Although Thomas the Twin was one of the twelve disciples, he wasn't with the others when Jesus appeared to them. So they told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But Thomas said, "First, I must see the nail scars in his hands and touch them with my finger. I must put my hand where the spear went into his side. I won't believe unless I do this!"
A week alter the disciples were together again. This time, Thomas was with them. Jesus came in while the doors were still locked and stood in the middle of the group. He greeted his disciples and said to Thomas, "Put your finger there and look at my hands Put your hand into my side. Stop doubting and have faith!"
Thomas replied, "You are my Lord and my God!
Jesus said, "Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!"
On Thursday of this past week, in Andersonville, Georgia, 140 miles southwest of Atlanta, a new museum opened, a museum erected to honor American prisoners of war. More than 800,000 Americans have been prisoners of war from the American Revolution to the Persian Gulf war. Its site is adjacent to the to the 26acre Civil War National Historical site of the infamous prison where the South held 45,000 Union Soldiers of whom 13,000 died of disease and malnutrition.
Three items about that site that I find memorable: First, the memorial is a monument to the unspeakable horrors of experienced by prisoners of war, yet it affirms the human spirit arising even in death and depravity. Second, a cross stands crafted from cement from Battan. And, third, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, himself a POW in for more than five years in Vietnam, spoke these words:
Take from this place all that is good about men,
and leave hate and brutality behind in the ruins,
with the fallen timbers, rusting wire and broken concrete of prisons
that could not cage the souls of the captives.
This memorial speaks not only about the depravity, destruction and death wrought by humans, but also about the ability of humans to affirm life in the midst of all that. Is it possible to affirm life in the midst of death? Yes! We Christians have a word for it: resurrection. In a place awash with the reminders of death, we find life springing, surging forth.
Over the past decade, one conviction I have come to hold firmly is the belief that resurrection is not a puzzle to be solved but a conviction to be affirmed. In addition, I have come to believe that each of us is resurrected, each of us has experienced one form of the multiple deaths in this world, and each of us can claim the reality to which the word resurrection points-if we so choose.
There are individuals I know who have been physically and sexually abused-in childhood or as adults-men as well as women. What does that kind of assault do to people? It builds walls and destroys trust. For some, that closing off of life is permanent, but for most there is a slow rebuilding of trust in others and the person finds herself or himself open to the experiences of the world. How do we talk about such affirmation in the midst of pain and death? Christians call such power resurrection.
There are individuals I know to whom the word cancer has been spoken. At one time, that was an automatic death sentence, and hearing the word still can send people into depression. Most, though, face their own death and affirm life, even joining the growing number of cancer survivors. How do we talk about such life affirmation in the face of death? Christians call such power resurrection.
It is one thing to face one's own death, but what can be even more difficult is the death of a friend, a lover, a parent, a spouse, or a child-especially a child. Such a devastating experiece can rip open one's emotions and shred any complacency about the goodness of life. Putting one foot in front of the other, each day is lived and, increasingly, life is affirmed. How do we talk about such affirmation? Christians call such power resurrection.
There are other kinds of deaths, the death that comes at the end of a marriage, termination of a job or the end of a dream. Such deaths erode, even demolish, feelings of selfrespect and selfworth. Yet, people pick up the pieces of their lives and move on, affirming life. How do we talk about such affirmation? Christians call such power resurrection.
Then there are those fatal wounds that we administer to ourselves: the times we betray our own values, shortcut our own ethics or cut corners with our own consciences. Often a selfloathing can overwhelm a person. Yet, people do find acceptance by others and forgiveness of self. How do we talk about such affirmation? Christians call such power resurrection.
I truly believe that each of us-deep down-is wounded by other people by organizations by ourselves. And I believe we carry with us those wounds and the deaths we endure all through our lives. The truth of this is experienced in how quickly we can be 'rubberbanded' back into the emotion of earlier experiences as those moments wash over us. Still, we move on and become centers of energy for the human future. How do we talk about such affirmation? Christians call such power resurrection.
