Physical Touch

John 20:24-31

Jesus appears to Thomas and the disciples

24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 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.”

26 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.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

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

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

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 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.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When I was in fifth grade, we had a class on sex education. At the beginning of the class, the teacher gave everyone a small candy bar, it was meant to be our last snicker during the class. She did it because she knew that the topic we were covering was going to be awkward and she wanted to acknowledge that. She also knew that we needed to talk about it, because it was important. When it comes to talking about the love language of physical touch, I feel the same is true, it is awkward, and it is important.

For whatever reason, our society has developed both a phobia and a fascination with physical touch. There is a lot of cultural stigma when it comes to talking about sexuality and yet there is also a deep interest in the very same topic. The result is that rather than have open and honest conversations, we tend to cling to absolutes or become lost in a sea of silence. The church in particular tends to either take a very vocal and hardline position about “traditional values” when it comes to sex or it says nothing and shuffles to the background in hopes that the topic does not come up.

As uncomfortable as it makes me, I feel that we need to talk about sexuality and physical touch as a love language for preciously this reason. While the church has been silent on the issue, popular culture has been quite vocal and I believe has done a great deal of damage in how we have come to think about sex. Perhaps the best example of this is around the question of sex and marriage. Years ago, the idea of sex outside of marriage was scandalous, so much so that marriages were hastily arranged or lives were destroyed when such an event occurred. The beliefs of society were clear, and the issue was very black and white. My grandparents have thirteen grandchildren. All of us were born to couples who at the time were married. By contrast roughly half of their great-grandchildren were born to couples who were not married at the time. I think the cultural values of the past were dangerous because they lacked grace and forced a choice of marriage or shame to someone who stepped outside the lines. At the same time, today we have seemingly divorced physical touch and sexuality from marriage to the point that I worry that people are not aware of the connection between the two and the beauty that can come from expressing physical love within the context of a committed relationship.

I have chosen to lift up the example of sex because it is the most obvious example of physical touch in a marriage but it is not the only way that love is expressed physically in a marriage or any relationship for that matter. My point in using it as an example is to show the danger when we disconnect the physical from the emotional. When we do not take this seriously we do damage to our relationships. Physical touch is important and we forget that to our peril.

Ironically, despite the reluctance in the church to talk about sexuality, the Bible is filled with examples of it. All the same, when I began to think about the concept of physical touch as a love language, I was reminded of the story of Thomas after the resurrection. Unlike the other disciples, Thomas is not in the room the first time Jesus appears and so he hears the story from them. When he does he is unable to believe for himself that Jesus is really alive. Absent the ability to touch Jesus, Thomas cannot believe that Jesus has really risen from the dead. Maybe physical touch is not a love language for him, but in his story, we are reminded of the power that comes from physical contact.

A simple handshake is another example of the power of physical touch. Shaking hands is a gesture of trust and partnership that is used. It is a way for friends to greet each other and for new acquaints to make a connection. How do people begin a business transaction, they introduce and shake hands. What do they do when they are done, they shake hands again. The contact that happens in the handshake is another reminder of the power of touch.

One of the challenges when it comes to physical touch is that we do not all appreciate it in the same way. Perhaps of all the love languages, it has the greatest chance of making a person uncomfortable. We could spend time trying to explore the origins of this discomfort but the bottom line is some people long for physical touch as a sign of connection and other people do not. What we need to do is to be aware of our surroundings and be sensitive to the needs of the people we are with. While this can feel awkward, like asking permission before giving a hug, it is important because it demonstrates a sensitivity towards the other person and grounds our intentions in what the other person wants, not what we want.

We cannot forget the power of physical touch. It is when Thomas touches Jesus that he knows and believes in the resurrected Christ. We know the power of a hug when we are hurting and in pain. It is in the touch of another that we can experience love. When we cheapen physical touch and divorce it from our love, we do harm. When we ignore the needs of others we can do harm as well. When a person is ready for it, physical touch can be a powerful reminder of love.

It is easy to see how things like hugs and handshakes can translate how we think of physical touch from an intimate relationship with a spouse to relationship with friends and family. What does physical touch look like when we talk about our love for God? One member of our church family carves wooden crosses and gives them to Susan Cafferty, our Care Ministry Director. Susan in turn gives these cross to people who are sick or in hospice. The cross gives people a tangible thing to hold onto, a powerful reminder of God’s love for them. Even how we pray is a way to embrace the physical as we connect with the spiritual. Whether we are opening up our hands to receive the Holy Spirit as we pray or clasping them together, our physical actions create a connection between us and God. Even with God, physical touch matters.

For the last five weeks we have explored different ways to express and receive love. From words to time to gifts to service to touch, we all have different ways that we communicate our love. It is important for us to take time to think about this because our calling as Christians is to show the world our love just as we have been loved by God. Without a developed love language how can we express to the world the unending love and grace that we have come to know in Jesus Christ? Without expressions of love how can we say how much we love God?

Questions to Ponder:

What are ways that you have experienced love through physical touch?

What are the ways that you determine if something like a hug or a handshake would be received by someone else?

What are other ways that we can use physical touch to experience love?

What are the things we do to physically express our relationship to Christ?

Have you had a moment like Thomas where you needed to touch and feel something to know it was really true?

 

Prayer:

Loving God, for those who have never had a chance to touch the wounds, give us the knowledge of Christ’s love for us. For those who long to feel your embrace, wrap your arms around us and fill us with your Spirit. Bless us, and help us to reach out so that others might know that they are loved by us and loved by you. Amen