From The Ministry of Reconciliation
The risen Jesus is a survivor. He has been through abuse and torture. He has been beaten, mocked, and had thorns pressed into his head. He has experienced public humiliation and been executed on the cross. He has experienced the pit of death. And now he has been raised from the dead.
We cannot get inside Jesus’s own experience of this. Piero della Francesca’s painting of Jesus risen tries to capture what might have been part of that experience. Jesus looks a little dazed or bewildered, as though this will take some getting used to. The experience of resurrection life has nothing with which it can be compared. It is not the same as resuscitation from death, as Lazarus experienced, for those who have been so resuscitated die once again. In the appearance stories, Jesus’s body is indeed glorified, but the scars of his torture remain. His body has both discontinuity and continuity with his past.
It is interesting to see how Jesus deals with his wounds. In Luke’s account of the appearance in the upper room, Jesus volunteers to show the disciples his wounds. It is as though he is a little amazed about them himself. These are wounds that do not go away, but link Jesus forever to his passion and death. In this, Jesus is like every survivor who must bear the burden of those wounds for the rest of his or her life. Jesus shows the disciples his wounds and talks about them freely, because they are no longer a source of pain and painful memory, but now, in the case of Thomas, become wounds that heal. They heal Thomas’s troubled soul, riddled with the loss of faith and hope. Jesus’s wounds have a remarkable quality, therefore. They link him back to his own death, but point ahead to life and hope as well.
But how do wounds heal? How do they make someone else whole? Wounds, first of all, mark a break in the surface of things. A smooth surface does not prompt reflection or thought. It takes the disruption of that smooth surface to give us pause to ponder. Wounds are an invitation to become aware of how fragile the human body is, how easily it is penetrated. They remind us that all our arrangements, personal and social, can be easily disrupted. The violence that wounds do to the tissues of a body – cutting through the delicate layers, disrupting the functions – puts into question how much we can rely upon things to be as they should be. Wounds are question marks about existence.
An open wound allows us to peer inside the body, below the surface of things, and to discover there that what is underneath is not like what first appears to the eye. We see structures and processes that support the surface but look very different in themselves. We become aware that so much of our world is not what it seems. To reach this realization may undermine trust for some. That wounds can occur, that they can be deliberately inflicted, makes the world a very unsafe place. For others, it is an invitation to contemplate the complexity of the world and how much human flourishing relies on a capacity to trust. Trust itself is as fragile as those broken surfaces we contemplate, yet without trust there is no full human life.
Vulnerability – literally, the ability to be wounded – is a kind of self-giving in love that makes possible coming to a new place, a new state of existence. Vulnerability is not about masochism, or a desire to draw attention to oneself, or to be pitied. Vulnerability is a capacity so to trust that one runs the risk of wounds. It does not make wounds desirable, nor does it make them less painful. One is willing to run the risk of wounds because of something more important: the communion of love that engenders trust, that makes the fresh start of forgiveness possible.
When Thomas is invited to touch Jesus’s wounds, those wounds draw out of him the disruptions below the surface of his own life. His trust has been shaken, his faith in Jesus as the messenger of God’s reign has been called into question. Touching the wounds of Jesus connects his inner wounds to those very visible ones of Jesus. The wounds of Thomas’s heart can be placed in the larger and deeper wounds of Jesus, hands and side. In this way, Thomas is healed and can move from doubt to his confession of faith.
Wounds have knowledge. Those who have suffered physical wounds that have changed their bodies know how a change in weather can signal itself in their own wounds. Onsets of tension or stress sometimes register in the same way. And wounds may also be the point where the decline of age announced itself. When those wounds are touched, or when environmental changes make them ache, the memories of their infliction come back. Wounds bear, therefore, a kind of knowledge. They become repositories of memories of traumas that are now past, but whose infliction has forever altered a life.
It is the knowledge wounds hear that gives them a healing quality for others. When Thomas touched the wounds of Jesus’s crucifixion, it was as though the memories in those wounds provided a way of reorganizing Thomas’s own experience. His memories were no longer troubling to him, because they had been transfigured into a confession of who Jesus has become. Wounds can heal because, having the memory of trauma, they can connect to the wounds of others. They know the experience of disruption and pain. The transfigured wounds of Jesus have not lost that quality of memory. The transfiguring wounds of Jesus’s crucifixion hold that memory in a special way. It is a memory that cannot be erased; it will always be part of him.
But it is only such memory that can touch the trauma of memory in another.
People are usually afraid to touch wounds, either for fear of hurting the wounded person or for fear of contagion. Jesus, however, invites others to touch his wounds. His wounds have become redemptive. They heal others; they are contagious through the spread, not of disease, but of the alleviation of suffering. The wounds of those who have experienced the trauma of war or of torture are not worn as badges of honor, although others on occasion may treat them that way. They more likely still ache than glow. But those wounds give the reconciled the possibility of entry into the wounds of others. They become healing wounds, wounds that render the wounds of others less painful. Their wounds know about healing – how long it takes, how incomplete the healing will always be. It is the knowledge of the patience needed, and the realization that wounds can always produce new pain that make the wounds of the reconciled so sensitive to the wounds of others. It is little wonder, then, that it is the reconciled who are our best leaders in any process of reconciliation.