A Provocation: Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:19-31

Some Questions:

  • Why did resurrection not remove the wounds left by crucifixion?
    • Why does life leave marks even on the Word who was with God, who even is properly said to BE God?
    • What does that mean for the way we think about hope and healing?
  • What are we to make of the “Holy Spirit?”
    • If the pneuma hagion does not refer to the Third Person of the Trinity, what else could it mean?
    • And why was it “puffed” into the disciples?

Some Longer Reflections and Provocations:

The first question is a good place to start.

1.  Why did resurrection not remove the wounds left by crucifixion?

I have listened as we talk about God and faith and the struggle against the things that hunt us and haunt us.  I have heard people say that they always find parking spaces close to the door because God takes care of Christians.  Seriously.  I have heard people say that they prayed tornadoes away from their houses.  No kidding.  I have heard people say that no disease can stand up against real faith, which has meant that either the disease disappears or the faith is false.

And I notice the wounds: hands, feet, side.

Christians always find a way to make peace with the crucifixion, but if the point of faith was to grant an exemption from the hard realities of life, then Jesus would emerge unmarked.

He does not.

The wounds are still there, and they are real.  Palpable.  You could touch them.

Imagine doing that.

Thomas wants to “throw” his hand into Jesus’ side.  There are gentler ways to say this.  The roughness of the language used suggests, in fact, that the wounds themselves were rough, not glorified.

Life Leaves Marks

That is the point of the Word being made flesh.  Life leaves marks on bodies.  Real marks.  Rough marks.  If life did not leave real marks on the Word made flesh, it was not real flesh.  And if it were not real flesh, it would do no good at all.

Life leaves marks on us all.  Those marks link us together.  Lucky escapes separate us from each other just as surely as winning the Powerball Lottery leads people to move away from their old neighborhoods.  The neighbors represent a threat: they might ask for loans or even large gifts.  The winner reminds the neighbors that luck strikes only one house on a street, only one street in a city, only one city in an entire region.  Luck runs out, and that drives people apart.  If faith were a kind of luck, then faith would run out just when we need it.

Wounds are what link us together.

When life lands on us, we look around for bodies that have also been wounded, for eyes that have seen it all.  I expect that the disciples saw that in Jesus’ eyes.  I expect that is why Thomas, who needed to see that the wounds hadn’t been erased, called Jesus LORD and God, names that link him with both  the Mercy and the Justice of God, traits that Jews have long understood to constitute the true essence of God.

I notice that Thomas applies those terms to Jesus only after he sees that the wounds haven’t been erased.  There are no exemptions.  Faith offers no lucky escapes.  Faithfulness consists in bearing the wounds that we all share.  Faithfulness allows us to survive.  And we survive together or not at all.

2.  What are we to make of the “Holy Spirit?”

It is a fair question.

John’s storyteller begins the gospel by making a human link to the Divine, to the Beginning, even to God.  Though no Biblical writer uses the word, Trinity (indeed, no one would use the word for much more than a century), John’s storyteller does seem to establish Jesus as (what will later be) the Second Person of the Trinity.  So, why not bring in the Holy Spirit and make a threesome (or a Three-In-One-some) and be done?

Pneuma means…?

As is well-known, the Greek that gives birth to the idea of a “Holy Spirit” is rich in ambiguity.  The phrase pneuma hagion is complicated because pneuma only means “spirit” derivatively.  Before that it means “wind.”  And before that it means “breath.”

Which is what the scene hands us.

Before Jesus tells those inside the locked room to “receive the Holy Spirit,” the translator tells us that Jesus “breathed” on them.  That is a good enough translation, but the word more precisely means that he “puffed” into them.  That is a more purposeful act than simply “breathing on.”  That is the word for puffing on a fire to stir it to life.    It is also the word for the gasp of resuscitation, the sure sign of returning life.

This is a scene about breath

This would mean that, in this scene, Jesus (who has just now been raised from death) can share the breath that brought him again to life.  And now he has shared that breath with his followers.

Later generations will transform that shared life into a Divine Person.  That makes sense to me.

But at this moment in both history and the story, notice the simple physical act of puffing, of stirring to life people who will then be charged to share this life with all of Creation.  This replicates the scene in Genesis 2, at least as it is read by the rabbis.  When God blows into Mudguy’s nose (that is, after all, what the word “adam” means), the image is not of a once-for-all breathing, a “first breath” that kicks the practice into motion.  Rather, the scene establishes the Divine origin of every human breath (and every animal breath as well, if you read Genesis attentively).

Every human inhalation is a Divine puff

Every breath is a gift of life that conveys the responsibility of sharing that life in turn.  That is the purpose of every human exhalation.  Life is given.  Life is shared.  Life is given again.  So say the rabbis.

In the scene in John, we see the gift of resurrected life being shared in the same way.  But notice that this holy breath can only be shared by a wounded body.  Life leaves marks, and those marks make possible the sharing of life.



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