Second Sunday of Easter
Christ is risen! He did it! Victory over sin, death, and the devil. For a while there things didn’t look so promising for our savior. He was betrayed by his friends, abandoned by his followers, and handed over to be beaten and crucified. He is deeply wounded and those wounds left marks. His hands and feet were punctured by the crucifixion nails; his side was pierced by the soldier’s spear. Jesus is buried and descends into the dead. Finally, three days later he is raised to new life and appears to his disciples again beginning with Mary. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He has defeated the power of sin and death and has transformed it into new, abundant, and eternal life. But what does that new life look like? In Jesus- in some ways- that new life doesn’t look that much different from the old one… at least not on the surface.
The apostle, Paul, has some pretty big expectations for what the resurrection means for Christians. When we are raised from the dead we will follow after Christ’s resurrection. He is the “first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Cor. 15:20) “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:22). Jesus defeated the power of sin and death through his own life and death and was raised. We who are in Christ will also be raised after death. Paul then draws a parallel to the life we received from the first human, Adam, and the first fruit of the resurrection, Jesus.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body… Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit… The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
-1 Corinthians 15:42-49
When we die, we die like Adam did. Dust to dust, weak, dishonored, and physically. When we are raised, we are raised as Christ was- with a “spiritual body” Paul calls it. I’d be curious about what that “spiritual body” is capable of. Do I get to fly? How old will I be in it? Will I still get hungry? Who knows? Paul doesn’t give us much of a description about what that body will be like, but he simply points us to Jesus.
So what do we find in the resurrected body of Jesus? We find his old wounds still there. When Jesus appears before his disciples, he shows them his hands that had been punctured by crucifixion nails and his side that was pierced by the spear of a soldier. This just doesn’t add up. Those marks are proof of the weakness of his human body- of our human bodies! I thought all of that weakness and perishableness of our bodies was going to be transformed. Paul said the perishable is planted, the imperishable is raised; dishonor is planted and glory is raised; weakness is planted and power is raised; the physical is planted and the spiritual is raised. When I see Jesus standing there with ugly, gaping wounds in his side and hands, my first thought isn’t “this is an imperishable, powerful, spiritual body.” It looks a lot more like a perishable, weak, and physical body.
I would have thought that when Jesus defeated death and sin, their marks would be gone. Jesus’ resurrected body, free from the effects of sin and death would be spotless and perfectly healed of all wounds. But why did Jesus’ resurrected body retain those ugly, painful marks of sin and death?
Maybe, because without those wounds and the experiences they carry, Jesus would no longer be Jesus and God would no longer be God. They are essential to who God and Christ are. It is in Christ’s nature- it is the core of Jesus’ being that he come to serve his sisters and brothers fully. He did so by giving up everything including his very life. His wounds are the embodiment of forgiveness and unconditional love. Christ bears the marks of fear and death, but they were born by him voluntarily. Jesus was willing and able to bear those wounds for our sake. Those wounds did not dissuade God in the slightest in loving us fully and offering us the gift of resurrected life. The wounds are strong, but they were not and are not stronger than the love of God in Christ. Christ wears the wounds; they do not wear him.
The wounds he bears show us that even in his resurrected body, Christ still identifies with the suffering and weakness of his sisters and brothers whom he came to redeem. The disciples and we are able to look at the wounds of Christ lest we forget that God is first found where there is weakness and pain. We look at the wounds of Christ especially when we ourselves our wounded. God bears those wounds and shows them to us so that we might have faith that God is present in our suffering and in our wounds too.
Nancy Eiesland was born with a congenital bone defect and had great mobility difficulties as she made use of leg braces, wheelchairs, and the like. She died in 2009 from lung cancer at the young age of 44. This is how her obituary starts:
BY THE time the theologian and sociologist Nancy Eiesland was 13 years old, she had undergone 11 operations for the congenital bone defect in her hips and realised pain was her lot in life. So why did she say she hoped that when she went to heaven she would still be disabled?
The reason, which seems clear enough to many disabled people, was that her identity and character were formed by the mental, physical and societal challenges of her disability. She believed that without her disability, she would “be absolutely unknown to myself and perhaps to God”.
By the time of her death, Eiesland had come to believe God was disabled… She pointed to the scene described in Luke 24:36-39 in which the risen Jesus invites his disciples to touch his wounds.
“In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God,” she wrote. God remains a God the disabled can identify with, she argued – he is not cured and made whole; his injury is part of him, neither a divine punishment nor an opportunity for healing.
Through her wounds, Nancy Eiesland powerfully witnessed to the inclusive and unconditional love of God embodied by Jesus who was wounded and impaired for our sake. Through our wounds we pray for healing and wholeness that leads to the kind of self-giving and abundant love Christ showed us in his wounds. And when our wounds are too deep, we can confidently rest in the promise of Christ’s love that bore our sins and saves us from all death.
The physical, mental, and emotional wounds and impairments that we carry are a part of who we are. Even in our resurrected bodies we may find that we still bear the wounds and weaknesses that we had in this life as Christ did. Christ models a radically different understanding of what resurrected wholeness looks like. In him, wounds and disabilities are not objects of shame that need to be disposed and so often we treat them as such. We are ashamed of not being stronger. Christ was not ashamed of his wounds. He wore them proudly as proof of who he was- the Son of God who suffers for the sake of a wounded world.
The wounds of Christ are integral to his identity as Immanuel- “God With Us.” By Christ’s wounds we are healed. We do not need to be ashamed of our wounds either. They are a part of who we are- our addictions, our fears, our pains, and our impairments are a part of who we are. That doesn’t mean they aren’t painful and that it is OK to wish that they be taken from us. God identifies us in our weakness. God became weak for our sake. Healing and wholeness from God may not look like the vanishing of our disabilities, wounds, and pains, but it may very well look like it did in the resurrected body of Christ. Our wounds are transformed not as marks of weakness and shame, but as the broken places where God is powerfully at work. Through wounds God brings peace and wholeness. Through wounds God reconciled the world to God’s self. Despite the wounds we bear from the sins of ignorance, intolerance, injustice, and fear God triumphs through them. God bears the wounds of sin and death as assuredly as we do. We are never alone in our suffering and we pray for faith to look upon those wounds not at signs of weakness and dishonor, but as the place where God acts powerfully and gloriously. God is always present in our wounded weakness.