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Sharing our wounds

Bill Tammeus

Reading the Passion and Easter narratives this year, I noticed something I had never quite named before.

In a post-resurrection appearance, Jesus shows his followers his wounds. It was a stark acknowledgment that this Jesus, this Messiah, this astonishing incarnate God who has been redeemed from the grave and restored is still wounded. Yes, even after resurrection.

It’s like seeing a wooden board from which a pounded-in nail has been yanked out. The nail is gone, but the nail hole remains. Our wounds change us forever.

Surely the still-scarred reality about Jesus is part of what it means that he is Emmanuel, God with us. And surely one of the lessons is that because of the incarnation, this wounded God continues to be connected to us in indelible ways.

So if Jesus is willing to reveal his wounds to friends, we should be too. Hiding them under a bushel basket makes no more sense than hiding our generative light there.

In recent years, my wife Marcia has helped to coordinate a monthly local multichurch gathering of bereaved people through the national Faith & Grief program.

People who come to share their stories and seek healing are publicly acknowledging that, like Jesus, they still are wounded, even if they have begun to work through the trauma of the death of someone they loved. And they are free to confess this — not because they are exhibitionists seeking sympathy, but because they know that the very God they worship also has experienced injury and grief.

In his famous poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes asks what happens to a dream deferred, though his questions could apply just as easily to a wound not shared: “Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?/Or fester like a sore/And then run?”

Either way, Jesus is telling us, the result isn’t healing. The way to heal a wound is to acknowledge it, share it. It’s not just what Jesus would do, it’s what he did do.

I know someone who was a functioning alcoholic for years. She never missed work. She was a good mother. But for some reason she was a wounded person who bathed those wounds not in the sunlight of shared experience but in alcohol.

Just when her daughter became pregnant with what would be her first grandchild, this woman’s insides began to bleed. While in the hospital seeking to stop her body from collapsing from years of alcohol abuse, she elected to acknowledge her addiction to family and friends and to try to heal so she could know her coming grandchild.

With help from willing friends and Alcoholics Anonymous, she displayed her wounds and began to recover from them. She’s now been sober for almost 18 years and she’s wildly in love with her two grandchildren, who live not far from her.

Had she kept her wounds bottled up, the bottle almost certainly would have killed her. Displaying her wounds to others was the path toward recovery, which alcoholics know is a forever journey.

The danger, of course, of encouraging people to follow the example of Jesus by showing others our wounds is that we may seem to others like hypochondriacs, nursing and crying about the smallest and most insignificant injuries. So we would do well to evaluate the significance and permanence of our wounds before we invite public discussion and sympathy.

But if we are to be disciples of Jesus, we must be willing to acknowledge the ways in which we’ve been hurt and to make it clear that even after we have in some way recovered, been resurrected, our wounds still exist and help to define who we are.

As we do that, let’s bear witness that one reason we experienced healing is that we paid attention to Emmanuel, the wounded but living God in our midst.

Bill TammeusBILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star.  Visit his “Faith Matters” blog (billtammeus.typepad.com). Read about his latest book (amzn.to/29F2bmP). Email him at wtammeus@gmail.com.

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