Reach Out Your Hand
by Louise Westfall
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Okay, just checking. How quickly do the alleluias quiet down after Easter, in the busy-ness of our lives, facing the same old problems, dealing with the reality of young, inexperienced pitchers. Dang.
But if Easter might be called the church’s “opening day,” then maybe what happens afterward is actually what makes the difference.
The days following that first Easter were perplexing to Jesus’ followers. They’d heard the women’s amazing stories of an empty tomb and announcements by heavenly messengers that Jesus had been raised from death. But could it be it true? They were afraid — well-founded fear that they could be arrested and executed, just as their Teacher had been. So they stayed together, behind locked doors, restless and unsure.
A reading from the gospel according to John, in the twentieth chapter, at the 19th verse. Listen for God’s Word to the church: doubters and disciples, skeptics and saints, the disappointed and the dedicated; which is to say, all of us. [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[a]), 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[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
I’m always a little embarrassed at the post-Easter appearances of Jesus. They’re just a little too raw, a little too descriptive of his body. The pictures get in the way of my thoroughly spiritual, triumphant image of Christ Victorious, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Alleluia. Amen.
Instead, Jesus comes to the disciples through locked doors and shows his scars from crucifixion wounds, like my uncle who would proudly show us kids a long, wicked-looking raised line of marled flesh, left over from the open heart surgery that saved his life. In some accounts, Jesus asks for food and then eats it; in another he joins disciples on the road and discusses theology — revealing that it’s him only as they welcome him into their home and break bread together. In one he kindles a campfire on the Sea of Galilee and grills the fish the disciples—desperate to DO something — caught. It’s embarrassing because it’s so … so human. We’ve all got scars. We all get hungry. Somehow I thought the resurrected Christ would show himself as the all-powerful, nothing-can-defeat-me Savior, bathed in light, above the skulking murkiness of earth.
Instead, Jesus meets us as the scarred and hungry friend who offers peace through his vulnerability.
Instead, Jesus meets us as the scarred and hungry friend who offers peace through his vulnerability. Christian faith affirms “the resurrection of the body,” because this is the arena in which God seeks to raise life. Reach out your hand, Jesus said to “doubting” Thomas, to identify that it was really the Teacher Thomas knew and had followed. Priest, author and spiritual director Richard Rohr describes it as “localizing the mystery of Christ in this material and earthly world and in our own bodies, the only world we know and the world that God created and loves so well” [from Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, p. 87] Resurrection is not simply for heaven after we die, but for here and now, in our embodied selves, in a world that offers both danger and delight.
We speak of these spiritual mysteries in physical terms. Water, the very foundation of life. Bread, for the hungers we experience daily. A community of imperfect people trying to practice the perfect love of God. Intaken and exhaled breath … the gift of Spirit animating these air-borne bodies. Physical touch we cannot live without. Material realities to help us understand spiritual truth beyond our knowing. Every time we baptize, we are invited to remember that we are marked as Christ’s own, beloved children of God, every one of us. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are invited to remember a life that nourishes our own, that strengthens us to live with courageous love. Little Charlotte will “remember” this as she experiences it again whenever baptismal waters are poured out; when bread is broken and the cup is shared; when prayers are breathed; when the community extends our hands with the peace of Christ to her and her family. Peace for her young growing life. Peace for the changes and challenges that will inevitably come. Peace to give her roots and wings in this beautiful and terrifying world. Peace.
There’s more to Thomas than his so- called “doubting.” That Jesus welcomed him to reach out and touch his wounded body suggests that human vulnerability provides connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. Yeah, we read the line about those who believe without seeing will be especially blessed. Sounds like an editorial comment to me, added as encouragement to second-generation believers and all who came to the faith later. Because when you think about it, are there any of us who have come to believe except through the witness of others who have encountered the risen Christ?!
Friends, he may still be seen. Here, in broken bread and a cup poured out. There, with the hungry and hurting. Downstairs in New Genesis. Out at the women’s correctional facility. Among the immigrant children from Hope in Our City. Beyond, in communities marred by violence and poverty. The doors we lock out of fear; the walls we erect to protect and insulate us; the distance we put between ourselves and people who need our love may blind us to the crucified One who lives among us. Jesus invites us not to avert our eyes, but to look full in the face of this vulnerability and woundedness; to reach out our hands to care for others, share food with those who are hungry, provide shelter in the storm and a chance to begin anew.
And who knows? — maybe there will be baseball in October.
But here’s what I know for sure: when we reach out with love, we will meet the Risen Christ, our Savior and Friend, whom God sent to raise us all to life. Peace be with you.