We all have our scars. During my college years I cross-country skied into a tree. That adventure left a permanent wrinkle in my eyebrow. And then there’s the angular bump on my hip that still aches years after the bike accident. Some scars are more inward. As a kid I was painfully shy, both bullied and ignored. That experience left a tender spot inside me. We all have our scars. What are yours? Each of these marks upon our bodies and hearts reminds us that death, as a physical and spiritual reality, is always a part life.
Here we are in the fourth Sunday of Easter. Here we are still listening as Luke is still recounting the things that happened on that long and dramatic first Easter Sunday. Here we are with the disciples as they are experiencing at least the third appearance of an embodied and vibrantly alive Jesus, as they are again meeting a Jesus who is a walking and talking and eating. These are the people who saw the resurrected one in the flesh, who touched him, who heard his voice, who directly received his gift of peace. And yet, Luke describes these same witnesses as “startled and afraid.” He says they are joyful, but equally, that they are “disbelieving and still wondering.”
Still wondering. Just like us. Still wondering.
Whether Jesus’ disciples receive word of his resurrection face to face or as a two-thousand-year-old hand-me-down doesn’t really matter. Either way, we are still wondering. What is this that is happening? How do we explain it? (Do we need to explain it?) What does it mean—or perhaps more importantly, what difference does it make? Always, our terror is intertwined with our joy. Always, faith includes, even requires, disbelief and doubt.
I hear the voice of Jesus in the words of the poet. “This is my gift to you/this springtime blooming/this endless moving/from life to deeper life.” This endless moving from life to deeper life. What if life is not an either/or—either we’re breathing or we’re not, either we’re dead or we’re alive—? What if, instead, life is a process that continually unfolds and deepens? Theologian James Alison, reflecting on the meaning of the wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body, asks: “What type of life is it that is capable not of canceling death out, which would be to stay on the same level as it, but of including it, making a trophy of it, allowing it to be something that can be shown to others in order to allay their fears?” (Raising Abel, p. 33) In other words, resurrection is not a reversal of death, or a denial of its power. It is life that incorporates death. It is life with scars.
In today’s resurrection appearance in Luke, Jesus leads with his wounds. In her essay “Scarred and Hungry” Debie Thomas writes:
What’s remarkable about Jesus is that he chooses the most revealing aspect of himself to share first. His hands and feet bear unmistakable signs of his crucifixion, his defeat, and his vulnerability. They’re not mended and manicured; I imagine he winces when his disciples poke the jagged nails and mangled musculature. His are fresh wounds, still raw and gaping. . . . [Jesus’] injuries remain an essential part of his resurrected identity, neither a divine punishment nor an opportunity for further healing. What would it be like for us to follow in the footsteps of a disabled God? What would it be like to lead with our scars, instead of enslaving ourselves to society’s expectations of piety and prettiness? Jesus proved that he was alive and approachable by risking real engagement. Real presence. As in: “Here is how you can recognize me. By my hands and my feet. See? I have scars. I have baggage. I have history. I am alive to pain, just as you are. I am not immune; I am real.”
On this earth day, we can feel the scars we bear together, the pain, the ache, that haunts our common life in creation. The earth itself suffers the wounds of crucifixion. In other words, this web of life that is our home carries the marks of trauma that is not natural, but is rooted in sin. Sin is our exploitation and colonization of the land and the indigenous peoples who are in sacred relationship with the land. Sin is our to failure to be deeply rooted and respectfully connected. Sin is our dis-embodiment, our inability to know our place. Sin is a value system that fails to place any value at all on the clean air and water, the intricate ecosystems, and the healthy climate that sustains life.
Crucifixion is communal and so is resurrection. In a recent Christian century essay by John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan, the couple writes about their study of the art of the Eastern church. There is, they explain, a basic difference between the way resurrection is understood in the East versus in the West, and that difference is made clear through art. They write, “The [art of the] West celebrates the individual resurrection. Christ rises triumphantly and magnificently—but utterly alone.” Sacred art in the East, “on the other hand, celebrates the universal resurrection. Here Christ also rises triumphantly and magnificently—but he takes all of humanity with him. Ichnographically, paintings in the East show Christ grasping the wrist of Adam. By the year 1200, he is shown grasping both Adam and Eve.” (January 28, 2018 issue of the Christian Century, pp. 23-24). The resurrection of Eve and Adam, in these pieces of art, symbolizes the rising of all of humanity—past, present and future. In our time, we might extend the vision further, imagining that Jesus is bringing the whole earth, even the entire cosmos, with him into resurrected life.
The other day, at a meeting, a colleague mused about how desensitized we often are to the horrible news of what is happening in the world. “It washes over us,” he said. “We are dead to it,” he added. We are dead to it. Hearing these words, I recognized that resurrection means coming alive to pain—the pain of the cosmos and our own personal pain. It means that we are always still wondering. It means that disbelief and doubt are an essential part of faith. On the other hand, resurrection liberates us. It frees us from being imprisoned by our fear, from letting terror run our lives. It allows us to be vulnerable, to lead with our wounds and reveal our scars. It gives us the power to choose hope even as we are still wondering how that hope will take flesh. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said to the disciples. These words are not just a greeting. They are an invitation to a changed life. They are the gift of an entirely new reality. “This is my gift to you/this springtime blooming/this endless moving/from life to deeper life.
“Peace be with you.”