April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter
Pr. Craig Mueller
YOU CAN’T SEE IT
Sometimes we just can’t see it. How blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.
Larry Gillick is described as scrappy, yet amazingly perceptive. He’s Irish American and has been a Jesuit priest for fifty years. He also lost his sight when he a small child.
Larry tells the story of a visit to a Catholic elementary school years ago. After he made a short presentation to a group of students, a young girl—about ten years old—approached him and started talking with him. After a couple minutes, a look of pure astonishment flashed in the girl’s eyes.
Suddenly, without warning and without any filter, she blurted out: “you’re blind!” Father Gillick responded with gentle tenderness: “Sweetie, that’s not news to me.” And before he could say anything else to soften the awkwardness, you could tell she moved quickly from shock to sadness. “You don’t know what you look like,” she said.
That profound statement from such a young person truly caught Larry off guard. Before he could respond at all, she softly said, “you don’t know what you look like. You’re beautiful.”
Most spend a lot of time and effort and a lot of looking in the mirror— obsessing over what we look like. Wishing something was different about our body. Trying to cover up blemishes with makeup. Lamenting the ways we’re not as perfect as we wish we were.
Sometimes it seems like Easter Day can be a bit too perfect. The Easter flowers perfectly arranged. The glorious music perfectly performed. The liturgy perfectly enacted. And everybody trying to look their best. Flowers, buds, warmer weather. Christ arisen and everything restored. Now we live happily ever after, right?
Except. Except along comes the Second Sunday of Easter with a doubting disciple and a risen Christ whose scars are still visible. Sometimes I wish this were the gospel for Easter Sunday when the church is filled with questioners, skeptics, and doubters. Maybe this less than perfect resurrection story speaks most profoundly to the wounds we carry visibly and internally, the wounds our society is suffering, the wounds the earth is bearing.
When Thomas isn’t seeing it. When Thomas isn’t getting it. When Thomas so longs for a resurrection of his sorrowful, grieving heart, Jesus appears to him. But not a perfect Jesus. A risen body with wounds still visible. The scars of suffering—not only his, but those of a wounded humanity.
We imagine Jesus’ risen body as glorious and radiant. Yet we don’t always see the beauty in the wounds.
Jesus asks Thomas to touch the scars. On Good Friday we joined Christians around the world in streaming to the cross. And there with our hands we touched mystery. And we sang: “Holy God, holy and beautiful. Beauty unsurpassed. You are despised, rejected, scorned you hold us fast. And we behold your beauty.”
When we honor and touch the cross, when we accept and even embrace our vulnerability and imperfections, when we look with compassion on the wounds and blemishes of others – both internally and externally, Easter grace dawns on us and on creation. And we can almost hear: “You don’t know what you look like. You’re beautiful.”
One writer (Debie Thomas) suggests Jesus’ wounded body reminds us that some hurts are for keeps. It’s part of being human. She goes on to say, “Some markers of pain, loss, trauma, and horror leave traces that no amount of piety will take away. I, for example, will never become a woman who was not molested as a little girl. My teen-age son will never become an adult who didn’t spend a chunk of his adolescence in chronic pain. My daughter’s body will never become one that didn’t battle anorexia. Some wounds remain, even after the resurrection.”
Today we baptize two children into this embodied faith. “You are a child of God. You are beautiful just the way you are,” is the grace-filled message. So often our society’s obsession with the way we outwardly package ourselves chokes our souls. Yet we gather around a risen Christ that still bears the wounds of suffering. One theologian—who lived with a congenital bone defect all her life—called the risen, wounded Christ our “disabled God.”
How amazing! God also present in our wounds and imperfections, and our less than perfect bodies. As I announced before the footwashing ritual on Maundy Thursday: in this safe place we remind one another that Christ is present in all bodies, whether broken, healthy, aging, frail, abused, ill or differently-abled.
A high school student ran a social experiment years ago. She goes up to students and faculty at her school and says, “I’m taking pictures of things I find beautiful and I find you beautiful.” The people and the bodies and the reactions are so diverse. ( watch the video). Some are deeply moved! Then there is a second question. She asks them one thing they think is beautiful or unique about themselves. Most are uncomfortable and can’t answer. How sad we can name all the things wrong with us but have a hard time naming the beautiful things. The video ends: “when you see something beautiful in someone, tell them. It may take a second to say. But for them, it may last a lifetime.”
Christ speaks words of peace and words of beauty to us this day—even amid our insecurities, our doubts, our pride, our indifference.
May Easter open your eyes. To see the earth coming alive. To see the amazing gifts in each new day. To see the risen Christ among us in bread and wine. To see the image of God in our siblings, especially those most different from us. And finally, to see what you too often miss: that you are beautiful!