The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s025g14  Second Sunday of Easter  27/4/2014

'Put your finger here’  John 20.27

The temptation is to think that the risen Jesus is less physically present to us than he was to the disciples, and our gospel story denies this.   For all the amazing advances in technology we have witnessed in the last several decades particularly in the internet and social media, there is something about human contact.   In the news recently, one picture of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge which has gone ‘viral’ is one where Prince George is pictured hugging his mother after being separated for a time.  

Jesus  invites Thomas to touch him, but to touch him in the most sensitive of places, in the wound inflicted so very recently.   You see the wounds hadn’t healed in the resurrection, they were still present, they were still raw.   And for various reasons my attention has recently been alerted to the fact that wounds, even those inflicted many years past, can still be as raw as yesterday.   Again I am reminded of that aphorism sent to me by Grady:  “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” (1)

Put your finger here - understand the pain that humanity inflicts on others.   Understand the pain that those who love the Lord their God with all their hearts and souls and minds and strength inflict on others who, in their opinion, don’t.

We can, like the other disciples, rejoice when we see the risen Lord, but the story is incomplete until Thomas is invited to connect with the pain of it all.   Again, this connects the resurrection with the lynching that caused it.   The comic super-heros struggled mightily against seemingly overwhelming odds but the victory always overshadowed the conflict.   Any wounds vanished.  The book of the Revelation doesn’t describe any of the blood and guts spilled.   But Jesus doesn’t allow his disciples to forget the suffering and the lynching and the injustice - for it is only a recognition of the suffering, the lynching and the injustice which might perhaps bring some changes in our own behaviour.  

It is only as the Lord showed Saul, as he travelled that road to Damascus to persecute people who were different, that he was persecuting the Lord, that Saul was converted.   Metaphorically the risen Lord was saying to Saul - put your finger here ..

It is only a recognition of the suffering, the lynching and the injustice, which might perhaps bring some changes to our relationships in society towards those who are different.   It is only a recognition of the suffering, the needlessness of it all, which might perhaps bring some changes in our religion.   It is only a recognition of the suffering, that a merciful Lord ‘whose steadfast love endures forever’ (2) doesn’t actually ever demand suffering, which might perhaps bring some global changes to existence.  

Put your finger here - experience my pain - not accept responsibility for it!   Thomas wasn't one of those who lynched Jesus.

Put your finger here - see how innocent I am and how unjustified this was?  No - put your finger here - and understand how people hurt others - perhaps deliberately, perhaps inadvertently - but more crucially how groups of people who marginalise, alienate and condemn others - inflict pain on millions - believing that they are justified.

Put your finger here - experience the pain of marginalisation, alienation and condemnation - not proclaim me ‘Lord!’ or ‘God!’

I am grateful to Wikipedia for reminding me that 'Homosexuality is reportedly incompatible with the American Mafia code of conduct’ (3) and that ‘the Nazi régime incarcerated some 100,000 homosexuals during the 1930s.   As concentration camp prisoners, homosexual men were forced to wear pink triangle badges.’ (4)

Recently I attended a teleconference on ‘Pain and Spirituality’ and it led me to think that pain cis the precursor to spirituality.   The ancients pondered the pain of child-birth and decided that there must have been a reason - and the story of the eating of the forbidden fruit was born.   I am not sure how this answers the question for the New Zealand Kiwi, which lays the biggest egg in proportion to its body size.   This sounds pretty painful to me!   I am not sure if I really want to worship a ‘god’ who inflicts this sort of pain on an innocent flightless bird because of the actions of a couple of humans centuries ago, half a world away.

When one of the Sudanese priests I knew asked me why modern Australian children don’t go to church, I thought - well of course they don’t - they are bullet-proof.   That is why they drive at 150kph in 60kph zones and wonder why they die.   Sudanese children know about the fragility of life from the day they are born.  They experience hunger, homelessness, torture, rape and death daily.   Their spirituality helps them deal with their daily pain and I suspect that it bears little relationship to mine, and I am glad they have theirs and not mine - mine wouldn’t cope!

As Australia and New Zealand celebrate Anzac Day on the 25th of April, remembering the sacrifices of those who served in the wars overseas, I guess none of us, least of all me, know of the continuing pain many of them probably still carry.   No doubt many would think the church is still sprouting the same old garbage - and I would have to agree if we are busy proclaiming ‘my Lord and my God’ rather than putting our finger in the wounds as we are told - connecting with their real pain.

Neither would I pretend to know the pain of losing a child - and all too often the church gives easy answers - perhaps to avoid the need to really share the pain.

The survivors of sexual abuse want the church to understand and appreciate the pain they have suffered.   They say to the church: ‘Put your finger here ..’

And I say all this knowing full well that I am risk-adverse and avoid conflict.   I do not do this any better than anyone else.

So resurrection for others will come, not as we seek to impose our spirituality on others as a panacea for all their wounds but as we recognise the validity of their pain and acknowledge the efficacy of their own spirituality in dealing with it.

All of which has led me to realise that the bible is really a testimony to the failure of religion to provide anyone with an unscathed life.   The bible is really the often clumsy and ham-fisted attempts to make some sense of it all.   It is real life that is primary, our own experiences - of pleasure as well as of pain - that provide the ingredients for our own spiritualities.  And if the bible is fundamental to our faith, then we cannot expect our religion to provide anyone with an unscathed life either.   All our religion does is provide others who can provide that human contact, to be with people in their pain and to journey with them in their desert, and it doesn’t matter if that companion be Anglican, Calithumpian or atheist.

‘Put your finger here’ invites us to connect with real life, to get our hands dirty, to attempt to deal with the messes humanity finds itself in - not to celebrate the Holy Communion in all our finery as if our continuing exclusion of others is going to make a scrap of difference in the real world.   Actually celebrating ‘Communion’ will only serve to perpetuate division and discrimination.

Recently I heard Itamar Simonson, a Professor of Marketing at Stanford University interviewed on radio, and in his book Absolute Value he argues that brands are becoming less important in the digital age.   People are easily able to access users rating their purchases on the internet, and can buy accordingly.  In his review of this book Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO says: 'Companies that seek only to persuade will be replaced by those that truly seek to serve the real needs of the customer’ and surely this is precisely what Jesus did.  (5)

1 William Faulkner
2 Jeremiah 33.11