by Pr. Jess Harren
Acts 5: 30-32 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.
John 20:24-25 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.
In a mostly well known Bible story, sometime after Jesus comes back to life, one of Jesus’ disciples says that he won’t believe Jesus is alive until he can touch him. This story is often called Doubting Thomas, and usually preachers lift up Thomas as someone who had to see to believe, and caution us to believe without being sure -- without evidence. But, as the title of this project says, we’re here to disrupt the ways the stories are normally told.
Most of us need to touch someone or something to survive. Babies who are not held die early. Touch is one of our senses and is necessary for human life. I think it is great that Thomas wants to touch Jesus to be sure Jesus is real, and I applaud Jesus for consenting to the touch later in this same story.
The reality is that people touch Jesus through our congregations and our lives as Christians. Consensual touch isn’t bad, it is holy. As someone who lives in a body that often requires medical care, sometimes the hugs at church are the only non-medical touches I get in one week. I love that most of my congregations have been trained to always ask before offering a hug, and to always respect the answer.
But I also wonder about this: When people come to church, are they touching Jesus? The real Jesus? The one who was essentially lynched by the State? Jesus broke the law: Only Caesar could be the Son of God. Only Caesar could be called King. It was treason to say otherwise, and Jesus said otherwise. Our Savior, whom many Christians believe is without sin, broke the law of the Roman Empire. In the protest march on Palm Sunday, people exalt Jesus as Lord -- which Jesus knew was illegal. It was a protest against the unjust Roman laws, and a way of providing hope for the people who lived under oppression. Jesus did illegal things and was killed by the state for doing them. Of course, God took that awful, but predictable thing, and made something amazing out of it. Jesus is risen from the dead! The state and its oppression don’t get to decide everything about the future. They do not get to proclaim that death is the final answer. In Jesus’ resurrection, we can loudly proclaim that life is the end of the story. New Life -- different from the old, but with scars -- is possible. The basic Christian story is of death turned into life. The basic Christian story is that we are invited to respond to the death-dealing ways of the world (and State) with unconditional love, action, and the throwing off of oppression.
Even when Jesus came back to life, not all the disciples were with him and his message of New Life. Thomas wasn’t there for a time. The invitation is to ask: What if we are also disciples who are not there? What if we’re not able to be with Jesus? Even more seriously, what if we still kill Jesus by hanging him on a tree? What if the Jesus people touch when they come to our congregations is one that we made up? One that supports the system. One that makes sure that we keep our power and resources for ourselves. One that ignores that our Savior, without sin, broke the law.
I’m afraid that, in our misguided attempts to save our institutions, we are guilty of hanging Jesus on a tree, or supporting those who do so by our silence. Jesus is every body that was killed during the genocide of the First Nations People. Jesus is every body that was killed during slavery. Jesus is every Black and Brown body put in prison by the state -- mostly for having grown up without resources. Mostly for having chronic PTSD, self-medicating the pain of the world around them, and finding the only relief from a world that hates them in drugs. Jesus is every Black and Brown body killed by the State, including the police. Jesus is everyone who is told by our laws that property matters more than human life, and that fear for our property allows us to kill. Jesus is everyone who lives a world that says their life matters a lot less than the life of those in power who fear the humanity of everyone else.
Our church continues to say: Come experience Jesus! Come touch and use all your senses to know death that turns into life with us! But are we inviting them to place that supports the hanging of people on trees? Are we inviting them to a place that supports white supremacy, pull yourself up by your bootstraps ideas, and criminalizes growing up in a world without adequate resources?
Maybe the invitation of Thomas isn’t at all about being able to believe without touching Jesus in some way. Maybe is it about finding Jesus, seeking him out, and asking to touch him. Asking Jesus to change you, asking Jesus to change our churches, asking Jesus to show us how the State hurt him. If we ask Jesus to show us his scars, and we truly reach out and touch them, then we have to start thinking about the Jesus story differently. We might have to realize that this world leaves scars on people, and seek to touch those scars, too. We might have to get clear about who is following Jesus and doing the things Jesus did.
The story of Thomas, combined with the reading from Acts, invites us to seek out the real Jesus. To ask to touch him and to discover the ways we can share him with others. We are invited to proclaim, loudly, for all to witness, that we have touched Jesus. We have touched the Brown Middle Eastern man born to a homeless unwed teenage mother; we have touched the toddler who became a political refugee; we have touched the man who said that everyone should share, have clothes, food, and healing; we have touched the Being killed by the State for violating unjust and oppressive laws; and we have found, that in touching Jesus’ hands and side, we have found life. Life that is for everyone. We have found a Jesus who wants a relationship with us, and who always proclaims that after death-dealing realities, life is always possible for us. Perhaps the story of Thomas is about an invitation to reach out and touch the scars of those around us, to bring healing, an end to all forms of oppression, and to proclaim that we are about the life-giving ways of Jesus, not the death-dealing ways of the world. Taking death and turning it into Life is an amazing story, one that we can touch and one that we can tell.