human weakness and also Lord of all things. Jesus spent 33 years on Earth but also existed in the beginning before all things. He sassed his mother when he was a preteen and he rose from death to return to life.
In Creation as well as in the miracle of Jesus in Earth, we experience a conflation of humility and honor. We accept this somehow, just knowing that God is in all of us and we are in God, and knowing that Christ lived and died and came back to life, and we fear that if we question it too closely it will all fall apart. Like grasping a handful of sand - if we leave our hands open it's fine, but if we try to hold on too tightly it will sift through our fingers.
But the miracle of God's experience on earth, through us and through Jesus, can stand up to the increased scrutiny.
As humans, we face a lot of strife. We face the worst, almost every day.
But still we rise.
Even if not from death, per se, we rise.
From disease, from heartbreak, from depression, from falls off cliffs ... we always rise.
When our ways are blocked, we find new ones. We take what we learned, salvage the good things and flood the rest of our world with tears of rage and frustration and grief, mourning what should have been, and then we extend an olive branch and build new things using what is left over from last time.
Sometimes when we rise, it is unexpected, unfathomable. In the gospel lesson, Jesus shows up uninvited to dinner with someone who thought he was dead, someone who wanted a miracle, who prayed for one, but who couldn't actually fathom one.
So when Thomas needs a little more proof, of course Christ, who is fully human, grants him access to his wounds. "Here I am, friend. My emptiness is yours. My pain is fresh, but I trust you."
A Christ who is fully human tells his best friend Mary first. "It's ok, I'm here, don't be afraid." When she passes on the message, the guys - who never liked her anyway - demand proof. Her word has never been good enough - she is a woman after all, and a prostitute at that - they've got to hear it from a "real source." So Jesus shows up and proves her right. Millennia of patriarchal norms and fragile masculinity later, women still need to work extra hard to be heard by male colleagues. Women of color, sex workers, LGBTQ women all face these gatekeepers even more - just watch Hidden Figures again to see that it's still real.
A Christ who is fully human knows that people don’t always believe other people. The disciples do not believe Mary, and Thomas does not believe the other disciples. Christ knows, as only someone who is fully human can know, the weight of doubt. Thomas needs to touch Christ’s hands and sides to be sure that it is his friend who is back - not a mirage, not a craigslist scammer, not a dream, but the actual man.
And Jesus will prove his own resurrection to those who need it. He will show up to dinner when we doubt our friends, and he will let us touch him when even his face is not enough. For everyone else, we believe it when our friends tell us the good news, that He is risen! But when we doubt, when we need to touch it or poke at it, the resurrection does not fall apart. It is not a mirage in the desert, it is the gospel truth.
For centuries a quest for the historical Jesus has been various degrees of fruitless. One of my textbooks flat out addressed this search as a thinly-veiled attempt to create God in our own image instead of the other way around. We crave proof - that even if we buy the whole Big Bang thing, Creation must still have happened in the way it’s depicted in the poetry of Genesis. Even if we know that the darkness that covered the whole land when Jesus died was probably a solar eclipse, we still need that bit to have occurred. What we have with this familiar story of the doubters, Thomas and the other disciples, is evidence that Jesus came back even for those of us
who need proof. For those of us who believe in resurrection through sunrises, or flowers in spring, or in the next generation of children, or for those of us who believe in resurrection without even a parable, and for those of us who still struggle to believe that a human being literally died and literally came back. Jesus rose for us.
Jesus in Resurrection HAS to be fully God. Conceived by Mary and the Holy Spirit, sure, sure. But agreeing to a painful, embarrassing death, and then saying “no, no, I’m going back” - that is Godlike. When we are humiliated, embarrassed, hung on metaphorical crosses for our friends and families to see us in our human ugliness, we do everything we have to stay hidden after it’s done. To return in three days, to say “I forgive you for pretending you didn’t know me,” to return to the life that betrayed you, that takes heavenly courage.
Traditionally, Christ’s humanity is found in the ways he serves others. He performs acts so menial they might be considered gross - I, for one, will never ever voluntarily wash someone else’s feet. And his godliness is found in the ways he breaks free from that messiness - such as, of course, defying death.
But what if what we understand as Christ’s human side - his servile nature - is the fully God aspect? God washes the dust off our feet and also flips over tables of injustice. And what we understand as godliness is actually his human side? Christ feeds his friends the way we do here every Tuesday at Elder Diner.
And what could be more human than surviving trauma?
Over and over again, humans prove that they can survive pretty much anything as long as we work together. What God learned in God’s stint on earth was not how to die - but how to return to life , even when life is what killed God in the first place.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, this we know. But Jesus is also a paradox. So also, I think, are we. We come back from the dead, face our fears, and go right on feeding our friends. And if we can’t return to a particular source of trauma? That’s also perfectly fine. Resurrection does not mean going back to the way things were, but being able to live with what is left over, and making that, too, Good.
I hope you all find in yourselves that paradox of existence that was in Jesus - the love and the truth, the bravery and the fear, the human and the God. It is ok to doubt, to need proof, to see for yourself the beauty and the pain which surrounds you. God is big enough for all of this. For every one of us, bending our knees and singing our praises and passing the peace of Christ that exists inside us to each other.
Amen. The Lord is risen indeed!