Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Disabled God: Sermon, April 27, 2014

This reflection on the story of "doubting" Thomas was inspired by the treatment of Jesus' wounds in the post-resurrection stories in Nancy Eiesland's The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).

As I am a hunchback, it's apt that this sermon was preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, which has been called Quasimodo Sunday after the Introit at the Latin Mass — "Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite."

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

John 20:19-31, Common English Bible

Thomas is known forever as Doubting Thomas. This seems a little unfair – after all, the women had told the male disciples that Jesus is risen, and they don’t believe it either until Jesus shows up in their midst. They’re not called the doubting disciples. If you remember back before Palm Sunday, when their friend Lazarus died, Thomas was the only one who was brave enough to say, “Let’s go so that we may die with Jesus.”

We could talk about doubt, or about what Jesus says about those who haven’t seen him yet believe, or about camping. But I want to pick up on something in the Thomas story and continue a bit of what we discussed a month ago, when we told a story about Jesus healing a blind man, and I spoke about my disability and how people with disabilities are viewed in the church.

Jesus displays his hands and his side. He says to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side.”

Jesus reveals his injured hands and side to his friends. This may just seem like Jesus proving to them that it really is him, and that’s part of it, but let’s look at it from the perspective of a person with a disability.

This resurrection body Jesus has is like the physical body he had before his death but is somehow transformed, so that he can pass through locked doors but he can eat and he can be touched. And his body retains the wounds of his crucifixion. Presumably his resurrected body didn’t have to include these wounds, but it does, and Jesus displays them to his friends. Even though his body is raised and changed into a spiritual heavenly body, it is impaired and imperfect. It has the marks of disability.

This aspect of the Easter story isn’t often recognized. The resurrected Jesus isn’t usually seen as bearing the marks of physical disability. But people with disabilities, people like me, can see in the Thomas story that even Jesus can experience disability. By embodying disability in his resurrected body, Jesus is showing us that disability does not indicate a flawed humanity, but a full humanity.

Jesus tells us that he and God the Creator are one, and that’s what we believe. So then, in the resurrected Jesus of Easter with his broken body, God is a disabled God. What a powerful idea this is, described by Nancy Eiseland in her book, The Disabled God. If God can be disabled, God is present with people with disabilities. If God in sinless, suffering Jesus can be disabled, then our ideas about how disability is somehow a punishment, the result of something a person has done wrong, are nonsense. The link between disability and sin is broken. If God can be disabled, then anything society and individuals do that denies the full personhood of people with disabilities is an offence against God. If God can be disabled, the bodies and minds of people with disabilities are made in God’s image, Nancy Eiseland points out, not in spite of disability but through disability. If God can be disabled, the church which is to live God’s mission in the world must allow for the full participation of people with disabilities.

If God can be disabled, the hope of Easter is made real for people with disabilities and those who care for them. There is hope for justice, that the barriers that exclude and humiliate people with disabilities will be removed. There is hope for lives of dignity and integrity. There is hope, as Nancy Eiesland says, that our bodies are worth the living.


Miranda said...

I think you've changed how I read or hear this story from now on. Thank you.

Daniel Hayward said...

I would be happy to talk more about it if you like - perhaps after you have had a chance to reflect on it further. Blessings.