TEXT: Luke 24:36-48
Last Sunday—in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos tragic bus crash—the Revised Common Lectionary called us to meditate upon woundedness, as a disciple with a wounded heart beheld the wounds of the risen Christ, and found faith beyond his doubts (John 20:19-31).
This week, we return to that first Easter evening–and the lectionary keeps our focus upon Jesus’ wounds:
[Jesus] said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38-39)
Have you ever wondered why the risen Jesus still has his wounds? I mean, you’d think a resurrection body would be better than new, wouldn’t you? If I were the one raising Jesus from the dead, I’d give him a body that was perfect. I’d fill in all the flesh that was torn up by nails and thorns, and I’d stitch up the massive gash in his side. I’d wash away all the dried blood and erase every mark left by the scourge. I’d cover all the wounds with skin like a newborn baby’s. I would put all of Jesus’ wounds—all of his suffering—into the past. I would give Jesus a body that was completely whole.
But, of course, I did not raise Jesus from the dead. God did. And God had other ideas.
When the risen Lord appeared among his followers on Easter evening, the first thing he did was bless them: “Peace be with you.”
But then Jesus lifted his clothes, and revealed his wounds. They were still there, still deep, still angry red. He insisted that his followers look at them, and touch them.
Yes, that certainly did confirm that this Jesus was the same one who had died the previous Friday. The wounds were in the right place. This was no imposter. Impossible though it seemed, this was really him! But why did he still have his wounds? Why could Jesus not experience complete healing in his resurrection?
I mean, to know it was him—and to know he wasn’t a ghost—wouldn’t it have been enough for his followers just to see his face and touch whole, unwounded flesh? Wouldn’t it be enough just to watch him eat the fish they offered him? When Jesus drew his last breath on that terrible Friday, he said: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Why wasn’t the woundedness finished, too? It would have been such a blessing to get the pain over with.
But you know, that’s a blessing many—perhaps most—never receive. Their pain is not over with in a matter of hours or days.
The oldest amongst may you remember “The March of Dimes” campaign. It actually still exists, although we don’t seem to hear as much about it as we did before the 1970s. Its original focus was raising money to combat polio, but after that battle was won, the March of Dimes focus shifted to include all kinds of congenital birth defects.
Anyway, one of the March of Dimes poster children back in the 1960s was a girl named Nancy Eiesland. By the time she was 13, she had undergone 11 operations for a congenital bone defect in her hips. In order to move around, Nancy needed to use crutches or a wheelchair, and that remained the case through her whole life.
When she was little, Nancy’s parents took her to several faith healers—but it never did any good. Before she got past the single digits in age, she had already heard—many, many times—all the excuses people make to explain why God allowed the disability in the first place, and why God did not take it away.
Nancy had heard it all. Some people speculated that she had unconfessed sins; that must be why God didn’t take the disability away. Others told her that God had given her this affliction in order to develop her character. Later, she would write: “at age six or seven, I was convinced that I had enough character to last for a lifetime.”1
The truth was, no matter how many surgeries Nancy had, her body would never be “normal” in the conventional sense of the word. No matter how skilled the surgeons were, her body would never be as it would have been if her hips had formed normally in the first place. For Nancy, the pain and struggle did not last for just a few hours on a Friday. It was a lifelong burden.
Faced with such challenges, what could Nancy Eiesland do, except just … go on? Nancy simply went on living an everyday life with an un-everyday body.
And here’s the truth: this is how it is for humanity. There are some things that we never get over, some problems that we never completely overcome, some tragic events that change things forever. One terrible example is the death of a child. You don’t get over that. You don’t forget that. The parents of those who perished on the Humboldt Broncos team bus will never be the same again. No matter how much healing they might experience with the passage of time, those wounds will remain.
It is our human reality: some wounds last a lifetime—and scars are often permanent. I think that’s why Jesus still bore his wounds when he rose from the dead. Imagine if all trace of Jesus’ suffering had been erased. Can you imagine Jesus saying, “Well, I’m sure glad that’s over! Now, I’m home free!” … ?
No! God did not erase the wounds from the resurrected Christ. No! God did not erase the wounds from deep in his own heart.
Why not? Because our human condition—including all of its suffering and pain—is not all behind the Lord.
If pain and struggle are not all in the past for us, they are not all in the past for God. If weakness and disability are not all in the past for us, they are not all in the past for God. Jesus overcame death, but he did not leave his humanity behind. He did not leave us behind. He did not remove himself from our struggle. I believe there’s healing to be found in that knowledge.
Anyway, back to Nancy Eiesland. As an adult, she became a sociologist and a professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. She also led a Bible study group for residents at a local rehabilitation hospital. Later, Eiesland would write:
One afternoon, after a long and frustrating day, I shared with the group my own doubts about God’s care for me. I asked them then if they could tell me how they would know if God was with them and understood their experience. There was a long silence. Then … a young man said, “If God was in a ‘sip [and] puff,’ maybe he would understand.”
Now, a “sip and puff” mechanism enables people to control an electric wheelchair with their breath. This kind of apparatus is used by people who have quadriplegia.
The young man said, “If God was in a ‘sip and puff,’ maybe he would understand.”
Not long after that, Nancy was reading the same passage from Luke that many of us will hear tomorrow morning (Luke 24:36-48), and it hit her: the Lord wasn’t in a “sip and puff,” but here he was among his people in a wounded body, still bearing the marks of the nails and the spear—still bearing in his body the marks of his humanity.
The living Christ was making good on his promise not to abandon us, not to leave us orphaned2—not any of us: not those who are pretty much “normal”; not those who cope with difficult bodies; not those who have been wounded to the core with unimaginable injury. Christ knows our situation, and he carries it. He bears it for us and he bears it with us—even in his resurrection body!
The risen Christ insists that his followers see and touch his wounds. He wants us to understand that he still carries all our sorrow, all our shame, all the vulnerability that we know as humans. In this way, he says to us: “No, it’s not all over, and I have not left you behind. I have not left you alone with your wounds. I am Emmanuel.”
Emmanuel—that word we use so much at Christmas time, that wonderful name which means, “God is with us.” Our living Lord wants us to see that—even through his death and in his rising—he is still Emmanuel.
“I am your Emmanuel,” he declares. “Yes, I am your Emmanuel—yes, you, whose bodies will never be conventional. I am your Emmanuel—yes, all you who struggle, who have been through the kinds of things that you won’t get over and cannot forget.”
The risen Christ wants us to see and touch his wounds because they are the signs of his love for us. They allow us to see deep into God’s heart. Instead of coming to us in a perfect, wound-free, scar-free body, the risen Christ comes bearing the wounds that display his perfect love. His love is the thing that’s perfect. He comes not in a perfect body, but with a perfect love.
Make no mistake about it: the risen Lord Jesus Christ truly is Emmanuel, “God with us.” He is Emmanuel for all of us. Yes—for you, for me, for all of us! He is Emmanuel forever. Thanks be to God.
1 Read Nancy’s story at: http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/143/over02.html
2 See John 14:18