Friday, April 04, 2008

Wounds That Don't Heal

Isn’t it curious that the risen, glorified body of Jesus retained the wounds of his crucifixion? “Jesus spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand. Put it into my side’” (John 20:27). For that matter, how did Thomas know before he believed in the risen Jesus that the wounds of Jesus remained in the Body that the other disciples claimed had been resurrected? “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands …” (John 20:25). Maybe the others told him about them.

There is glory in the wounds of Jesus. The last book of the Bible makes that clear: The One who has triumphed is described as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah”, but is presented as “a Lamb that seemed to have been sacrificed” (Revelation 5:5-6). But why? The wounds of Jesus on his hands (almost certainly wrists), feet, side, and brow were imposed during the time he was mocked and then crucified. The five red wax nails in the Paschal candle represent these wounds, pressed into the heart of this central Easter symbol. By the shedding of Jesus’ blood, the world was remade—hence, the glory of the wounds. (I have reflected on this profound mystical reality on this blog before, such as here.)

What, then, of our own wounds that don’t heal? There are some hurts that are “life wounds”. They don’t heal. Ever.

Shortly after I became Rector of Blessed Sacrament, a family in the parish suffered a great grief. A five-year-old boy had come home sick from kindergarten. The next morning his parents woke up and found that he had died during the night. The boy’s name was Thomas, and he died on December 21, St. Thomas’ Day. Every St. Thomas’ Day after that, his father attended the Mass until he retired and moved away. He told me once, probably twenty years after his son had died, “It doesn’t hurt any more,” but I am sure that it did. How could it not?

Some wounds are “life wounds”. They don’t heal. Oh, one learns to get by day after day, and the immediate shock subsides, but the hurt remains like an interior stigmata, always bleeding and never healing. Wounds that children receive in abusive families. Even the very best of families can inflict “life wounds” on children. Betrayals by friends, spouses, and others whom we trust. Tragic losses like house fires that destroy heirlooms, permanent debilitating injuries, and so forth wound us in ways that never heal. One learns to get by day after day, but the hurt remains.

How can our “life wounds” become, like the wounds of Jesus, avenues of glory? The easy, and probably correct, answer, is that those with “life wounds” are to take them to Jesus. Easy to say, hard to do. What does it mean to “take them to Jesus”? Well, sometimes I think it means not having the pain removed or healed, but learning to accept it as a burden by which we, and often others, are shaped more into a Christ-like mold than we are now. Discipleship must include some unwelcome facets.

When I was very small and attending Sunday School at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, I remember in the children’s chapel a very large black and white photograph of a man dressed to look like Jesus, standing on a rock and carrying a lamb on his shoulder. Jesus is our Savior, the One who “calls his own by name”, the Good Shepherd. A great image for a child.

But Jesus is also the One who said that his followers must take up a cross. He said that his yoke was easy and his burden light, and that those who labored and were heavily burdened were to come to him. Still, however you look at it, discipleship does include wearing a yoke and carrying a cross. That must mean that sometimes discipleship will be hard. We are to die with Christ so that we may be raised to the new life. Death comes first. Resurrection requires that death come first—otherwise, it is merely healing and not resurrection.

The longer we live the more “life wounds” we get. I suspect, faith being my support, that such woundedness is for this life only, and that in the next the wounds we have carried faithfully and patiently—or at least learned eventually to be patient with—will be marks of glory. They serve a purpose. Now and then I can even feel it in this life, like seeing a light through gauze. Maybe the mystery of unresolved pain is to compel us to put our trust more and more in the only One who will never be cruel to us, betray us, or abandon us—ever. And who promises that the “tears of every eye” will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4).

1 comment:

tami said...

thank you for this post, father david. one ringing of truth and encouragement.

hope all is well!