“The Light in the Wounds”

Homily preached by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Church of the Intercession NYC

Texts:  1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48


In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today is the Third Sunday in Easter, and we are still rejoicing in the Resurrection – and we are still trying to make sense of it, get our minds and our hearts around the enormity of what it means to us, especially in practical terms.  What does the Resurrection mean to us in our lives, now?  For the past year we have been surrounded by suffering and death.  This feels like a contradiction, or more accurately it poses a paradox:  if Jesus suffered for us and rose from the grave, conquering death, how could we have experienced so much death in our world, the world Jesus died and rose to save?

That’s not the only paradox we have before us today.  Since Easter Sunday, our lessons have presented us with a second one:  the presence of both wounds and light in Christ.  How is that possible?  Fortunately, the Bible can help us reconcile both paradoxes.

You’ll remember that back on Easter Sunday we spoke about how Jesus’ disciples had trouble recognizing him after the Resurrection, despite having spent a great deal of intimate time with him while he was alive: they thought he was someone else until he reminded them of the spiritual communion he shared with them, rather than recognizing his post-resurrection physical appearance.  In these encounters with the risen Lord, it was the experience of his spirit, the familiar light that he kindled in his disciples, that convinced the disciples that they were in Jesus’ living presence.

Today we have a different but no less surprising resurrection appearance by the risen Lord, this time in his glorified but still scarred body.  This is deeply profound – never before in history has any god let alone God, our great king above all gods, identified themself by presenting the marks of their vulnerability, even their mortality, as evidence of their divinity.  In today’s gospel from Luke, Jesus appears among the disciples who think he is literally a ghost of his former self, until he displays the marks of the nails of crucifixion to convince him that he is in fact, no ghost, but Jesus himself in a resurrected body.  The shock is that Jesus appears in a body that is not perfected, not totally healed, but still deeply scarred.  Jesus goes out of his way to prove to the disciples that they are not experiencing a vision or a group hallucination: he asks for food and eats broiled fish in front of them, something no ghost could ever do.

There was a similar resurrection appearance in last Sunday’s reading from John’s gospel; there, Jesus honored Thomas’ demand for his own proof of the Resurrection – having been absent at Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus lives unless he himself can put his fingers into the nail wounds on Jesus’ hands and feet and into the spear wound on his side; he is asking Jesus to prove his resurrection through his wounds.

Taken together, the Resurrection appearances lead us to the inescapable conclusion is that the risen Jesus is very hard to recognize except through two means:  his spirit and his wounds.  Keep all of that in mind while we now turn our attention to the lesson we’ve heard from the First Letter of John.  Today we hear that when “Jesus is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” – which means that it is our wounds – our physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual wounds, wounds that are both visible and invisible – that it is our wounds what make us “like him” – who suffered all those injuries while here with us on earth.

But last Sunday, the First Letter of John also told us in no uncertain terms that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”  But how can God, who is light, ever be wounded?  Even more important, why would God who is light permit himself to be wounded, and then why then once wounded, why would God choose to remain scarred beyond the grave?

Last week the New York Times published an op-ed entitled “Why is Jesus still wounded after his resurrection?” by Peter Wehner. In it, Wehner wonders:

. . . why Jesus, after his Resurrection, in his glorified body, still bore the visible marks of his wounds. After all, scars are signs of imperfection, a defacement, something most of us try to hide — and in the case of Jesus, they were reminders of searing pain, vulnerability, and indignity.

Wehner then asks various theologians why they thought this was so; the most compelling answer comes from Andy Crouch, who points out that: the word “vulnerable” comes from the Latin “vulnus,” which means “wound.” If God is woundable, is God therefore vulnerable? Here’s the reply:

The persistence of the scars show that the answer is unmistakably, and eternally, yes,” If a scar is a healed wound, a wound that the body has marvelously managed to rescue and restore — then in some way, Christ’s entire bodily form, having suffered the ultimate injury of death but having been rescued and restored, is that of a scar. He will be worshiped, the book of Revelation says, in the form of “a Lamb looking as if it had been slain. He concludes that Perhaps our scars, which are so often a source of shame and regret, are the truest clues we have to the full form of our resurrection bodies. This is a fine summation of the meaning of the Incarnation:  that what lies at the foundation of our belief in Jesus is not doctrinal or ritual but crucial shared experience of pain, particularly the most isolating and excruciating parts of the human condition, suffering and death.

As Crouch points out, we often make incredible efforts to hide our wounds from others, to plaster over our scars so that no one will ask us about them, so that no one will notice, so that we will not be perceived as weak or vulnerable.  We consider this deception as a necessary part of that defensive armor that we must don in order to navigate daily life, but what the Resurrection stories tell us is that our scars make us just like Jesus, and that, far from making us less attractive to God, our scars are a thing of incomparable beauty to him.

In fact, it is in those shared wounds where we find God’s light – the light shines through the wounds, the light is in the wounds – and it is in touching those scarred places that we come to know both God’s light and God’s love, because he suffered as we have, and as we still do.  The key is that we must be present in suffering – fleeing it means we also are fleeing God’s love, God’s salvation, God’s healing.  Remember that Isaiah says, “by his stripes we are healed”?  This is what he was talking about.  But Jesus wasn’t wounded to drive us away: we must remain in the place of pain to truly experience the life-restoring power of the Resurrection.

This is true for both individuals and societies.  I remember meeting Jesus in an MRI tube when I was being treated for stage 4 cancer.  I would have done anything on earth to avoid being in that position, but Jesus in both his glory and bearing his scars were ready for me when I finally was ready for him.  Could the treatments have gone either way, could I have died?  Of course, people die of cancer all the time.  But no matter what the outcome was going to be, whether life or death, I knew in that tube that Jesus was in it with me.

Across the world we are still trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, a terrible scourge that came from nature but was made much, much worse by our own divisions, partisanship, ignorance, misinformation, and willful blindness to the causes of its spread and the damages it causes, which extend far beyond to the awful harm the virus can do to our bodies.  Turning a blind eye to the science is the same as us refusing to touch Jesus’ wounds, and turning a blind eye to the exacerbating causes is also a denial of the pain of the Passion.

And of course, our society is undergoing paroxysms of anger, violence, suffering, and death because we have long run away from the many of their causes:  systemic racism, bigotry against immigrants, economic inequality.  Those things cannot be healed without facing them, addressing them openly although it hurts to do so, even though it is easier, more comfortable to turn away.  George Floyd and Daunte Wright in Minnesota, plus the now scores of attacks against older Asian women, the virulent anti-immigration sentiment festering in much of our nation, our insane infatuation with guns and our tolerance of mass murder:  all of it needs to be faced squarely, boldly, not in our strength but in Christ ‘s strength – if we are present in those places where there is suffering, God’s light can heal us.  The light of television cameras alone cannot do the job.

My sisters and brothers, as we travel through the Great Fifty Days of Easter this year, let’s resolve to stay where it is uncomfortable, to be present in suffering, to not turn away from pain, because it is in Christ’s wounds that we recognize our Savior, it is in them that we see his glory, and experience his healing light.  That is one of the great lessons of the Resurrection, and it is the one that can transform our lives and our world, right here and right now because Christ is indeed risen – Alleluia! –  and His body is still wounded.