Easter 2 Year B: Resurrected Bodies

John 20:19-31

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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 It’s the second sunday in the season of Easter, and that means we continue with the unexpected and kinda weird resurrection appearances. None of these stories really have the jubilant feel of the Hallelujah chorus or a cross covered in colorful flowers. Last week we heard the story of everyone’s shock at the empty tomb, not knowing what it meant, and Mary weeping in the garden. This week we get the story of the disciples, terrified, locking themselves into the house. Jesus is there anyway. Jesus is always there. 

But Thomas was not there. He didn’t get to feel Jesus’s very alive breath in the room, or see his scarred body. How is he expected to testify as a witness to something that he has not actually witnessed? Testifying to the truth of Jesus and the resurrection was exactly what Jesus was sending them out to do. 

I wonder about those scars on the resurrected body of Jesus. Were they there merely to provide proof that it was actually Jesus and not a secret twin brother? I mean, if God was going to resurrect Jesus from the dead, couldn’t his wounds be healed as well? Couldn’t there have been some other proof for Thomas, maybe an inside joke that only Jesus knew, Jesus breaking bread for the disciples again, like at Emmaus,  the way Jesus said his name, like with Mary. Surely God could have healed Jesus’ body completely, erasing the pain and horror of the crucifixion? That would have become part of the miracle, a Jesus without scars. Not only is Jesus alive, he is restored to a perfect body, one that the Romans did not pierce and scar.

But that’s not the sort of resurrection we get. And I’m not even sure it’s the kind of resurrection we want. I saw a short video yesterday from a young man named Alex who had cancer and had his leg amputated. He uses a prosthetic leg, and is proud and happy to wear his collection of prosthetics like they are well-tailored suits. More than favorite clothes even, his prosthetic is intrinsic to his self-image now. He was pondering what it was going to be like in the afterlife. Would he have one leg or two? Would he be restored to his pre-cancer body, or would his perfect resurrected body be like his current one? He said, “I don’t want two legs.”…He loves his life and his body now and wants his resurrected heavenly body to reflect that joy and love. 

Our wounds and scars aren’t shameful. Maybe death by crucifixion was shameful. The Romans probably meant it to be. But our bodies are not supposed to be shameful. They are not supposed to be hidden in fear that others might see that you have lived life in your body. Instead of shame, there should be wonder. You have lived! This physical body has encountered the world, and any marks borne on your body are proof that it was all real. There is wonder in that. Living bodies sometimes feel embarrassing, I know. But our bodies are alive! And God became human, lived as one of us, alive, with all the embarrassing wonder of that incarnate body of Jesus. It’s incredible, but it’s true.

What Jesus says to Thomas is important. Jesus is gentle. Jesus is affirming. The wounds are not something to be ashamed of, not something that Jesus is trying to hide. In the famous Caravaggio painting of this moment, we see the gentleness on Jesus’ face. Everyone else has their eyebrows raised so high their foreheads wrinkle. Maybe they are shocked to see the wound in Jesus’ side. Maybe they are wincing because it looks so awkward to have someone stick a finger into a wound.

But Jesus has no awkwardness, no embarrassment about his body. Jesus gives Thomas the proof  that he needs with his very body. Jesus takes Thomas’s incredulity and turns it into wonder. My lord and my God! Alive! In the flesh! 

 Jesus then says that people who do not see, but still believe, are blessed. The people who don’t need to touch physical proof to believe the truth are blessed. Sure, maybe Jesus is breaking the 4th wall here, talking to all of us who are living in the age of the spirit, who have not had the experience of touching the side wound of the resurrected Jesus, maybe Jesus is reassuring us that we can believe too. And maybe there is also a word here about how we can trust and believe each other. Thomas didn’t believe his companion disciples, which was maybe fair in the traumatic first days of the resurrection. There’s something especially convincing about having physical proof when the entire world seems to be crumbling.  But we can trust other people. We must trust other people. We are blessed when we trust other people’s witness and believe.

Last Sunday was Easter Day, the day we celebrate the resurrection, that day that the body of Jesus, wounds and all, was alive. March 31st was also Transgender Day of Visibility. 

There’s a photo by artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. It is a reimagining of the Doubting Thomas painting by Caravaggio. But in Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin’s photo, a trans man is showing his top surgery scars to a group of people. In both artworks, I am struck by the gentleness of the faces of Jesus and the trans man. There is no anger or annoyance. It is a very intimate thing, to literally bare your chest and have people inspect your wounds. But there is no shame, there is no attempting to cover back up. There is only making the truth of life visible to all.

I believe that Jesus, by being so open and unapologetic about his wounds to Thomas, was showing us how we can live unashamed and joyful, showing our scars as proof of life. Showing off our scars because they are proof of who we are. There is nothing about our bodies that is shameful. We don’t have to hide. I believe that Jesus shows Thomas his scars to say that to be alive is a wonderful thing, not despite the scars, but because the scars say that you have lived in this world in your body, and that to respond to someone’s life with with wonder is a right and good and joyful thing. 

I believe that Jesus wants all of us to have that wonder and joy in our bodies, in our scars. It’s hard. It takes a lot of trust and courage to bare your scars and make your story visible for everyone to see and believe. I think that’s why Jesus said that those who believe without seeing are blessed. Those who trust your story without making you prove it by showing your scars are a particular blessing. There is nothing shameful in your body, in your wounds and scars, but it is still so hard to trust others with their visibility. 

The bravery of transgender people in being visible in the world is so wondrous to me. Their bodies show the proof of the lives they are living, and they are trusting everyone with the story their bodies tell. “Trans visibility” is rejecting the sense of shame humans have around our bodies. Trans people are alive. Trans bodies are proof of life, proof of joy and wonder at God’s gift of life. Proof that scars can be a sign of being fully alive. 

I am so grateful for the witness of my trans siblings to the joy of life and the beauty of our bodies in our wounds and scars. It is so hard and vulnerable to make those wounds visible. Sometimes it is what people need, like Thomas believing in the resurrection. But blessed are those who do not see and yet still believe.  Blessed are those who believe without making others prove the story of their lives. We can trust and believe each other. We don’t have to touch the scars to believe they are there. We don’t have to witness someone baring their chest and soul to believe the story of their life.  Jesus showed his wounds and proved it was possible to be fully alive even with scars. We can believe others. We share in the resurrected life, the resurrected body of Jesus, complete with wounds and scars. We can believe the witness of others because it is also our own witness, the witness of our own bodies. 

I don’t know what sort of body anyone will have in the resurrection. Some people preach that we will be restored to an ideal human body, like a 25 year old peak physical fitness version of ourselves. Some people have suggested the bodily perfection in the resurrection will be a perfect sphere. I don’t know about any of that. The resurrected  body of Jesus still had wounds. Alex the amputee wants a single leg on his resurrected body. Maybe the scars and wounds we have acquired in life are proof of that life, not something to be disappeared with a resurrected body. Maybe the wounds we have acquired are not something to be hidden in shame, but something that will be made visible in the joy and wonder of resurrected life. 

This body of Christ gathered here today is proof of so much life. Yes, there are scars. But there is nothing shameful about scars. There is nothing shameful about our bodies. Every little detail, every part of this body in all the wounds and wonders, is proof that we are alive, proof that death does not win the day. Jesus is alive. We are alive. We are the living body of Christ, still with wounds, but fully visible, fully alive. 

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