When Jesus was resurrected his wounds did not disappear. Thomas was invited to place his hands in the wound in his side, the wounds in his hands, to know that Jesus was indeed the fully human one who had walked among them and was now the resurrected one. Being resurrected did not undo or leave behind the mark of human suffering and injury but left the mark of grace as a sign of undying love and as an entry point for our own healing and restoration. (RCL John 20:19-31)
Usually I preach on the example that Thomas is to us that questions and doubts can be an essential and healthy part of the faith experience (if interested you can follow the Button below to a previous post on this text) but this year it is time to wrestle with what it might mean that the wounds of Jesus the Christ are not undone by resurrection. It is time because the world is suffering so terribly and because so many of my nearest and dearest are bearing the wounds of grief and struggle, loss and impending loss, that I find myself drawn to the wounds of Jesus the Christ as a place of comfort and encouragement not fear or dread.
In this text the wounds of Jesus are a “proof” to Thomas – and therefore us – that Jesus is the same person before and after death and resurrection – and therefore evidence of the reality of the resurrection. But it is a strange proof as it is simply part of a mix of proof texts that almost contradict one another. Mary does not initially recognise Jesus (is it only the earliness of the hour and limited light?) and cannot hold him as he is not yet ascended. Later Jesus apparently walks through walls to be with the disciples. And toward the end of his time between resurrection and ascension he will eat fish with his friends which surely demonstrates his physicality. So within this text the wounds of Jesus demonstrate that: firstly Jesus is the same person before and after death and resurrection; secondly that he is physically present at least to the extent that Thomas can touch his wounds; and thirdly that whatever cosmic events happened in the three days it did not undo the changes done to and experienced by the fully human and divine Jesus but was incorporated. Jesus did not sign off on the human mission and return to the heavens unscathed. Jesus, and therefore God, was deeply impacted forever by the incarnation. Just as we believe that humanity has been forever changed by the incarnation of God in human form. Just as humanity (and indeed all creation) bears the divine image so too now does the divine bears the imprint of humanity (and material being).
So what does it mean to us in our everyday lives that our friend, our teacher, our savior and Lord, carries his wounds beyond the tomb into eternity? Let me share my reflections so far. Please take what is useful and discard the rest.
I believe that the wounds of the resurrected Jesus are a physical sign of the completion and integration of his particular human life in which he gathered up the whole human experience of joy and brokenness, hopefulness and despair, healing and destruction, and incorporated (took into his body and being) all that it means to be human thus becoming the pioneer and perfecter (Hebrews 12:2) of the path through life and through death to life unlimited.
I believe that the wounds of the resurrected Jesus are a visible sign that the great cosmic cycle of birth, life, death and resurrection is complete. Reflect on the words Jesus spoke to the Greeks who asked about his impending death, and his reply that unless a grain of wheat dies it remains a single grain, but that if it dies it brings forth many grains. (John 12:24) Jesus of Nazareth is now the Cosmic Christ - the universal one.
I believe that the wounds of the resurrected Jesus are an outward sign and a promise that upon his return to the divine we are not ‘left behind’ but are ‘gathered up’ and taken into the divine with him. Reflect on the words of Jesus urgently reassuring his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them. (John 14:3) Therefore in Jesus the Christ the whole world has been gathered up and incorporated into the one perfect and sufficient death and that therefore all are saved (as we say every Sunday in the Eucharistic prayer “once and for all”).
For us I believe that the wounds of the resurrected Jesus are a sign that we were and will be (past, present and future or as the reading from Revelation 1:8 says it “who is and who was and who is to come”) gathered up, included, carried through the great cycle of life, death and life without limit, and that the worst, most tragic and broken, the most truly wicked and wasted aspects of us will not only be included but can be our entry points of grace. For while we humans can experience the divine in the good and the grand, the beautiful and the brilliant, the sublime and the sensuous (and I believe are constantly being invited to), it is often that it is in the lowest and most vulnerable times and situations that we at last are open to the gift of belonging and belovedness.
I believe that the wounds of the resurrected Jesus are a reminder, a corrective teaching and a challenge to our egos, that grace and enlightenment are not rewards or the fruit of our grand process of spiritual growth and discipline (even though I do believe that the journey of spiritual growth is most desirous and holy) but awaits us in moments of recognition of need and surrender, of simple desire and humble failure. The wounds of Jesus remind us that our own wounds can be portals, entry points, of grace.
I believe that the wounds of the resurrected Jesus are a reminder that acknowledging our woundedness, our brokenness, is not a one time confession that we then hasten to leave behind us but a humble open way of living and being. We need not go looking for wounds as we are forever in the presence of the wounds of Jesus and the truth is that we are forever in the presence of the wounds of our neighbors if only we look with eyes of clear seeing and respond with compassion. And of course our own wounds, even if healed, do not disappear. Whatever has wounded us in life can be a source of openness to healing, joy, connection with others, and the deepest point of union with our Lord. And we must humbly be open to the most painful awareness of the ways in which we have wounded others by injury or indifference, exclusion or misplaced adoration, betrayal and abuse, and judgment or misunderstanding. All of this, in the hands and side of Jesus the resurrected one can be the location of grace, healing and belonging. To be wounded is not to left outside of the warming circle of grace but to be engraved in the hands of the God of Israel, to be hidden in the side of Christ, and at the very heart of the divine.
Even so, come risen Lord Jesus the Christ, and gather us up into your embrace and hide us in your life giving wounds.