The Human Element

The Second Sunday of Easter, Year B
April 19, 2009
1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

In the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“It’s so full of life.  It’s not quite what you’d expect.”
My dad made these comments yesterday as we walked from the FDR Memorial 
to the World War II Memorial,
grand monuments flanked by playing fields 
filled with youth and adults playing lacrosse, baseball, and even cricket.
I have to admit, as a relative newcomer to the Washington area, I agree with him.
You see, I still get chills when I go into Washington and see 
the great monuments along the National Mall,
and the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court.
Growing up in Philadelphia, where a trip to Washington was a once-every-few-years school trip,
I’m still getting used to the idea that I can throw the kids in the van and 
take an easy evening drive down I-66 to Constitution Avenue, 
and tour our nation’s symbols of freedom … 
And so yesterday my dad and I couldn’t help but appreciate the juxtaposition that takes place 
when 12 year-old lacrosse players call the lawn just south of the reflecting pool 
a playing field …
a lawn on which the shadows of Washington and Lincoln are cast, 
a lawn on which many who were denied freedom 
heard about Martin Luther King’s dream,
a lawn where millions walk each year, many on once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimages,
to take in the history and significance of our nation’s capital,
a lawn crossed by a group of WWII veterans yesterday on their way to honor 
their fallen friends.
“It’s so full of life.  It’s not quite what you’d expect.”
Of all that we saw yesterday, I think it was this full-of-life character that most moved us.
We didn’t just see inscriptions etched on marble, 
as important as they are.
We also saw something that puts those inscriptions in context:
the people whose freedoms were established by those towering figures
memorialized in iconic structures.
It was, in part, in observing the ordinary activities of people playing 
at the foot of grand monuments
that my dad and I were able to more fully appreciate what those monuments stand for.
Who knew that a youth lacrosse game could be so meaningful?
The marble is nice … but the human element made it for us.

Thomas craved the “human element” of Jesus’ resurrection.
For some reason Thomas missed out on Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance 
to the other disciples … the Bible doesn’t explain where Thomas was.
But Thomas heard about it … 
Thomas was told all about Jesus’ resurrection … 
about his wounds, about what he said to the disciples when he first appeared, 
about how he came to them …

But Thomas wanted more than just stories, 
more than just first-hand witness accounts of Jesus’ words and actions.
Thomas wanted to see for himself,
to see Jesus’ wounds, touch Jesus pierced side …
Thomas wanted to see Jesus’ wounded, broken humanity in order to believe.
He wanted the “human element.”

Now, Thomas’ doubt is much derided …. 
to be labeled a Doubting Thomas is not a title anybody seeks.
In our society, which vigorously clings to the phrase, “actions speak louder than words,”
and which vigorously seeks proof in scientific inquiry as in legal disputes,
we curiously pillory Thomas for seeking some evidence …
but, wouldn’t we all want a little bit of proof if a friend told us that 
the laws of nature have been broken, 
that death didn’t contain your teacher, and Lord,
who you saw hanging on a cross days earlier?
C’mon!  Of course we’d all want some sort of evidence …
Poor Thomas gets a bad rap … undeservedly so,
for we’ll see that this Doubting Thomas takes a leap of faith 
that even the first eye-witnesses seemed unable to make.

A week after first appearing to his disciples, a week after the resurrection, 
Jesus again appears to his disciples.
After greeting them with a word of peace,
Jesus immediately invites Thomas to touch his hands and side and believe.
We don’t know what Thomas did after hearing that invitation from Jesus …
Did Thomas touch Jesus’ wounded hand and side?
Did Thomas feel the scars himself?
Or did he simple take a look?
We just don’t know.
It’s probably not that important a detail.
But what we do know is that Thomas responds with a proclamation of faith
more profound than any that had preceded it in John’s Gospel:
“My Lord and my God!”
Surely prior to this point many had called Jesus “Lord,”
but this is the first time that anyone in John’s Gospel has referred to Jesus as God,
an enormously significant confession for a band of first century Jews.
Yes, from the mouth of the disciple disregarded as the “Doubter,”
comes the most daring declaration of all – Jesus is God.
I can’t help but notice that Thomas made this grand declaration of Jesus’ divinity 
only after dwelling on Jesus’ humanity …
That is, Thomas can only acknowledge Jesus as God after first coming to grips 
with the reality of Jesus as man, particularly as a suffering, wounded, broken man.
There was something in that humanity, in that wounded humanity, 
that ignited the gift of faith in Thomas.
The “human element.”
I’m playing with dichotomies today … 
first, it was the ordinary lacrosse game played in the shadows of monuments erected 
to honor extraordinary people, events, and freedoms.
Ordinary and Extraordinary.
Then, in Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ, 
we see that it is Jesus’ humanity – in particular his wounded humanity – 
that leads Thomas to proclaim his divinity.
Humanity and Divinity.
The final dichotomy, the final pairing today is that of the church and world.
In our second reading, the first letter of John,
we hear a wonderful discourse about the word of life, the light of the world,
echoing language from the first chapter of the Gospel of John.
But then the letter turns to concerns about the faith and life of Christ’s followers,
and we hear several propositions attempting to address certain errors in the church.
Listen again to verses 6 and 7: 
“If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, 
we lie and do not do what is true;
but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, 
we have fellowship with one another, 
and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.”
The first statement, vs. 6, reflects an error in belief and practice – 
“if we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness” …
that’s the error, followed by a correction – 
“but if we walk in the light … we have fellowship with one another.”
This pattern of error and correction continues in verses 7 and 8 in the well-known passage 
that is imbedded in some forms of our confession of sins:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
But if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Again, that same structure – the first line identifies an error, the second line corrects it.
And so, taking this rhetorical pattern that is developing in the beginning of this letter,
I can’t help but notice the proposition in the final verse:
“And Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, 
and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
Not quite the same sentence structure as the earlier propositions,
but nonetheless it fits the pattern 
of an initial statement followed by a correction, or in this case, a clarification.
Here we read that it is not enough for we in the church to be concerned only 
with the atonement – that is, the forgiveness – of our sins, 
but also with the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world.
“And Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, 
and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
It is too easy for us in the church to get stuck in the church,
to think that this message is only for us,
to fall into the trap that this faith thing 
is only to be shared and expressed behind stained glass.
But in these verses we hear John, 
who in earlier verses corrected wrong thinking about sin and Christian living,
reminding the church that the gift of forgiveness – indeed, that Jesus himself – 
is not just for the church and those in it, but for the whole world.

Dear friends, in this season of Easter,
I encourage you to seek out your Lord and Savior in the ordinary,
in flesh and blood, particularly in wounded humanity,
and to seek him out not just inside the church, 
but also to to do this outside the church,
in the world which God so loves,
and for which he sent his Son,
and through which the gifts of forgiveness and mercy extend.
Go, like Thomas, and demand to see signs of Christ’s presence,
his love, grace, and mercy …
Go into the world and seek him out,
so that you, like Thomas, may
not doubt but believe, 
and with him you can proclaim Jesus to be your Lord and your God!

Amen.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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