Witness to wounds

After nearly a year of COVID-19 – of stay-at-home orders, quarantines, physical distancing and sheltering in place – I keep returning to a biblical scene that seems to capture our predicament: the Gospel of John’s image of fearful disciples huddled behind locked doors on that first Easter evening. John reports that they are on lockdown “for fear of the Jews” — an odd statement at first glance, given that the disciples themselves are Jews and perhaps as odd as supposing we might be fearful of fellow Americans. But in fact, as we have huddled behind our own locked doors in sensible fear of a deadly pandemic, we have also been rattled to our core by a rampage of fellow citizens against democratic institutions and norms, and by painful public exposure of gaping racial, political and economic fissures in the fabric of our common life. Given the range of fears that have us in their grip and the enormity of the challenges before us, we may well find ourselves in states of paralysis, unsure of how to proceed or even where to begin. John’s story of that first Easter evening provides a clue: We are to attend to wounds.

The wounds of crucifixion remain on Jesus, even on the other side of resurrection, and are a particular focus of John’s telling of the story. Indeed, when Jesus appears to his disciples, he makes a point of showing them his hands and side (John 20:20). However, one of the disciples, Thomas, misses out on that occasion, and upon hearing news of it famously exclaims, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Thomas has long been maligned for this insistence, but New Testament scholar Richard Hays claims that he is actually on point. Thomas does not say, “Unless I see the halo, I’ll never believe.” He needs to see the wounds, for “anything else, anything less, would trivialize the struggle, trivialize the power of evil in the world, trivialize the resurrection.” Taking Thomas’ need seriously, Jesus explicitly invites him to do so.

Recently, theologian Shelly Rambo has underlined the import of this moment in the story, contending that the real power of the resurrection can be seen in Jesus’ invitation to attend to wounds. He invites us to do the same, with a “readiness to hold pain and to stay with difficult truths.” In “Resurrecting Wounds,” Rambo contends that Jesus’ crucifixion represents more than the suffering of one body — it takes in other histories of suffering and bears the marks of them. Resurrection, in her view, is a “different moment in which the memory of that suffering returns to be engaged and the disciples are invited to receive it, to bear it.” And if wounds are attended to, there can be healing.

In our present moment, perhaps attending to public wounds (all too visible in our communities, our nation and our world) is exactly what the risen Christ is calling us to do — otherwise we misunderstand or trivialize the faith. The church is well positioned to tend to wounds, for it is in the trenches of life in our communities and has a sense for its fissures. It can surely discern the shape that the wounds of Christ are taking in its vicinity. Our neighborhoods and communities of faith are places where anger can be transformed into compassion for the wounded and turned into the kind of energy that can mobilize democracy. So also fear can be transformed into interrelationship that enables us to see that where one is wounded, all are wounded — that injustice to one is injustice for all (to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.).

Agitation can be transformed into action. Grief and loss can create communities of care and compassion, tenderness and courage. Easter cannot come soon enough this year. After a year of lockdown, may we hear anew the promise that the risen Lord comes to us, even behind doors locked by fears, inviting us to bear witness that wounds can be taken up into resurrection life.