We can easily become so focused on Thomas that we miss everything else in the story. I’m thinking in particular about the very early part of this week’s gospel – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The continuing ministry of Jesus will include these apostles (the word means “sent ones”). And they are sent “as the Father sent me”; that is to say, the terms of their engagement with the world on behalf of the Father are the same as they were for Jesus.
Teach and heal, cast out demons, confront the illusion of inevitability that holds hope hostage, unmask the privilege and power that sustain an elite, and attend with compassion to those who are left out and lost.
The cost of this engagement will also follow the trajectory of Jesus’ life. Like him, they will spend their lives. So it makes perfect sense that before Jesus tells them about this engagement in God’s mission, he reminds them that he has the necessary authority to invite them into this hard and holy way. He shows them the wounds on his hands and in his side. “Then,” the story tells us, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
The resurrection appearances throughout this Easter season give us two kinds of help. They help us recognize the continuing ministry of Jesus in the lives of his followers, and they help us understand how we, the Body of Christ, can be a recognizable sign of his continuing life and ministry. As we baptize a new member, as we bid the Holy Spirit graft him into the Body of Christ, our Scripture invites us to consider what we are inviting him to take on, and whether we have the authority to make that invitation.
I’m thinking that Keith, like Thomas, would be unwise to accept this invitation without touching the wounds on our hands. Wounded hands are one of the ways one can recognize a disciple of Jesus. A community with unblemished hands is, I’m thinking, deeply suspect.
That said, I wonder if our problem isn’t a matter of seeing and knowing, rather than of being and doing. The world around us does not celebrate the wounds of love, except in occasional made-for-television bursts of sentimentality that offer tears without transformation. So we’re inclined, I think, to overlook our real courage, our tenacious, resilient capacity to engage in the work of love, and to absorb the wounds of love. We’re inclined to forget what we have learned about love’s victory and true power. It’s tempting and ever so easy to let Easter become a festival we visit once a year instead of a lens for seeing the world and ourselves in it.
God has told us – God has shown us – what sort of power bears the weight of our humanity. Today, we baptize Keith into the show-and-tell Body of Christ. We make promises to him and offer ourselves to him and to those who love him as a community of support and encouragement that will love and honour him as he grows, that will teach and strengthen him in the way of the apostles, that has the authority to invite him to be sent along with us into the world as a friend and disciple of Jesus. And in his turn, after most of us have entered into our rest, he will offer to others what we offer him today – the friendship of a community of wounded hands and lasting joy.
Because as he grows in body, mind and spirit, as he embraces the way of compassion on which we follow Jesus, he will discover what the wise among us already know. This is a journey to be taken in community, with the thoughtful example of those who know the journey and its cost, and with care for those who do not yet have calluses on their feet to protect against the wear of the road.