Today, we begin Week 2 of Easter, but in our gospel text today, the disciples are still on first Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. Earlier in the day, Mary went to the tomb and wept. She spoke with angels, embraced her Rabbi, and preached the first post-resurrection sermon to the disciples, saying “I have seen the Lord!”
Just hours later, that very evening, we read about the disciples meeting in a room — locked up, in fear of their spiritual leaders, fear of being recognized for their relationship with Jesus.
Did they not believe Mary’s sermon? Or was their fear about what was happening on the other side of that door so overpowering that it clouded over any joy they had initially experienced?
Our friend Thomas the Twin isn’t with the rest of the disciples in their fear — the text gives no explanation as to where he is.
I say “our friend” because we recently heard about Thomas in the story of Lazarus’s death and resurrection. It was Thomas who said, “Let us go to Lazarus, that we may die with him.” I like Thomas. He feels so deeply. In that comment about dying with Lazarus, he invites us into the reality that any of us who has grieved knows: That when someone dies, it’s as though we die with them.
So when we hear, in today’s text, of Thomas’s so-called “doubt” — the moment when he says he wants to touch the wounds of Jesus — I suspect there’s more going on for him than doubt alone. Doubt is an intellectual concept and Thomas — he’s so heartfelt. In his response to Lazarus’s death, I know Thomas to be a man who knows that death is real, that trauma can’t be easily forgotten or overcome, that suffering lingers and remains. It seems that Thomas knows suffering can remain even after the impossibly-good-thing of resurrection happens.
Thomas knows, apparently without being told, that Jesus will have wounds. Not even healed over scars, but wounds. Open wounds — wounds he assumes he can put his fingers and hands inside. Something about Thomas’s deep feeling means that he knows he can’t move on until he acknowledges the reality of the woundedness, feels its literal depth for himself.
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A few years ago, an art collective that works to disrupt rape culture made a memorial for survivors of rape. Floating in the quiet waters of the reflection pool of the Washington Memorial were their giant letters — each one taller than I stand — in bright red. The text was the entirety of a poem by an anonymous rape survivor. Floating peacefully before the monument, it read, “I can’t forget what happened, but no one else remembers.”
The wounds that many of us carry do not show on the body. Rape is just one example. The marks of physical abuse may fade, but the wounds sometimes don’t. Verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse are invisible all along. Death of a loved one. Addiction to substances or behaviors. Even though the wounds we carry may not show on our bodies, the enspirited wounding is very real. For some of us, we can’t forget what happened, and it feels like no one else remembers.
For those of us who can’t forget, Thomas might be our patron saint. For Thomas, it is the wounds that are the point of entry into the resurrection reality. When Lazarus died, Thomas experienced death. And now, it’s Easter, and he can’t get to the good news of resurrection without going through death again.
In Thomas, those of us who can’t forget are invited to tell the truth about our wounds. And Jesus does not turn away from that truth. The Resurrected Christ models for us: he shows, without shame, the effects of the worst thing that ever happened to him. He allows Thomas to enter into his pain — in a very physical, deeply intimate way, to enter into his wounds and to penetrate his experiences. The Resurrected Christ invites us to see and touch the site of pain.
What strikes me most about Jesus is his openness with his wounds. In his first appearance to the disciples, in that locked room of fear, the gospel-author writes:
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
Jesus has a kind of casual insistence that they look at his wounds. There are no pleasantries, no catching up — there isn’t even any rejoicing at his presence, until after he’s opened up his robe to show his wounds. Without being asked.
And the blessing he greets them with, “Peace be with you.” Christ knows that a sense of peace that passes all understanding is exactly what we need to be able to witness to suffering and to encounter woundedness.
I think, in part, that Jesus can show his wounds so openly because he knows that the wounds don’t define him. The worst thing that’s ever happened in his life is not who he is. I might even go so far as to say that the way he bears his wounds — openly, insistently, vulnerably — I think that tells us more about his identity than the fact that he is wounded.
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Around this time last year, I wrote a Facebook post in response to the “memories” feature on Facebook, a feature that shows what you posted on the same day in previous years. I hadn’t realized, until then, that much of the unsettledness and despair I feel each April comes from a kind of cyclical re-wounding, like my body remembers, even if I don’t. I wrote that, the first weekend of April 2009, I was raped. The first weekend of April the following year, my marriage ended as a direct result of that rape. Same weekend the year after that, my career was disrupted — largely as a result of my breakup. And the same weekend in 2015, I turned in my master’s thesis on grief and grace — a project that helped me make sense of each of those previous events. Last year, I wrote in that epiphanic post that I’m grateful for the ways the really painful experiences formed me, so much so that on some days I’m able to love the thing I most wish had not happened.
You could say that I stuck my hand in the wound.
I wrote the reflection, in part, because our cultural silence around the very real effects of rape don’t help anyone. And I wrote it because I can’t forget what happened, but no one else remembers.
In the days following, I was surprised at the number of comments. And surprised, further, that the majority of them included the words: “thank you.” I wept, more than once, when people sought me out at church or school to share their wounds with me — to tell me of experiences they had previously kept hidden. It was as though multitudes were appearing to say, “Peace be with you,” and drawing their robes aside to show where the sword had cut. Sharing led to much deeper connection.
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Why wasn’t Thomas in that room with the rest of the disciples on that first Resurrection Sunday? Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t locked in fear. Perhaps he believed Mary’s sermon so strongly that he felt free to be in the world, a way-maker for post-resurrection life. Perhaps he’s Thomas the Believer, guiding the disciples out of the room — out of their fear — sending them into the world. Perhaps he sticks around the next week to help the other disciples get to the bottom of this pain, feel around the wound, make meaning of it.
What if we, like the disciples, are invited to witness the deep wound of the Resurrected One?
What if we, like Thomas, are allowed to penetrate the deep hurt of the Divine?
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What if, like Christ, we’re invited to expose the worst thing that ever happened to us, or the worst thing we ever did? What if we didn’t secretly and shamefully hide our wounds because we know that they do.not.define.us?
Alleluia, Christ HAS risen, and IS risen, and the resurrection continues to occur, each time we are honest about our own wounds, each time we witness the wounds of another, always secure in our identity as Children of God, as Beloved Disciples, as the Body of Christ.
Peace be with you, Beloved Ones.
Peace be with you.