The other day I had a routine blood test. The phlebotomists who take the blood are very skilled. In truth, you hardly feel a thing. I am well used to it, and I don’t have a problem with needles. Even so, I found myself tensing and counting the phials of blood as they filled up. Two … three … four … did it really need that many, I wondered, wishing that the whole affair would be over as soon as possible. Pathetic, I know, but a perfectly human reaction. Generally we are queasy when it comes to blood and uneasy about piercing the body.
Think of this when we read the gospel this Sunday. The risen Christ shows his hands to Thomas and invites Thomas to run a finger over the holes made by the nails. It gets even more startling: Christ invites Thomas to put his hand into the gash in his side that was made by the Roman soldier’s spear (John 20.27). Thomas, to our relief, does not take up the invitation. The witness of his eyes is enough. His response is ‘My Lord and my God’, which we can imagine being said in an awed, humbled voice.
Part of the meaning is clear. This is the risen Christ. Thomas, heart-broken by the event of the cross, could not believe in the resurrection until this moment. The message is that the Lord is indeed risen. Thomas can doubt no longer.
But beyond this, we can spot another message. It tells us that Jesus Christ is beyond suffering. Yes, there has been physical pain, social isolation and emotional devastation on the cross. Truly, Christ has suffered. Now, however, that is in the past. His wounds are not a source of ongoing torment. His wounds are part of his identity – these marks of the cross confirm to the disciples that this is indeed the Jesus that they knew and loved. But the pain is past. Now there is a peace and joy, which we sense in his repeated greeting: ‘Peace be with you.’
There is a promise for us here. In leaving this life, we take our identity with us. We are who we are. Yet this means that we will take with us our wounds, our hurts, our humiliations. Nobody gets through life without being scarred. But these things will no longer define us. We will not be captive to our past but instead our story will be taken up into the story of the Messiah. His victory will be our victory, and just as his wounds no longer hurt, our wounds will no longer hurt.
Many of our wounds arise from sin, our sin or the sin of others. Sin takes many forms: selfishness, callousness, indifference, lack of responsibility, ego. There is also insecurity, which although not a sin, still drives many foolish decisions. The English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1430) wrote that ‘God sees our wounds, and sees them not as scars but as honours’ (Revelations of Divine Love 39.13). How can this be? My interpretation is that these wounds are battle scars. We have engaged in the battle of life. We have done so as Christians. The victory is not our achievement, but Christ’s. Even the scars of our failures can have a strange kind of glory, because our woundedness was precisely where we were open to repentance and renewal. The message is always that we should take our wounds and bury them in the wounds of Jesus Christ.