It all happened so quickly: death and resurrection. Deep grief and incredible joy. So worthy of celebration with fanfare and song, procession and warmth, like we experienced last week. But today Thomas comes and allows us to linger a little longer in grief, to remember that death changes things. Resurrection is not a return to the way things used to be. Resurrection means there’s a way forward, a way toward healing and wholeness.
Later that night, huddled together in the dark, afraid of what might happen to them and confused by what Mary Magdalene had told them, the disciples were behind locked doors when Jesus came and stood among them and spoke a word of peace. Showing them his hands and his side, he said, again, “Peace be with you.” It was just what they needed. Then he filled them with the Spirit and gave them a mission: to forgive sins, and to hold fast to one another as they bear witness to God’s love revealed in the risen Christ.
One of the stories in the news these days is the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Noor. In a high stakes trial like this one, there is always scrutiny of the process, and one of the people under the microscope is the judge. She has been a judge for almost 20 years now, and a story has resurfaced from a few years ago when she was on the bench of Hennepin County Juvenile Court.
That story bears telling today.
A woman by the name of Sally showed up in the judge’s courtroom one day.
Sally was 76 at the time. She had come to meet the 17-year-old boy who had stolen her car seven months earlier. He and a couple of friends had taken her car for a ride. When she was called to the impound lot a few days later, she found the car had been totaled and filled with garbage. Some of the personal items, including her driver’s license and a rosary her mother had given her, were gone. Although the car was old and not worth much, it had been her transportation to mass every morning and to medical appointments three times a week. The boys were caught, and when the police told Sally they were juveniles, she began to pray for them. And then she showed up in court for the first one’s hearing.
When she was invited to speak, she began by reading a quote:
“When we forgive, we don’t deny the hurt that we have received. We don’t deny that it was wrong, but we acknowledge that there is more to the offender than the offense.”
She told the boy that her life had gotten more difficult without a car. Then she said that she had been a foster mom to some 50 kids, and she had empathy for these teenagers who had stolen her car. She had seen what happens when kids don’t have someone who will parent them, when they get in with the wrong crowd, or when they start taking drugs. She wanted this young man to know that she had been praying for him and the other boys every day; praying for their rehabilitation and redirection. Then she pressed him to think about his own family; what if someone had done to them what he had done to her? How would he feel then? She looked at the judge and said, “I really want this boy to know I care about him.”It’s not too late. If he chooses a new path, a good life awaits him.
Then she asked for permission to give the boy two stones: one that said “hope” and another that said “a special prayer for you.” That’s when the boy began to cry. He had never thought about the hurt, he said, and he apologized. “I’m really sorry. I regret this decision. I’m sorry for all of the hurt that I caused you.” Sally told him she cared about him and that there were lots of people who care about him.
And then she did something that took the courtroom by surprise; she hugged him. And then he did something that took her by surprise; he held her tight as he sobbed in her arms. Soon everyone in the courtroom was crying.
Something remarkable happened that day. In a room where defiant, hardened kids most often meet up with angry, vindictive victims, a young man encountered an older woman who wanted him to know that she saw him as a person of worth.
When the Gospel from John was read a few minutes ago, we heard,
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Funny thing about biblical translation. There is always a measure of interpretation that goes into translating from one language to another. Word order and syntax are not always clear. Decisions have to be made about what’s intended and what’s implied.
In the original Greek, the word “sins” occurs only once in our reading, not twice like we heard in our translation. More accurately, it’s:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.
If you retain them, they are retained.”
…But what if it’s really the people we’re meant to hold onto? What if it’s about holding people in community, holding them in relationship, about not allowing them to become isolated or ostracized? Isn’t that what forgiveness means?
On the evening of that day when the tomb was empty, the first day, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas was absent. In the days that followed, the disciples kept on saying to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” They held Thomas close, even when he couldn’t believe without seeing for himself.
We are called to hold each other in relationship, too – when relationships get fractured and when faith falters. When people become isolated….We’re called to hold each other in community, even when we can’t be present to one another. To hold onto the ones who are grieving or lonely. Don’t let go of the ones who experience depression or other forms of mental illness.
The gift of the Spirit equips us to continue Jesus’ presence in the world, to draw us back to God and relationship with one another. Each of us has gifts that contribute to the whole.
One of Glen’s gifts is his sensitivity to those who are grieving. He and others on the grief ministry team reach out to those who have lost a loved one, blessing them with compassion and a listening ear.
Mike has a heart for the ones who are lonely, so he brings communion to members who can’t be here. On communion Sundays, he comes forward at the end of the communion liturgy to receive the bread and wine to deliver to other members of the body of Christ who are hungry for the holy meal, keeping them connected with this community they love.
Others of you bring food or books, make phone calls, or go to doctor’s appointments. All of it matters.
Isolation is a sneaky thing. It silently cuts us off from one another.
Relationships that had been meaningful and life-giving fade.
Some of us experience declining physical health now, and mobility is changing.
Some of us struggle with mental health, or perhaps support a loved one with mental illness. Did you know that one in five adults in America experiences mental illness in a given year? Because of stigma and lament and shaming and blaming, there’s often isolation that accompanies mental illness, too. As hard as it is, we are called to accompany people through mental illness.
Each year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness designates May as mental health awareness month, and our mental health ministry has opportunities for us to learn and grow in awareness.
- On Wednesday night, we’ll show a movie here in Minnetonka. (Running from Crazy, a documentary on the Hemingway family’s history with mental illness)
- On Tuesday of next week in Minneapolis, there will be a speaker and panel discussion on addiction and mental illness.
The latest copy of Living Lutheran features mental illness, and the ELCA has produced a helpful statement called, “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness.”*
Thomas wasn’t asking for anything the others hadn’t received. He needed his own experience of Jesus. So Jesus came to him and said, “Look, see, feel; here are the marks of my suffering.”
Jesus meets us in our own human experience and says, even in your darkest days, I am there, loving you and guiding you, drawing you back to the One who loves you, the One who knows you by name and calls you beloved. Sometimes he is revealed to us in Scripture. Sometimes we see him in the eyes of others.
Who do you know that needs your prayers? Who do you know that needs your companionship to stay in relationship, to experience the story of God’s saving love in Jesus?
Jesus fills us with his Spirit and calls us to continue his work in the world of drawing all people to God. Jesus calls us to bring peace and healing, to hold onto one another.
We tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection again and again because it has the power to save us, to give life in his name.
Like the disciples, we’re called to hold onto each other while God continues to work in us, breaking through fear and a myriad of barriers we place between us.
Like Thomas, we know that death changes things – that resurrection is not a return to the way things used to be. But resurrection means there’s way forward, a way toward healing and wholeness, to something new. And with Thomas, we are invited to trust that Jesus will keep showing up…
…alive and with a body that bears that marks of his suffering and great love for the world, revealed in Scripture and through his body in this place. Amen.
*ELCA statement, “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness.”