The First Sunday after Easter - Reflection

Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. […] Stop doubting and believe.’ John 20:27

You know, I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas, the disciple we like to refer to as Doubting Thomas. He doesn’t simply accept what he is told, he questions things because he needs to be sure in himself what the truth is. Is doubting disbelief? Strangely, when Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your hands in my side etc, don’t doubt but believe!” seem to suggest that doubting is disbelieving. But maybe doubting can rather be interpreted as “honest questioning.” For example, although I firmly believe in the resurrection, there are some things about it that I wonder about and would like to know the answer to. The problem is, what we have to do is take divine mysteries on trust, as they seldom give us human understanding – what they ask of us is trust or rather faith. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.

First then…the risen Christ's first words after meeting his disciples in the Upper Room after his resurrection were 'Peace be with you'. After showing them his scars and repeating the words “Peace be with you” it says he breathed on them. Why on earth did he do that? Jesus 'breathed on' his disciples. A phrase we overlook too often because it comes amid such powerful events. It’s important to realise that the use of breath had a fundamental purpose in biblical history and in creation itself. It’s what God did to Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2.7) and to an army of skeletons in a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37.1-10). So, it’ seems John intends to depict the first Easter as the beginning of a new creation. This breath, as in the beginning in Genesis, when the wind (or breath) of God passed over the waters, is God’s kiss of life. But we risk 'reducing the text to mere words' because we can lose its meaning in the context of the Upper Room where there is so much going on. And with everything else happening, it’s easier to put that bit aside rather than try to understand it.

Although understanding its history illuminates the text, it can at the same time confuse the modern reader. Yet, Holy Scripture has to be seen in the light of its interpretation for us too, here and now. Let me explain…I once read of some sixth-form students who were being taught about John's Gospel. When asked about the idea of Jesus breathing on his disciples; they thought it was bizarre and distasteful, just as they found John's language about consuming the flesh and blood of Jesus repugnant. Clement of Alexandria famously said that John's Gospel is a 'spiri­tual gospel'. We might claim we know what he means, but in fact his gospel has more in it about bodies and what they're made of, than the rest of the Gospels put together! I daresay those students' uninformed gut reaction to the text was more perceptive than the more knowledgeable one. Why? Because they sensed im­mediately the force of the audacious image of physical breath. His breathing on them is all about intimacy, the nearness of the relationship the risen Jesus shares with his dis­ciples. It is a proximity which many of us today do not welcome. Goodness me; how many churchgoers used to shun sharing the Peace during a service!? And that was back in the days before Covid! So what would you say or do if I came down at the Peace and breathed on everybody!?

So that’s the first thing that puzzles me about this event. The second is this: When God raised Jesus from the dead, why didn't He ‘fix’ Him up? You know, why did he not heal the scars on his body? Have you ever wondered about that? Why did Jesus' transformed body continue to carry the scars from the cross and the soldiers spear?Surely God, with all his power, could have stretched to a little cosmetic surgery along with the miracle of the resurrection? It wouldn't have been a big deal for Him, that's for sure--but that's not what we read. John 20:19-20 says, "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord." The bible leads us to believe that Jesus' Body was different after the resurrection. This is borne out by the fact that both Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus later that day, clearly saw Jesus, but they didn't recognize Him. Big holes in his hands and a great big hole in his side? What!? He was also able to get around a little easier after the resurrection. He just appeared before the disciples in the upper room while the door was locked, and then disappeared right before their eyes. His resurrected body obviously had some new qualities! At the same time, His body continued to be physical, He was able to cook and start a fire, when he appeared on the lakeshore. He was able to eat and touch objects. So, while Jesus' body was the same in many ways… it was also different. His body had been transformed, but He continued to carry the scars of the crucifixion. Why? Not only did He still carry the scars, He made a point of showing them to His disciples. He displayed them on that initial meeting in the upper room, and then again, later on, for Thomas' benefit.

And it wasn’t while Jesus walked for miles with two of his disciples to Emmaus, that they recognised him; it was only when he sat down and broke the bread, that the penny dropped! Could it be that with the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened to the scars and thus to the strangers' true identity? I think we can safely say that God could have resurrected Jesus without the scars, but we can only conclude that He intentionally left them, to identify Jesus for them and for us. The bottom line is that you can't truly see Jesus unless you see His scars. Many people try to see Jesus without His scars, but they really aren't seeing the true Jesus. Oh, they may be looking at Jesus the good teacher, Jesus, the healer, Jesus the shepherd, Jesus the founder of a church, but they aren't seeing the full Jesus. The full, true Jesus is the Saviour Jesus, and only because he is the scarred Jesus! We really don't see Jesus clearly until we see that the scars are there for OUR benefit. Jesus carries them for you and me so that we may recognise the man who suffered for us.

Do you see the true Jesus? The scarred Jesus who bled and died for you? Take some time this week to read the story again around his appearances and think on the reason for those scars. Because, for Jesus and for us, within those painful wounds are his life, his love, his sacrifice, and his forgiveness.For as I have said many times about the events on Good Friday, I believe that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he didn’t do so to accuse us by saying, “Look what you did to me!” But he did it to say” Look what I do for you!”. Amen (from Fr Peter).