Shock and Awe
by Mark Dressler
One of my favourite “post-Easter” depictions is a painting of the resurrected Christ and the disciple Thomas. It is a wonderful work of art called “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by the Italian artist Caravaggio.
The painting portrays the Easter encounter of Jesus and Thomas. It is the second time Jesus has appeared to His disciples in the upper room. Thomas was missing the first time, and by the time he showed up Jesus was gone. To Thomas the story of the Lord’s resurrection seemed too good to be true. As a result, this disciple will forever be remembered for uttering those famous words, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25 ESV).
But Jesus comes back, and this time He confronts Thomas and his doubts. That confrontation is the moment Caravaggio captures so well in this painting. We know Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side,” but we don’t know if Thomas actually took Jesus up on His offer. Caravaggio takes some artistic liberty and assumes he did.
In fact, if you examine the painting closely, you see that Thomas didn’t really have a choice. Jesus is actually grasping Thomas by the wrist and forcing the disciple’s finger deep into the gaping wound of His pierced side.
If you had to sum this painting up in just a few words, the best words to use would be “shock and awe.” Shock and awe are evident on the furrowed forehead of Thomas, and shock and awe are felt by us, the viewers. We almost feel we shouldn’t be seeing this. It’s like a bad accident scene; you want to look away, but you just can’t. Shock and awe.
We forget just how strange and unique this event is: Christ defeated death! He has risen from the dead!
Do we let the Easter message become so common to us Christians that we fail to celebrate this season with the same shock and awe of those first disciples? We sometimes hear about the resurrection of our Lord with the same level of emotion as when we hear the evening weather report. We forget just how strange and unique this event is: Christ defeated death! He has risen from the dead! Death no longer has dominion over you!
And just as surely as Christ confronted Thomas and his sin, so too does He confront you. Confronts you, and then forgives you with Word and Sacrament—because the very same body in which Thomas inserted his finger now waits for you in the Sacrament of the Altar. The body and blood of Christ given to forgive you of all your sins and to strengthen your faith against all doubts.
Dear beloved in Christ, as you walk these seven weeks of the Easter season, may you be reminded of miraculous resurrection of your Lord. May you be dumbfounded that He died and rose again for you. May this Easter season thrust upon you a little shock and awe.
Mark Dressler is Third Vice-President of Lutheran Church-Canada and pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan).