Wounds are not mentioned in today’s’ Gospel reading, but they are definitely implied – for what other reason would Jesus ask his disciples to look at his hands and feet – surely his face would be more easily recognised. But it was the wounds of crucifixion at which Jesus asked his disciples to look. By these he could surely be identified.
This doesn’t sit easily with the rather triumphalist notion of resurrection into which we easily slip: that Jesus had surpassed death and suffering, destroying them. But the risen Christ still carried his wounds: they were central to who he was, and to people’s ability to recognise him.
So, we worship a God who is wounded: Jesus’ wounds have carried suffering into the heart of God, and there they remain. Traditionally Christianity has held a belief in the impassibility of God – that God does not experience emotional change in any way. Also that God is apathetic – without feeling (rather than not being bothered). That Jesus still carried his crucifixion wounds after his resurrection demands a change in belief; the God we worship knows suffering, and has scars to prove it.
I think there is something worth reflecting on here, in relation to the human character. Most of us carry scars in one way or another. If you’ve ever had surgery, you will have a physical scar. If life has treated you badly, if you have been a victim of abuse, if you have lost loved ones tragically, if you have known violence, you will carry mental or psychological scars. But scars are, in a sense, signs of healing – they are no longer wounds. Scars are signs of our body’s healing, but they render us ‘imperfect’, and can be things of shame – we cover them up and keep them hidden if we possibly can.
I think we are intolerant of imperfection these days. Plastic surgery is no longer simply to do with post surgery repair and reconstruction – it has become routine for many who want to look ‘perfect’. But I admire the women who have posed topless to reveal their post breast cancer scars – these scars are signs of survival, the photos a refusal to be ashamed. They say to us ‘wear your scars with pride’. Scars make us different – they change us. They can make us stronger; they are signs that we have survived. They can enable us to be more empathetic with the struggles of others. They certainly bring us face to face with our vulnerability and mortality – we are not inviolable.
Isaiah speaks of ‘the wounded healer’. This idea has been identified with the suffering of Jesus on the cross for our salvation. But it can also apply to us – wounded ones often become healing ones.
But Jesus’ wounds seem to stay as wounds – Thomas was invited to put his hand inside the wound on Jesus’ side. We have no information about whether these wounds, in time, healed and became scars. Either could be meaningful theologically: Christ’s scars symbolising the possibility of healing: Christ’s wounds speak of his identification with, any carrying of the continuing suffering of the world. Both offer hope. Both tell us that God knows our suffering, our weakness, vulnerability: what we see as imperfections are there in God’s very being. How can we loathe our scars if God loves them? There is healing – not the disappearance of scars but the ability to love them as God does.