Educators have taught us that there are multiple styles of learning. The majority of people are visual learners, taking in the most knowledge through what they see Others are auditory learners—these are the folks who love lectures
And then there are the kinesthetic learners, people who prefer a hands on approach, Learning through the physical senses and by doing.
Jesus’ resurrection appearances to his disciples seem to follow this pattern in the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene sees the Risen Jesus in the garden The other disciples hear Mary’s news of Jesus’ resurrection. And then there’s Thomas.
Jesus made a special trip to give him the kinesthetic lesson: Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.
It seems that Jesus sensed what each person needed in order to know and believe in his resurrection, And like a good teacher, he was willing to provide it.
It seems to me that most of us can identify with Thomas. We are practical people who know facts and history, We are used to seeing evidence to support a theory, and to use critical thinking to come to solutions. All of this kind of knowledge is valuable—in fact crucial to living a thoughtful Christian life. Jesus never reprimands Thomas for his skepticism. But it seems to me that as Christians we also benefit from more tactile, experiential learning, When it comes to faith Our senses draw us near to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in a different way than cognitive approaches.
We experienced a taste of this in Pastor Brian’s Thursday evening classes in Lent.
We tried spiritual practices such as gazing at icons, repeating a mantra, smelling a lemon— The direct experience of these objects and sounds, combined with a prayerful attitude, put us into the present moment and into the Presence of God.
We also have a new cross, crafted by David B, which is now on view in the Gathering Space. He spent his Lent researching the crosses used by the Romans, their construction and hardware, And made us a half sized version of rough cedar.
At the conclusion of the Good Friday service, Pastor Brian carried the cross down the center aisle and invited us to pray with the cross and to touch it as a means of drawing close to Jesus and experiencing his triumph over death. It was deeply moving to witness illustrating a kind of belief that arises not from facts or logic but from relationship and embodied experience. That’s the kind of knowledge that Jesus was inviting Thomas into.
Jesus invited Thomas to know by touching him, To experience his presence through his senses and through the bond they shared. But even more specifically, Jesus called Thomas to believe by touching his WOUND. I have often wondered at this strange detail. Jesus is, after all, alive again. He should be whole and sound.
Why the scars?
It’s a detail captured in a statue at the back the church I served Newington.
It a life sized Jesus, based an original work from the late 19th
century in Copenhagen, depicting the Risen Christ with outstretched hands, nail marks visible in his hands and feet.
There are version of this same statue around in the world, Including the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. At first I didn’t think too much about this Jesus.
I would pass through the sanctuary going about my business and breeze right past him.
But one day, my heart was especially heavy. It was a time of significant personal struggle in my life And as I walked down the aisle toward the back of the church, I felt drawn to the statue. I found myself pausing before the statue, looking at his feet and hands. I wanted to touch him. It made no sense, but I did.
I reached out and placed my finger on the wound on his foot, and felt its hard, cold shape. It reminded me of a tiny mandorla, the almond shaped halo that surround the saints in Christian iconography. I sighed deeply, so aware of my pain. and then I felt an easing in my chest. A deep understanding within me said: He is here. He is with me in all my pain, with all my scars. The wound was the connection from his place of suffering to mine. It was the opening to a love that I knew then would never leave me, even in my darkest hour. Some have said that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. I think it is true.To some extent we all come to this place to meet Jesus and his wounds. We need a place where it is OK to be just as we are, where we do not have to put on our game face or pretend that we have no wounds ourselves.
The truth is that when we allow ourselves to be this vulnerable, we open ourselves to knowing Jesus in a new way.
In Jesus’ scars we find solidarity in our suffering We find an intimate companion for the journey. We know in a personal way his endurance of hardship out of love for us, and that becomes a source of strength. In his resurrection, Jesus overcame suffering, but did not leave it behind. Instead he transformed it into a powerful place of connection, between you and me, between us and God The Divine knows our sorrows and struggles and has joined us in them. Our Risen Lord retains his scars as a means of reaching us and helping us to believe that there is life beyond our wounds.
In direct spiritual experience, we slowly take this in through our bodies and souls.
Put your finger here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
They are Jesus’ words to you today.
He speaks them out of a love that will not let you go.
Do not doubt, but believe that his touch, his presence and his healing is for you.