Linzer cookies are thin, usually round, always delicious shortbread cookies. They are sandwich cookies, actually, with a filling of jam and a coating of lightly-dusted confectioner sugar. They are given their unique look by the fact that the top cookie usually has a hole cut out of it – traditionally a circle, I think, although Ina Garten uses a heart, and if Ina does it, well, then so would I – and through the cut out glistens the richly red, shiny with sugar, simply gorgeous raspberry jam. They are lovely cookies, as beautiful to look at as they are to eat.
That is, unless they are in the style like the ones that popped up on my Facebook page during Holy Week. A parishioner, who shall not be named but who is a member of our vestry and whose first name starts with Alessandra, tagged me in a post in which she shared a photo of Linzer cookies, complete with top cookie cutout, confectioner sugar, and glistening red jam. But the cookies themselves were shaped like a little hand, thereby making the shining red jam a confectionary representation of the bloody wounds of the crucifixion. Now I’m not particularly squeamish about things irreverent, but these cookies made me go blech, which was probably the point. I think my official comment on Facebook was simply the word “Eww…” with a long line of w’s. Other comments to the post were equally colorful with tones that ranged from the morbidly fascinated to the simply grossed out.
But my favorite comment by far was from someone I don’t know, someone who looked at these Passiontide-themed Linzer cookies and could think only one thing: “Aren’t the stigmata in the wrong place?” This comment refers to the modern understanding that the ancient practice of crucifixion usually involved nailing the convicted person’s arms to the cross through the wrist, and not through the palm. So, this man asked, don’t these Linzer cookies have the hole in the wrong place? The fact that someone could look at these cookies with the hole and the jam and the implication of blood and wounds and think only of historical inaccuracies can mean only one thing – that there is another detail-oriented church nerd/ history buff out there in the world, and that we are surely destined to become friends.
But whether or not history tells us that Jesus’ wounds would have been in his wrists, the Gospel of John seems pretty clear that he has been wounded right here, in the palm of his hands. And it is the hands that Thomas is interested in seeing; it is the hands that Thomas requires for proof of the resurrection. Thomas, of course, had not been in the locked room with the rest of the disciples when Jesus had made his first appearance to them; Thomas was out. We don’t know where he was – buying bread, getting the lay of the land, visiting Mary or Nicodemus or his unnamed twin – but we do know for sure that Thomas wasn’t hiding like the rest of the disciples. He was out and about, a move entirely characteristic of the man who had once rallied his fellow disciples to follow Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus with the words, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas was gutsy in that moment, and gutsy again to be parading around Jerusalem when the rest of the disciples were holed up in a room with the door locked and the blinds drawn.
And when Thomas returns to the room and hears the disciples bubbling over about Jesus’ return, his bold streak continues to burn bright. Well, fine, you say you saw him, but I’m not going to believe until I see the mark of the nails in his hands. Thomas, bravely, demands that he get to see for himself. And what he demands to see is so interesting. He doesn’t say, Well, I’m not going to believe that it’s Jesus until I look him straight in the eye, or, I won’t be convinced until I hear his voice, ask him my name, quiz him on what we talked about in that long conversation on Thursday night. No, Thomas is interested in seeing his wounds, witnessing the marks of torture and pain right there in the palms of his hands. Thomas, it seems, is interested in more than just whether or not this magically-appearing man is Jesus; Thomas wants to be sure that this man is the same Jesus.
Thomas needs to see that this Jesus is that Jesus, that this new, resurrected man is the same man he knew before. Thomas needs to see that these hands are the same hands he saw before, the same hands that broke barley loaves into a million pieces, the same hands that drew signs in the dust before the feet of the woman caught in adultery, spread mud on a blind man’s eyes. Thomas needs to see that these hands are the same hands he looked to for direction when he asked Jesus to show him the way, the same hands that had poured cool water over Thomas’s tired feet and rubbed a soft towel over his rough heels. And Thomas needs to know that these hands are the same hands that had been bound together so tightly that his palms went white from the pressure, hands that had been beaten and bruised before being nailed to the hard wood of the cross.
Thomas needs to know that these hands are the same hands because he is less than interested in some kind of cleaned-up version of Jesus, a magic man who not only feels no pain but also remembers no pain. A man who walks through walls is a great party trick, but Thomas needs to know that Jesus is more than that. Thomas needs to know that Jesus still knows him, still knows his life – his anger, his fear, his pain – even if he now knows that life in a new way. After all, Thomas was the one who thought he was marching off to his own death, and he needs to know that everything Jesus suffered in his stead wasn’t just a waste, that it wasn’t pain and blood all for nothing. If Jesus’ hands were going to be wounded and broken, then Thomas needs to know that those wounds were themselves taken up and transformed, that they became a source of strength and new life, that they are redeemed but not forgotten.
Because Thomas wants a real Easter. Thomas wants an Easter that is more than just lilies and lace; Thomas wants dirt and flesh, blood and bone. Thomas wants Easter to be about real redemption, about real salvation, about the stuff of this world, his life, being transformed and glorified now. To paraphrase our Presiding Bishop, Thomas wants more than just a fairy tale. He needs those hands, those glorious wounded hands, to hold him, his life, his pain, in a way that really, honestly, profoundly matters.
And isn’t this what we want, too? Isn’t this what we need, what this world needs? A real Easter. Not just one day of Easter eggs and bonnets, not just one day of sweet resurrection with sugar on top, but something real and lasting, something enduring, something that actually touches the lives we live now and invites our lives to reach out and grasp its power. We need to know that Easter can hold us, hold our pain and our joy, our suffering and our celebration, our sins and our acts of great grace and goodness. We need Easter to have some flesh on its bones, and we need to see that the risen Christ still knows our bones, our flesh, our own wounds. We need to know that the risen Christ can reach out those wounded hands and take up our hearts – broken with sorrow or bursting with joy – and hold them in all the fullness that his mortal life and his eternal life have known.
This morning, in a few moments, we will baptize little Quinn, brush him with water and bless him with oil. And this morning, Thomas helps to remind us that this is no fairy tale moment. For Quinn has been born into a world of great beauty and great brutality, and his baptism needs to hold him in moments of both. And it will. For in his baptism we proclaim that he is buried with Christ in his death, wounds and hands and all, and raised with him to a new life, wounds and hands and all. In this baptism we proclaim that our lives are held in the palm of Christ’s hand, who knows us and our lives, and whose life, death, and resurrection transforms us for ever. In this baptism, we proclaim a real Easter, made more beautiful and more joyful and more miraculous for all of the woundedness it can hold. This is a real Easter, a real Savior, a real life that is sweet beyond compare. For Christ is risen, and we are risen with him. Do not doubt, but believe.
Preached by Mtr. Erika Takacs
3 April 2016, The Second Sunday of Easter
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia