Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Few things focus our minds on mortality than our own injuries. I remember playing sardines at a youth lock-in when I slipped on a small patch of black ice and dislocated my kneecap on the raised corner of a cement sidewalk. Years later, my right knee still bears the scar from the surgery. It happened more than 30 years ago but I can still vividly remember the moment I rolled on my back and looked up into the dark night sky. The universe felt very big and very empty. The question of whether God exists and cares are not an abstractions when we are in pain, but suddenly urgent and very concrete –why me God?
“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually…″ We instinctively recoil when we feel pain. We withdraw into ourselves. And yet, life also teaches that “those who seek to completely avoid painful encounter with the unseen are doomed to live a [prideful], boring, and superficial lives. (Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer)
Jesus opens the tomb we would bury ourselves in. Fresh air and daylight are essential for healing. Scars marking old wounds tell a story. Emotional scars caused by trauma, loss or humiliation reveal a lot about us when, finally, either by courage or a lot of therapy, or both, they are allowed to speak.
Jesus showed them his wounds. Some scholars suggest Thomas’ insistence on seeing Christ’s wounds wasn’t to prove Jesus had risen but to show Jesus really did physically endure the suffering and humiliation of the cross. Jesus showed them his wounds. His was a body like ours. He showed them his wounds to teach us how to bring healing to each other.
Jesus invited Thomas to touch the mark of the nails in his hands and the gash in his side (John 20:27). Perhaps, even more shocking than the resurrection itself, Jesus first words upon seeing the disciples were not, ‘you’re fired!’ but peace be upon you! Jesus, whom they betrayed, did not seek vengeance, but peace, shalom, oneness, reconciliation, and unity with the undying life of God.
Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 22). The word is ‘emphusao.’ It’s the same word used in Genesis (chapter 2). God breathed life into the nostrils of the earth-man and he became a living being. It’s also the same word used in Ezekiel 37. God breathed life into the dry bones of Israel so that they returned to life and stood on their feet a vast multitude. This, therefore, is the second time Jesus called his followers to be his disciples. It comes after they all abandoned and failed him. This Easter story is Pentecost and creation rolled into one. Jesus taught them how their own woundedness could be transformed by grace into wisdom, the power to heal, the power to forgive, the power to make community.
In his famous little book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen writes, “Many people suffer because of the false supposition on which they have based their lives. That supposition is that there should be no fear or loneliness, no confusion or doubt. But the inevitable sufferings of human life can only be dealt with creatively when they are understood as wounds integral to our human condition. “Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.” (Nouwen). Can your wounds make you more compassionate, more forgiving, more wise? Can our wounds become a source of authority and credibility that we know of what we speak?
When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.” “Through this common search, hospitality becomes community. Hospitality becomes community as it creates a unity based on the shared confession of our basic brokenness and on a shared hope.” (Nouwen)
Our brokenness becomes healing balm for a broken world. Today marks the second Sunday after Easter. Our Jewish friends ended Passover on Thursday. Our Muslim friends will end the month of Ramadan next Thursday. Our Christian Orthodox friends celebrate Easter today. Will we remain in our locked rooms like the first disciples? After all our holy days what has changed?
Somewhere in America today, there will likely be another mass shooting. A former president tweeting about World War III. Anxiety about how to live with less water, or too much water, or polluted water. Like the first disciples our first instinct may be simply to retreat and nurse our wounds. At Easter Jesus comes to roll away the stone that seals our premature tomb. Jesus shows us how to practice resurrection. What are we to do? Just breathe. ‘Emphusao.’ Receive the Holy Spirit.
On the cross and by his resurrection, Jesus taught us God’s love cannot be neutralized or abrogated by our violence. Murder is not God’s work, but rather it is our work from which our murder of Jesus has finally freed us. Jesus has shown us that all scapegoating is a perversion of justice. In the resurrection, God gave back to us the gift we rejected. Jesus entered into the disciple’s fear and shame, their infidelity, and their cowardice not to accuse or to retaliate. Vengeance has no role in reconciliation. This is what allows the disciples finally to accept the gift of God’s love that they could never earn for themselves. This is the cause of our Easter joy. This is the beginning of our new life in Christ.
This peace that Jesus gives becomes the basis of the challenging mission he called them (and now us), to embrace. Jesus said to them, “just as the father sent me, so now I send you” (john 20:21-23). His mission has become our own. In Christ Jesus, we are called and equipped to work with him to take away a condition afflicting the whole human race—the violent rejection of God’s reconciling love—which is possible for us now because Jesus has brought about the death of death.
“The risen Christ, who walks on wounded feet, from garden tomb through darkened city street, unlocks the door of grief, despair, and fear, and speaks a word of peace to all who hear… May we, Christ’s body, walk and serve and stand with those oppressed in this and every land, till all are blessed and can a blessing be, restored in Christ to true humanity.” (The Risen Christ ELW #390)