If you get a tattoo, you choose to be wounded a bit, to be marked forever. Stretch marks, like many wounds, are more accidental but no less telling. I love the insight Graham Greene shared in The End of the Affair. A woman notices what used to be a wound on her lover’s shoulder, and contemplates the advancing wrinkles in his face: “I thought of lines life had put on his face, as personal as a line of writing – I thought of a scar on his shoulder that wouldn’t have been there if once he hadn’t tried to protect another man from a falling wall. The scar was part of his character, and I knew I wanted that scar to exist through all eternity.”
The scars in Jesus’ hands and side, earned when he gave life to all of us, were not blotted out by the resurrection (John 20:27). I love Jean Vanier's remark: “These wounds are there for all ages and all time, to reveal the humble and forgiving love of Jesus who accepted to go to the utter end of love. The risen Jesus does not appear as the powerful one, but as the wounded and forgiving one. These wounds become his glory.” And what do we sing in "Crown Him with Many Crowns"? Behold his hands and side. Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified. I've sung that a thousand times, and have never given it the briefest thought. How profound...
All this after the scene of intense fear: doors are locked. In all the post-resurrection appearances, they are slow to recognize Jesus. "I think they are blinded by their unfulfilled expectations and their feelings of loss and despair" (Jean Vanier). To such people Jesus utters a word, with the power of the one who commanded stars, sky and earth to come into being, and it's the one who stilled the storm: "Peace." As Jesus clarified earlier in John, this peace isn't the one the world gives! (John 14:27). Jesus doesn't give you some peace of mind or serenity you think you want. Jesus' Peace is his personal presence.
In Jesus' presence there is no fear. Or maybe the way Jesus banishes fear might get us a bit agitated and in rapid motion. Elie Wiesel famously said “If an angel ever says, ‘Be not afraid,’ you’d better watch out: a big assignment is on the way.” Jesus comforts with one hand and then shoves them out into hard labor and danger with the other.
One of my favorite details in all the resurrection narratives is in verse 22: “He breathed on them.” I’ll acknowledge there is powerful symbolism here – like God breathing the breath of life into people, the winds of Pentecost to come. But what if he actually breathed on them? What was that like? You have to be very close, physically, to someone before they can successfully breathe on you. Proximity to Jesus allows the sensation of his breath.
And lest we forget: the note of forgiveness, once again, is sounded in a resurrection story. Jesus is risen, therefore you get eternal life? No: in the Scriptures, Jesus is risen, therefore you are forgiven – and you’d best get out there now and forgive others. It is our Baptism that plunges us into this life of forgiveness. The Amish forgave Charles Roberts, who brutally murdered 5 members of their families in Nickel Mines, Pa. back in 2006. Many stories arose from the Peace & Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Peter Storey, after the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, told what the new governors and legislators said at a party they threw for the church people who’d worked so valiantly. One, who’d been on death row during Apartheid, thanked the church people: “We want to thank you church leaders for having visited our families while we were in prison, for having visited us in prison. We want to thank you for having sat there in the court room while we were on trial, for standing in the witness box and speaking for us when we were on trial. All of these things, you will never know how much they meant to us. But above all, we want to thank you for baptizing us. Because when you baptized us, you told the world we were not rubbish, you told the world we were not trash, you told the world we were made in the image of God. And you told us that, too. And that is what gave us the courage and the tenacity to risk even execution.”
The Acts 5:27-32 lectionary reading makes the same point. Because of the resurrection, and because of Baptism, “we must obey God rather than human authorities.”
We’ve all heard sermons about “doubting Thomas.” Doubt is hardly praised in this story. If anything Jesus dings him, contrasting him with those who haven’t seen and yet believe. He is loved and treated with immense compassion; Jesus invites him to touch the wounds. The Greek is graphic, with Jesus saying “thrust” or “press” or “cast” your finger into (like down in there) my side. Caravaggio captured this in a stunning way…
This whole business of Jesus appearing suddenly behind closed doors, then vanishing just as suddenly, and yet you can poke a finger into his side and not just see but feel him raises questions about the resurrection. Long books have probed this – but my shorthand answer is that Jesus is the first of what we shall be, and that is: we will be raised with (or in, or as) what Paul called “spiritual bodies” (1 Cor. 15). No simplistic resuscitation here. Your old body doesn’t revive and live on. You are transformed, metamorphosized maybe. Jesus was not recognizable, but then he was recognized; the mortal and spiritual bodies are kin, similar, but hardly identical. It’s still a body though, not a ghost or a floating spirit. It can cook and eat, but it might vanish too. Paul uttered the understatement of the Bible: “Behold, I tell you a mystery” (1 Cor. 15:51).