Wounds (Second Sunday of Easter)

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“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”

That is, Jesus showed the disciples his wounds.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus still has wounds?  After all, in all the Resurrection appearances, Jesus is somehow physically transformed.  Sometimes, people don’t even recognize him.  And, while Jesus clearly has a body, that body doesn’t seem to be bound by physical barriers anymore – in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus simply appears in a room where the doors are shut and locked.

So why couldn’t Jesus have simply erased the wounds from his body?  Or, made them heal over so quickly that they wouldn’t even be visible anymore?  I mean, he surely could have.  But he didn’t.  And indeed, showing his wounds is the first thing Jesus does after speaking peace to his disciples.  Why was that?

Well of course, one reason seems to be that showing his wounds makes it clear to the disciples that they really are seeing Jesus, and not just somebody who looks like him.  They’re not just having a dream (in which, probably the crucifixion wouldn’t have happened in the first place).  And even though Thomas often gets a bad rap for demanding to see the wounds, not a single one of the disciples “rejoices when they see the Lord” until AFTER they see those wounds.  The wounds make Jesus real to the disciples.

But I think there’s more to it than that.  The wounds also connect the Risen Jesus to the Jesus who was crucified.  On one level, this means that the Jesus who appears to the disciples is the same Jesus who died on the cross a few days ago.  But it also means that the disciples can’t disconnect the glorified Jesus from the one who walked with them in the heat and the mud while teaching people in the countryside. They’ll need to connect and interpret the words the Risen Jesus speaks to them in the context of the teaching that Jesus had already given them.  And as they move forward in their call to preach the Resurrection, they’ll also need to connect that Resurrection to the suffering, death and sacrifice of Jesus.  The wounds of Jesus connect all these parts of the story.

And perhaps most importantly, Jesus’ wounds show that hope, new life and even Resurrection are possible in spite of still being wounded.  In fact, I’m sure Jesus COULD have shown himself to the disciples and told them the wounds were all healed and gone.  But Jesus still had them.  And, as one of my seminary professors used to wonder, “maybe they still hurt” as they weren’t very old.  But in showing himself to his disciples – alive and risen, yet still with wounds – Jesus made it clear that the new life he was calling his disciples into would also be possible for them right now in this life, even if they still had their wounds.

We read this story every year on the second Sunday of Easter, and we often pass over the wounds of Jesus pretty quickly, or at least, we relegate them into an issue for Thomas.  But we shouldn’t.  The wounds – and the Risen woundedness of Jesus – are an important part of the story for us, too.  Jesus’ wounds are important for us for several reasons, also.

First of all, just as for the first disciples, wounds make things real. Like the first disciples, we’re called to be people who bear witness to the Resurrection in the life of the world around us.  But the world is, and always has been, a wounded place.  And sometimes, Christians want to simply talk about the “glory” of Jesus; and what a wonderful place heaven will be; and how because of their faith in Jesus, they’re always “too blessed to be stressed.”  But for many folks – maybe for most – that kind of Jesus just doesn’t seem real, or connected to the real world in which we live.  But the wounded Jesus is part of the real world.  The wounded Jesus has experienced – and indeed still experiences – the wounds of the world.  That Jesus is real.  And that Jesus can actually help you.

And like those first disciples, the wounds of Jesus connect us not only to the real Jesus, but also to each other.  People can identify with wounds – we all have them.  They may be physical wounds, emotional wounds or spiritual wounds.  Sometimes, they aren’t very visible.  And sometimes, it can feel like they’ve mostly healed over.  But they’re still there.  And knowing that Jesus’ wounds were still there, too, can help us feel that connection to Jesus in a way wouldn’t be there with an unwounded Jesus.

But more than that, it’s sometimes our wounds which Jesus uses to connect us to each other.  And often, Jesus works healing through our wounds.  It has been the case over and over again in my years of ministry that people in congregations have helped each other through difficult situations because they’ve been able to share their own experience of being “wounded” in some way.  That is, somebody has been able to share with somebody else, “I’ve been there and experienced that” and that’s been the most powerful way in which Jesus has worked to help someone through their wounding.  People sometimes ask me if there are some special words, or prayers or Bible verses that can bring hope and comfort to people who are hurting from their wounds.  But I gotta tell you, there’s been nothing that’s as effective as a wounded Christian sharing their story with another who’s going through a similar situation.  It’s never fun, but the wounds are really what bring connection, healing and hope.

And like those first disciples, the wounds of Jesus show us that hope and new life are possible in spite of our wounds – even if they’re still visible.  Yes, the Resurrection promises us eternal life in heaven someday, but Jesus also makes it clear that new life begins now.  And hope is something we’re called to live into today.  And that means that we’re called into new life with the wounds we carry.

Often, I want to wait until all of my wounds are nicely healed and nobody notices them before I’m willing to move on to a new thing.  But Jesus didn’t.  And maybe my seminary professor was right – maybe those wounds did still hurt as he spoke to his disciples.  But apparently, he didn’t whine about it (which would be the tough part for me!)  Instead, he led the disciples into a future in which their wounds wouldn’t be the defining issue of their lives.  Not only could Jesus be Risen and yet still wounded, so could the disciples. And so can we.

In the Resurrection narratives, Jesus’ wounds aren’t mentioned very much.  But they’re an important part of the story.  They’re important because it’s the wounded Jesus who promises to be part of our real and wounded world.  It’s the wounded Jesus who promises to journey with us, even and especially when we’re wounded.  And it’s the wounded and Risen Jesus who promises new life right now to all of us, in spite of whatever wounds we carry.