When your shoulder hurts: Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20: 19-31

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Incredulity_of_St_Thomas_-_WGA20193

The Angel by Ruth Fairlight

Sometimes the boulder is rolled away,
but I cannot move it when
I want to. An angel must. Shall
I ever see the angel’s face,
or will there always only be
that molten glow outlining every
separate hair and feathered quill,
the sudden wind and odour, sunlight,
music, the pain of my bruised shoulder.

This is the poem that caught my mind this week. It is a resurrection poem, but it’s one that captures that sense of tentativeness, uncertainty, and yes, doubt, that the resurrection stories bring in their wake. We are now entering the season of Easter – 6 whole weeks for us to think about the stories, see Jesus appear, and journey alongside those early followers in their growing certainty as Jesus appears among them.

After that first morning with all the energy and excitement of discovery, there was not a straightforward route strewn with alleluias, but a time of fear, anxiety, and at times, even anger, as they tried to make sense of what they were hearing. For Thomas especially it was a time of bruised shoulders as he tried to move the stone in his mind, sweep it away and make sense of all his questions. It’s almost as if he could have spoken this poem. As could any of us searching for a sense of resurrection hope when it isn’t easy to find.

Thomas appears in the middle of our reading – almost like one of those scenes in a play – or even a pantomime – where the curtain drops between scenes and a strong character, a Hamlet or a Dame, wanders out and gives a solo speech expressing all their worries and fears. The curtain has come down on the room where the frightened, puzzled disciples have just seen Jesus for themselves. They have heard his words of peace with their own ears, seen him with their eyes, and felt his gentle empowering breath giving them courage. The room had echoed with the memory of the angel who had been at the tomb, that mysterious, feather-light touch of God’s promise and presence, the presence and promise from which Thomas had been excluded.

So, he pushes for himself. He is an outsider. But in the wise words of Mother Julian from Call the Midwife, sometimes life is defined not by what we leave out, but by what we let in. So the curtain rises again. And the scene looks the same – a room, a crowd of gathered disciples. But the fear and the confusion are missing as once again Jesus appears amongst them. This time Thomas experiences the words of peace and hears Jesus gentle invitation, letting in the good news of risen life. For Thomas the stone is finally rolled away and he has a glorious moment of revelation and faith.

Sometimes our shoulder is bruised as we struggle to move the stones in our own life. We struggle to understand where God is and where hope is to be found, wrestling with questions and dilemmas to which others seem to have found the answers. It might be the whole experience of the last year, or living through these present days when we are still so uncertain if our world really will recover. Maybe for you it’s in long nights of chronic pain, or watching with a loved one, or just living with worries, or broken love, or walking through the valley of grief. All of these times can mean our shoulders can feel very bruised as we push at the stones to try to find new hope.

But then, mysteriously, there is the whisper or a breath, the feathery glimpse of an angel’s wing, and hope stirs, peace fall and Jesus bless us who have not yet fully seen, and yet we believe and hold fast to our faith. Then we join Thomas in declaring My Lord and My God, and say, sometimes with confidence, sometimes with croaky voice, Alleluia, Christ is Risen.!

Where have you glimpsed signs of resurrection hope this week?

Revd Dr Sandra Millar

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