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Easter 2 April 23, 2017 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
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Sermon for Easter II, April 23, 2017
John 20:19-31
 
 
Not long ago, my sister and brother-in-law were welcomed into the Roman Catholic communion with 27 other adults who were confirmed by the priest at their parish in Gig Harbor. No different than our practice of the sacrament of confirmation, they were anointed, marked, on their foreheads with the fragrant olive oil we call chrism. Indeed, the chrism consecrated by our bishop during Holy Week is present among us in the glass container opposite the baptismal font. And, if you haven’t already, you should feel free to lift the lid and smell its wonderful fragrance.
 
After my sister and her husband returned from the altar, I turned to my brother-in-law, and said, “Frank, lean in so I can small you.” In the three seconds it took him to consider my request, I saw a startled look on his face, that look which, had it been spoken, might have said: “Oh my God, the truly weird in you has finally emerged: you want to smell me?” But, then, he got it. He recognized that I wanted to smell the aromatic scent that had been traced on his forehead  and traced, I might add, with much chrism. What came to my mind were these words of St. Paul: “We are the fragrance of Christ to God … we are the fragrance of life to life” (2 Corinthians 2: 15, 16). 
 
A newcomer to our parish asked me recently, “Why do you do so many ‘body things’ here? Why do you bow and kneel and raise your arms and trace a cross over your body, trace a cross over your forehead, and lips and heart?” I say, these are wonderful questions to consider because they point to a core conviction at the heart of Anglican and Episcopal spirituality: in in this form of Christian life, the body and the body’s gestures matter enormously. That is, the way of life into which we are baptized is not only an idea to consider, not only a text to read or sing, not only a word to hear but a way of life in which every human sense – the sense of smell, of sight, of touch, of taste – and the many capacities of the body are honored. While some Christian spiritualities consider the body irrelevant at best and as a prison of the soul at worst, our body-loving faith is rooted in the conviction that God loves what God creates, that God became a body in the person of Jesus, and that God is one with us in our own embodied lives – our bodies, as it were, the sacrament, visible sign and presence, of a living and breathing faith.
 
“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:19-20). That is, he shows them and he shows us the marks of his humanity and the marks of his suffering. He shows them and us that God is not above, not remote from, and not immune to our suffering and the suffering of this world. It is interesting to me, and I hope to you, that one of the most widely used gestures in our worship and in daily life is the tracing of a cross over the body: from forehead to heart, from one shoulder to the other. That is, this tracing of the cross is an imprinting in our minds, our hearts, and our bodies the wounds of Christ.
 
In the churches of the West, this second Sunday of Easter was anciently called Doubting Thomas Sunday, a day on which Christians would be reminded of the poor disciple’s doubts. OK. He had doubts. Newsflash: What thoughtful person doesn’t it? But I want to say that I respect Thomas’ questioning. After all, he wanted to see Jesus, not just hear the second-hand news of his resurrection. After all, he wanted to touch the wounds, the body, of his beloved friend, not just think about them. In the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy, this Sunday is called the Touching of Thomas Sunday – the Touching of Thomas – a day on which the Orthodox faithful are invited to kiss the icon of the risen Christ appearing to Thomas, to kiss the wounds of the risen Christ – not out of any maudlin fetish with death but rather to recognize that we, who are the disciples of Jesus Christ, live in a world marked with many wounds. Indeed, do we not recognize that the earth itself is gravely wounded and in need of healing from human degradation? The question, of course, is this: does our recognition of such wounds lead us to touch and then participate in their healing? You see: the question which arises for me in the midst of every Easter Vigil, in the midst of every Easter season, in the midst of reading the news of the world, in the midst of listening to a student or colleague or parishioner or friend pour out their doubt or loss or grief is this: How, dear brothers and sisters, how are we called to live the risen life in a world where lives are marked by wounds, visible and invisible?
 
You see: I think we trace fragrant olive oil in the sign of a cross on the newly-baptized, I think we make that same sign of he cross on our foreheads and over our bodies, I think we receive the wounds of the risen Christ in bread and wine so that, so that, you and I might participate more generously, more forthrightly in God’s compassion for this world and all who dwell in it. To quote the Southern writer, Flannery O’Connor, “You will have found Christ when you are more concerned with other people’s suffering and not your own” (The Habit of Being).