The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


No Body Loves Me

How do we preach our faith as physical and alive when the Body we are supposed to love is nowhere to be found?

by Russell Rathbun

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

For Sunday, May 1 , 2011: Year A – Easter 2

The Sunday after Easter is the least attended worship service of the year. The next least attended is the Sunday after Christmas. I guess folks feel like after all the gearing up and looking forward to the big events of the church year, they want a break; we need a rest.

Packed House

Taking some time to rest and recuperate after we have had a baby is understandable; it takes a lot of out of the Body, but after a resurrection? It seems like that would be energizing, revolutionary, invigorating, and world changing. A lot of babies have been born, but no body has ever risen from the dead before. After declaring the resurrection, I would think the following Sunday would be packed.

This weeks Gospel reading seems to support the idea, that it is not a week to take off, but a time to get a lot done. There is certainly a lot of theological work John is trying to get done in these verses 19 – 31. It starts with the confirmation of the literal, physical resurrected body of Jesus vere homo. Then to John’s very quick version of the Great Commission, and onto a one verse Pentecost. This is followed by one of the hard questions in this text: if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain them they are retained. It really can’t be that the crucifixion and the resurrection of the Christ was to give the power of eternal forgiveness of sins to the whims of humans? But I will leave the exploration that hard question to others. I am interested in the Body.

Vere Homo

After crashing through all that at break neck speed, John slows it down to spend the majority of this verses focusing on his Body. Thomas says he wants to see the Body, see the wounds. Jesus arrives and very graphically shows him the wounds, and in a very intimate gesture, invites him to place his finger/hand inside them. There can be no doubt that this is the Body of Jesus the Christ, very man, very God.

That Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead is the foundation of the Christian faith. This Sunday’s reading starts and ends with it, giving just a verse each to the Great Commission, Pentecost, the rest is all about the Body. After so much emphasis on the Body of Jesus through the Lent and Easter seasons, how do we preach with out one? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe? There really are not any other options are there?

The Hardest Question

How do we preach our faith as physical and alive when the Body we are supposed to love is nowhere to be found?

Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Jennifer says:

    Good point. I suppose it’s why having Communion on Easter is a given. So, that in the implied question, “Where is the body?”, our answer can be, “It’s right here. Broken for you, shed for you.”

  2. Christian says:

    Lutheran sacramental theology continually sets the “real presence” of Christ not just “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine, but “in, with, and under” the recipients. There aren’t enough prepositions in the world to assert the intimacy between the living Jesus and the believers that take…eat and take…drink. That being said, any questions about the missing Body, always boils down to church. Is the Holy Spirit of Christ, really presnent in us? If we’re mere bread and mere wine, we’re hardly the Body of Christ. However, the other danger is to overly theologize the sacrament. Symbolism does not equal blood, sweat and tears connection between Christ and us / us and others. If the Body has gone missing, it’s because the church has become a metaphor without flesh and flesh without meaning.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Agreed. And also there is so strong in the resurrection accounts that “He is not here…he has gone ahead of you” etc. So that, we have to follow and continue with the work he started.

    So, thank the Lord the body is missing. You know? Because if it weren’t we’d just all hang out at the tomb and mope. Now we know we need to be busy about the tasks Jesus has called us to.

  4. It seems like the more we treat Easter as a big event (i.e. lets rent a stadium, fill it with people, get a kick ass band, rock a professional drama, sound and lighting, etc., etc.) the easier it is to walk away unchanged. The Easter stadium makes the Sunday sanctuary seem small, insignificant. The “big event Easter” takes the focus off of a real world resurrection with real world impacts. I’m not sure people intend it to be this way, but it seems a necessary by-product. If worship is an event and easter is the biggest event how can we help but be disappointed the Sunday after? If worship means living a life of sacrificial love for the other, Easter reminds us of what we are called to and under what power we can accomplish that calling. I’m Mennonite (low church tradition) and we don’t celebrate communion on Easter. Why? Because in some ways it takes a real-world, physical, in-the-flesh resurrection and equates it with a ritual that emphasizes spiritual presence and internal, spiritual transformation. I’m sure that sentence represents my anemic theology of the eucharist and reveals that I spend too much time with the writing of John Howard Yoder. But Russell’s point is a good one. No matter how we formulate our theology of the eucharist, if we are speaking in plain and simple language, we know that we can’t actually point to Jesus the same way you can Rev Russell or Rev Michael, etc. No body! It’s here that we need a robust theology of the church as an alternative, but very real, body that engages in particular practices that render the community Jesus-like! The binding and loosing bit in John is critical. The body does real work after the way of Jesus. We aren’t a temporary stand-in until Jesus shows up in a body again.

    This is getting long….sorry! Grace and peace.

  5. Curtis says:

    If we view the risen Savior as Jesus’s body that rose on the third day and ascended on the 40th, we have no chance. This is transcendent theology at its worst.

    If we view the risen Savior as being here with us every single day, then we have hope. Emmanuel is not a word just for the Nativity, but for the 21st century as well. Whenever we serve our neighbor, Jesus is there. “What you do for the least of these . . . ”

    This shift from transcendence to incarnate has made a big difference for me personally and I owe a lot of it to Dorothee Soelle.

  6. Scott says:

    In your video blog, you mention that Thomas is the only one that had a chance to doubt the resurection story since no one told the other disciples about the resurection. I don’t see it this way. Mary wept when she saw that Jesus was gone from the tomb, and it wasn’t until she met and touched Jesus that she was able to have faith. She then went and told the disciples the good news. I think the disciples doubted her message since they were still cowering in fear in the locked room when Jesus physically appeared them.


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