Weekly Seeds: See God

Sunday, April 24, 2022
Second Sunday of Easter | Year C

Focus Theme:
See God

Focus Prayer:
May all that we experience with our senses point to an encounter with you, Incarnate God.

Focus Reading:
John 20:19–31
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 5:27–32
Psalm 118:14–29 or Psalm 150
Revelation 1:4–8
John 20:19–31

Focus Questions:
1. How do you experience the presence of God using the senses available to you?
2. Do you consider yourself a person who primarily embraces faith with or without the use of your senses? Why?
3. Reflect upon a time when you received a wound through surgery, illness, or injury. How did you experience God’s presence in the healing from wound to scar?
4. How can we normalize doubt in a culture that desires certainty?

By Michelle L. Torigian

Photographer Georgie Wileman began an art campaign in which people with endometriosis who had laparoscopic surgeries would write the dates of their surgeries on their bodies next to the scars. Each photo exhibits the lines connecting one scar to another on the individual’s abdomen, acknowledging the many surgeries these neighbors experienced along the way.

Endometriosis is a painful condition that affects approximately 10% of people with or who had uteruses, including transgender men and our non-binary neighbors. Tissue grows on other organs creating elevated pain for the one with the health condition. Many who have the condition have laparoscopic surgeries to both diagnose the condition and clear the tissue, resulting in two to four scars each time they have the procedure. Intense pain and infertility often result from the condition.

After three surgeries over 18 years, recently, I had a fourth, more extensive surgery due to the painful condition, resulting in four more beautiful scars on my abdomen. They aren’t nearly faded yet as it’s only been a few weeks. But in this state, as they transform from wounds to scars, I am easily reminded daily of my fragility and journey with God into surgical rooms and during the days of healing pain following the procedure.

There’s something holy about the scars on our bodies. While neither we nor God want us to experience the pain that comes from the originating wounds, the resulting scars point to the sacredness of our bodies and the reminders of our physical limitations. Those physical signs remind us when we experienced God in our most vulnerable situations.

In the John 20 reading, Jesus appears to his followers hours after the tomb was found empty and his first appearance to Mary Magdalene. During this appearance to the group, he breathes the Holy Spirit upon them and wishes them peace. Yet one of his dedicated followers is not present with them: Thomas.

In a spirit of excitement, the disciples later tell Thomas of the event. How difficult was it for Thomas to accept the statement “We have seen the Lord.” From these next few words, Thomas gets the undeserved reputation of “Doubting” Thomas: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (v. 25 NRSV).

We don’t know exactly why Thomas requires such proof. He understands that his fellow disciples had the opportunity to see the resurrected Christ and may believe that he needs the same experience as they received. Thomas could be processing the events of the traumatic days leading up to this moment. And he may be a person who processes information in more visual and tactile ways.
Jesus’ reply to Thomas requiring a tactile experience is this: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (verse 27, NRSV). But people like Thomas who touch and see have no lack of blessings, and Jesus is not criticizing the way they process their faith.

In his book Jesus: Uncovering the Life Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, Marcus J. Borg states the following:

…unless we inflect the closing words of the story with an accusatory tone of voice, there is no condemnation of Thomas. Thomas desired his own firsthand experience of the risen Jesus, and his desire was granted; Jesus appeared to him. The closing words of Jesus can be read without condemnation: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not yet seen yet have come to believe.’ They simply affirm that those who believe without firsthand experience of the risen Jesus are also blessed, but they do not condemn those who, like Thomas, hunger and thirst for such an experience.

There is an ordinary and relatable expression of faith in Thomas’ inspection of the wounds. And in the ways that we brush our fingertips along our healing wounds, we experience the Holy as well. Anytime we can use one of our senses, we have the potential of experiencing God in our midst.

Additionally, we sometimes see the risen Christ with the wounds still open on his hands. This is a powerful image. Even the risen Christ has gaping holes in his hands and feet. And he invites Thomas to place his hands in the wounds, the symbol of vulnerability and reminding us that the marks on our bodies are part of our human experience with God working to turn wounds into scars and both into our reminders that we have experienced God in our toughest times..

The often-used scripture from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 notes that we walk by faith but not by sight, that we would rather be home with God rather in the body we inhabit now. In the moments when we can experience a deeper faith away from our bodies, there may be greater blessings. But we are also not to discount the times in our own flesh as we inhabit this earth. Maybe it’s sight (or any of our senses available to us) that solidifies our faith and will help us to hang on when the shadows lengthen. Maybe it’s tracing our fingers along the scars or placing ointment on the wounds that adorn our bodies. Either way, God is present – whether we believe without using our senses or experience God through taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Now, that Jesus shows his crucifying wounds is about more than convincing the disciples in hiding behind the locked doors or even, Thomas that He is the very same Jesus that was crucified, and he was. Rather, the point of this matter is this: he showed them his wounds even before doubt was expressed. That he showed his wounds, therefore, was not so much to prove his identity as the crucified one, but instead to witness yet again to his solidarity with those who are wounded by the crucifying realities in our world. Make no mistake about it, that Jesus was crucified affirms his absolute identification with the Sandras, the Jackelins, the Nigels and all other persons who are wounded by crucifying realities of injustice in our world.”
–The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas – He Showed Them His Wounds
Sermon given at Union Theological Seminary, May 2, 2019 found at https://utsnyc.edu/he-showed-them-his-wounds/

For further reflection:
“The wound is the place where light enters you.” Rumi
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.” – Henri Nouwen
“Like the Good Samaritan, may we not be ashamed of touching the wounds of those who suffer, but try to heal them with concrete acts of love” – Pope Francis

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian serves as Senior Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Belleville, Illinois.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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