Death in the New Testament has a dual meaning: the cessation of breathing and, as Paul puts it, "this body of death." Whereas, no one of us here has experienced the first, we all have experienced the second. Resurrection isn't believing, as we say to children when scared, "Now, now, all will turn out all right." There are real wounds, real death. We don't ever get completely over these, but we do live through them. We are resurrected people.
I find it helpful to think of resurrection as a theory (the word theory has the Greek root theos or God in it). A theory gives a person a means to stand above and encompass a field of interest through an interpretation of the meaning of that field. So important is a theory that Stephen Hawking, the great British physicist and author of the book, A History of Time, points out that we cannot distinguish what is real about the universe without a theory.
That is also true regarding our lives. Each of us stands with some viewpoint toward life. We select and evaluate information that comes to us. We place value on some things and not others. We act from that point of view. All our seeing is theoryladen. We test those theories by observation and experimentation and by experience and reflection. One cannot distinguish what is real about life without a theory, an interpretation or a point of view.
Resurrection is a theory for Christians. It states that the only proper way to know and experience the world is to love it. And love never ends, as the Apostle Paul writes. You can't love the world, God and others without loving yourself. You can't love others unless you are able to love God and love yourself. You won't be able to love yourself without loving others and loving God.
Thus, resurrection gives us a way of looking at life and death. It gives us a point of view which includes, in addition to survival, a mission, a sense of purpose, and a point from which to protest against the injustices in this world.
Resurrection is the focus around which cluster not only life and death, but also words such as joy and hope. Karl Barth wrote, "The gospel is not there to make us good; it is there to make us joyful!" And the French Jesuit paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." Resurrection has us standing on tiptoe as we experience life.
As the idea spread that faith and hope and love and joy were more than words, but were true realities. People found that in the midst of despair, they could affirm hope and, in the midst of death, they could affirm life.
Resurrection is a word, formulated by humans, which speaks about a particular human experience: the experience of life always successfully struggling, to poke its head above all the deathdealing aspects of our existence. Resurrection is the affirmation that life can't be squelched even by death.
It is not difficult to affirm death. Death abounds in our world and in each of our lives. At one level the word points to the literal cessation of breathing and our bodies growing cold. At another level death also includes the chipping away of our ideals and dreams, the closing down of our emotions and trust. Death takes place when sorrow clutches at our hearts, selfloathing follows the betrayal of another, and anger overpowers us when we are treated unjustly. Each of these, and others, have chipped away at our lives.
Resurrection affirms that, if we want to talk about the deepest meaning of our existence, the 'really real,' we talk not about death but about life.
As a minister I am the repository of people's stories-stories of joy, but also stories of pain and grief, hurt and betrayal, dashed dreams and violated ideals.
These stories leave me, at times, with great anger over the hurt done to people and feeling great anguish over the deaths individuals experience. Yet, that has never led me to become despondent or cynical. In asking why, I think it is because I stand in awe, in absolute amazement at the way people pick up the pieces of their lives and move on, at they way they rebuild their shattered selves, and more often than I would believe possible, at the way they reach out to others who have similar suffering. How can I feel depressed when I experience the amazing tenacity of the human spirit to embrace pain and death and to affirm life. I stand in awe of what I seen in people's lives.
That is why, over the years, I have become a strong believer in resurrection. It is why resurrection has moved in my consciousness from a problem to be solved to an affirmation to be made, from a doctrine to be debated to a reality to be lived.
At the beginning of this sermon, I read the story of Thomas-Doubting Thomas.
I always felt a kinship to Thomas, a person who finds belief difficult and demands proof. Not seeing the tangible proof he saw, resurrection was a belief placed on the back shelf of my mind.
Now I find I have completed Thomas' experience. I have personally touched the wounds-my own and others-and felt death. I have also felt life in the midst of death. I have personally felt-and I have seen in the lives of others-the power of life surging forth from death. And what is so amazing is that I have found that truth in my own life as well.
© Robert H. Tucker
12 April 1998
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