By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Jesus surprises his disciples in that upstairs room. After all, he’s supposed to be dead!
But he comes among them alive again, more alive than he was before.
How does he explain himself to these people who cannot believe that he is back, whose hearts are racing? Not by the look in his eye. Not by the sounds of his voice.
What Jesus does to explain himself is show them his wounds. He puts forth his hands, and they see the immense scars that occupy his palms. He points to his one side, where yet another scar runs down his body.
Like an old man in a hospital bed who had surgery two days before, and now shows off the incision, Jesus displays the damage done to him on the cross, the marks made by those who killed him.
It is these wounds that identify him as the Jesus they knew before, now back alive among them. He is not some insubstantial spirit or spectre, some hallucination or memory. He is a real person, of flesh and blood and bone, aware of himself and his surroundings, able to touch others and be touched by them. He is the murdered messiah come back to life.
The wounds tell a story: how the heavy hammer blows cut holes into his hands, how the sharp Roman lance tore through his skin and side, how he lost his wind for what seemed the final time, and the dark curtain of death fell upon him.
These wounds, which once emptied out his life, now no longer gape or bleed. They do not require bandages or the embalming power of spices.
Though still the scars remain, his hands and side are healed, and the old wounds now glow with glory, cause of joy to his disciples.
These wounds are there for his first disciples. These wounds remain for us. When Jesus ascends to prepare a place for his people, he goes as a man whose body still bears the marks of execution.
Now he reigns in glory, but still his wounds remain. And, where he comes to judge the human race, we will see again those wounds upon his body. They will tell of abundant mercy. They will reveal our judge as one who chose to die for us.
Yet the wounds of Jesus as a permanent feature of his flesh leave me bothered and bewildered! It seems that God should respect the standards we humans so often set, standards of unsullied appearance, rather than carry through all ages scars on hands and feet and side.
We humans long for what is clean and flawless. We expect the same from God.
But the God of the Gospel does not sit around eternally self-satisfied, always picture-perfect. No, this God reaches out to us, always reaches out, and in Jesus even undergoes our death that we may share his life.
This God chooses to bear forever the disfigurement of nails and spear. This God sacrifices stainless perfection for our flesh-and-blood fulfillment.
Yes, it is through the wounds of Jesus that God reveals himself for who he is. Through these wounds we see how, in Jesus, God does not avoid our existence, but plunges straight into its guilt and pain, feels the entire shock of our destructiveness, then bursts forth from the tomb to fill the world with life.
The human body of Jesus now forever marked with scars, now forever bright with glory, is the emblem of this triumph.
This is saving truth: that through the wounds of Jesus, God reveals himself for who he is.
This also is saving truth: that through our wounds, we discover who we are.
It may be that our wounds have been left unattended, and now they stink and spread disease.
Or it may be that our wounds are becoming glorious, a source of new life for us and for others. We cannot escape being wounded and feeling the hurt and sting, but these scars can shine with glory when we put our faith in the God who works through wounds.
Do you put your faith in this remarkable God, who can work through the wounds of Jesus,
and your own as well? This God works through wounds of every kind. Ours need not remain wrapped in the filthy bandages of denial. Ours need not be left open and tender
through perpetual self-pity. God can work, even through our wounds. God can make them glorious, a source of new life for us and for others.
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One fruit of such faith is an appropriate respect for the human body, accepting our flesh for what it is, and not assuming that we must be free from every wound.
All of us today are under intense pressure to have a body that can’t be wounded.
Our defense may come from makeup or muscles or medicine. The blessings of beauty and fitness and health then become demons ever hounding us. We begin to treat our bodies as machines, whether pleasure machines or power machines. We forget that there is more to life than security; that wounds need not be the end, but the path to something greater.
What we must do is care for our bodies, through habits that are chaste and sane and healthy. This means declaring our independence from all sorts of obsessions: obsessions with dieting, muscle-building, and redesigning face and figure, obsession with those impossible, unreal standards of physical appearance that bombard us every day, threaten our self-esteem, heighten our anxiety.
There is something terribly wrong when a woman can be quoted as saying that her greatest goal in life is to have thin legs. There is something even more terribly wrong when 11 percent of New England couples surveyed would abort a child genetically predisposed to obesity.
We must not grimly pursue some media-inflicted notion of human perfection, but instead open ourselves to the fulfillment God wills for us. Better Franklin Roosevelt in a wheelchair
than Joseph Stalin on his own two feet! Better the wrinkles of Mother Teresa than the plastic profile of Michael Jackson!
In my work I have the privilege of encountering life at its extremities: both birth and death.
I go to the hospital room to greet the newborn and the family. It is a pleasure to see
that small human face and to experience the joy of that family. There’s something divine about it all.
Yet there’s also something divine about what happens when the dead body of someone
who lived on earth eighty or ninety years lies here in church cushioned in the casket. That body bears the wounds of a long lifetime: it has to it a wondrous character that it did not yet have when it was small and soft and newborn.
So often it is through the wounds of body and soul that God worked in the person’s life,
that the person gained a greater and more true identity, and that— strange to say— healing happened and wholeness began to be revealed in that unique and precious life.
The God who, in Jesus, still bears the marks of the cross, wants to work in each of us,
not only where we think we’re in control, but also where we’re wounded. That is where God feels at home.
And that is where healing begins to happen— for us and for others.
— Copyright 1994, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.