Try to imagine the final disciple as an old man about to die, trying to encourage the young churches but anxious about the day when there would be no one left alive who had seen the Lord. This was how the church viewed the disciple John, son of Zebedee and Salome. He is the one thought to have been the authority behind, if not the author of, the Johannine canon which includes the Gospel, Epistles, and the Revelation of John.
He was the last survivor of the twelve disciples, the last eyewitness of the Lord. He included in his Gospel the last beatitude of Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Clearly John felt keenly the need for convinced and convincing witnesses. Thomas Carlyle once said that what every church needs is someone who knows God at more than second hand.
One significant and sometimes overlooked way in which we can know God more than second hand has been shown us by our Lord; it is through the sharing of our wounds. Yes, wounds. There is a large Roman Catholic church in San Jose, California, called the Church of the Five Wounds. It is a popular Spanish-speaking church with mostly Chicano and Latino families. The name refers to the five wounds Jesus received at the crucifixion: two in His hands, two in His feet, and one in His side.
In John 20, we have a graphic story of those wounds: Jesus miraculously appears to a group of frightened disciples (imagine their astonishment). Having let down their Lord in so many ways, the disciples must have been feeling so discouraged, and at the same time they must have been feeling let down by Him who had died in such an ignominious way. But then, despite the closed door, He is suddenly there in their midst, bidding them peace.
Jesus opens His hands, and shows them His side. The disciples rejoice, for they recognize the Lord. They know Him by His wounds — they recognize Him by those marks. Jesus seemed to know that those marks would reveal Him to His disciples.
In part, it is by our wounds that we recognize one another, although it may not seem so at first. Our character is in large measure what we have made of ourselves with the blows life has dealt us. In part, we know one another by our wounds; whether we are healed or remain broken is what we have made of ourselves after our injuries.
The Gospel tells us that Thomas is not with the disciples at this time, and he later questioned the appearing, saying, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my hand in His side, I will not believe.” Thomas seemed to be the kind of person who liked facts and operated accordingly. Eight days later, Jesus appears to the disciples again and says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands; reach out your hand and put it in my side; do not doubt but believe.” Jesus invites Thomas to know His wounds, intimately, and in doing so Thomas recognizes Jesus and says those convinced and convincing words, “My Lord and my God!”
Not long ago I heard once more a tragic but common story, that of an apparently successful man who had committed suicide. This man had told no one of his deep and abiding despair. He was unable to share his wounds, and no one had thought to reach in and share their own with him. Ultimately, rather than being healed he was consumed by his hurts. The sharing of our wounds enables us to heal; it also helps others to heal when they know we have suffered likewise. To share wounds need not be morbid. It can be the way that we bear one another’s burdens, and facilitate healing. In fact, those most able to heal others know intimately of human suffering; Henri Nouen calls them “wounded healers.”
Jesus suffered. We ignore His humanity and our own at our own expense. Some Christian traditions emphasize the suffering of Christ, particularly the Latin cultures. American Protestantism and mainstream American culture do not. But we ignore it at our peril. Jesus suffered. He suffered in the desert when He was tempted. He wept at the death of a friend. Finally, He was humiliated, beaten, mocked, and physically tortured to death in the crucifixion.
He knows our sorrows and our wounds. He has been there. He knows the sorrow of love betrayed, of friendship lost. He knows of unjust people in high places, of the valuing of money over human life. He knows the hypocrites who posture as religious leaders, and those who prefer possessions to the kingdom of God. He knows our sorrows; He has felt them. But we, as a nation and as a culture, seem to want to deny that we have ever suffered. We want to be rugged individualists.
Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, told of an ancient legend in which the Devil tries to get into heaven by pretending to be the risen Christ. Disguised and decked out in light and splendor, he arrives at heaven’s gate with a band of demons dressed as angels of light. He shouts out the words of the psalm: “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.” The angels in heaven are delighted and respond in the psalm’s refrain: “Who is the King of glory?” Satan boldly opens his arms and says, “I am.” But in so doing he showed no marks on his hands. The angels in heaven saw he was an impostor and slammed shut the gates of heaven against him.
If we are going to be real, authentic people, we will have wounds. We have felt things: love, joy, hurt, pain; and we have suffered if we have grown, for suffering and healing — being wounded — are parts of human growth. Each of us is made in the image of God and sometimes that image is the hanging from a cross.
In the child’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse tells the Velveteen Rabbit the secret to becoming real: “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Real people have wounds and they share them with others. In so doing they are helping others to be healed, to find faith again. All of us can be “wounded healers”; or we can hide our wounds, try to present an unreal image, and despair alone. Our wounds can mark our growth and change.
When we share our wounds, we act in the faith that there is meaning in suffering, and that God is acting in our individual and corporate history. The message that the risen Christ brought to the disciples on Easter morning is that each body — wounds and all — is bound for glory. Each of us needs to get in shape for glory, to practice resurrection; and part of practicing resurrection is sharing our wounds.
Remember, it was wounds that enabled the disciples to know the risen Lord. Wounds can help us to find Christ’s presence in others and in ourselves. When we share our wounds, when we trust that they have meaning, when we strive to be real and authentic people, when we practice resurrection — then we will find that the Lord is with us; not as a second-hand knowledge of God, but as the living God of Easter.

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