Tactile Learning

Second Sunday of Easter: John 20:19-31

I remember the moment well, though it was 20 years ago.  I was changing my daughter’s diaper, and she reached out to touch the lace on my bathrobe as she lay on the change table.  I was surprised; her brother never did that.


I think of it now as a first hand observation of how people learn. Stephanie was like many young children who love to learn by doing.  She loved imitating adult behavior in play, doing hand signs with songs, mastering jumping rope or the monkey bars.  She was a Kinesthetic learner – one who prefer to learn in a hands on approach.  Kinesthetic learners account for only 5% of the adult population,

but most people employ a combination of the common learning styles:  auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and reading.


The resurrection appearances in the Gospel of John read like a lesson plan for all learning styles.  For auditory we have Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning as she recognizes Jesus at the sound of her name. For Visual learners: Jesus shows the disciples his hands and his side when he appears in the locked upper room.  John editorializes at the end of our gospel lesson for those who prefer to learn by reading: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.”


And last but not least, for the kinesthetic learners, we have Thomas, who refuses to believe until, as he says, “I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side.”


Thomas has long been a hero of faith to me.  I love him for his skepticism and demand for data

I identify with his refusal of easy consolation after trauma.  And I love his story for how Jesus responds to his resistance:  Jesus doesn’t write Thomas off because he wasn’t present when Jesus showed up

Or reprimand him for impertinent behavior.  Instead Jesus makes a special trip for Thomas. He meets Thomas in his pain and his demands.


Jesus also meets Thomas in the tactile learning style he needs.  Jesus invites Thomas to touch him:

“Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Jesus’ gracious offer allows for Thomas to touch his wounds and experience his Risen Body. Through direct physical experience, Thomas comes to know Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus makes possible a hands on faith that is learned by doing.


It seems to me on this Sunday in which we celebrate the people who make ministry happen that we are talking about this kind of tactile faith, a faith fed by touching and doing. As we engage in active ministries, we are like Thomas: We touch people and in doing so, come to believe more fully in Jesus.


When I first arrived at Epiphany, a number of you filled out a ‘help me get to know you’ sheet, and answered the question, ‘what is your favorite ministry and why?’ There were lots of responses, and as I reread them this week, I saw them as examples of a tactile faith. Here’s a taste of what folks said:


“I love the drama ministry because connects people across generations as parents and children join in shows together. It’s a way for adults to model faith to kids, and a way for both kids and adults to share faith through acting and song.” 


“In the Pantry, we not only serve the community, we are a small group that cares for each other.  These ladies are so much fun to work with because they are thinking others, not themselves.”


“My favorite ministry is the Storybook Project, where Epiphany members record incarcerated parents reading a storybook and send the recording and book to the child.  I like that it is a ministry of direct service from person to person.  Children who have never met their incarcerated parent recognize the voice of their mom or dad when they get out.”


“I attended a 5:30 Saturday service about three months after my father died. We sang “This Is My Father’s World,” which was my dad’s favorite hymn.  I broke down crying, but another member came over to me to ask if I was OK..  She comforted me and stayed with me until I was calm.  I’ll never forget her kindness and compassion.”


These favorite ministries make a deep impact because they are hands on and personal. The ministry is often organized, but as you can see, the informal ministry that happens through your concern and human connection are just as powerful. Like Thomas touching Jesus, it is the person to person, real time contact that helps people connect meaningfully to others in the ministries they share. It helps us grow in our faith; it heals us and others. It happens for those who are served, but also and perhaps even more profoundly for us who serve, because in this embodied and active faith, we come to recognize the face of the Resurrected Christ in one another.


There are so many more stories of ministry and the people who make them go here at Epiphany! In real life serving, we experience hope emerging from despair, life coming from death. I am grateful for the tactile faith that is lived out in so many ways here, and the chance to know Christ and his resurrection through and with you.

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