Touch the Wounds

I was 4 years old when my parents realized I was deaf in my right ear. They had sensed something was wrong, because my speech wasn’t developing properly and often, when my grandparents would call on Sunday evenings, my mother would put the phone to my right ear for me to say hello and I would reply, “there’s no one there.” But they didn’t piece it together until the day when during my grandparents’ regular call, my mother handed me the phone and I shifted it to my left ear and began conversing. A trip to the audiologist confirmed it. Left ear -normal hearing. Right ear – completely useless.

The first, most immediate impact came in a speech deficit, pronounced as a child, and then slowly corrected, largely, through years of speech therapy. The second impact was a struggle to instinctively sound-out unfamiliar words. We learn to speak by hearing. I’m convinced whatever rewiring the brain underwent to function with only one ear affected the brain synapses that enable phonetic skills. This lack is an occupational hazard, though, when the preacher is handed a last-minute announcement that contains the word “oratorio” or is asked to read a portion of 2 Chronicles, with names like Sennacherib and Hezekiah. Suddenly, the childhood wound re-emerges again.

On Easter evening – where our gospel lesson begins today – Jesus was three days past the crucifixion. Three days out from having nails pounded into forearms and feet. Three days away from a sword slashing across his side, which is to say, his wounds were still fresh. The wounds on Jesus’s body were not smoothed-over scars, faded with time as the body knit itself back together. These wounds were gaping holes, rimmed with dried blood, large enough for a hand to go in. And the disciples, huddled together in one room, see Jesus walk through the shut door, and recognize him by his wounds. As William Temple says, “the wounds are Jesus’s credentials.” They mark Jesus as the crucified and resurrected one.

During his earthly ministry Jesus healed those who backs were bent over, whose legs could not hold the body’s weight, those whose senses were slighted or minds twisted.  Jesus was a healer. Yet amid God’s great act to heal the world, the risen Jesus comes with a wounded body. Richard Hayes asks, “Isn’t it curious that God would raise Jesus from the dead but didn’t heal the nail wounds in his hands? Was this an oversight? Surely not. The power of death is conquered, but the wounds remain.”[1]

Wounds are marks of suffering. A cut finger. A bruised toe. Tears that leak from the eyes whenever at the mention of a loved one. Wounds speak of the hurt imprinted upon us. The crucifixion carried layers of sufferings: political callousness, social out-casting, a body brutalized, the abandonment of closest friends, feeling forsaken by God. That Jesus to carry these wounds into resurrection proclaims that God is not ashamed to enter – and to hold onto – our suffering. There is no desolation that God has not taken into God’s self nor is there any wound not encompassed within Resurrection’s new creation.

One disciple, Thomas, was not present on Easter evening. We don’t know why he didn’t join his companions in that small room. The glimpses we have into Thomas’s personality earlier in John’s gospel tell us he is a realist, with a tendency to worry. When Lazarus dies, Jesus intends to travel from Galilee to his friend’s home in Judea, despite the danger of returning to the region. The disciples try to persuade Jesus against doing so. When Jesus persists in the plan, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16) Later, as Jesus draws closer to death, he assures the disciples that he is not truly leaving them. I go to prepare a place for you, he says. Thomas replies, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How will we know the way?” (John 14:5) Thomas is the practical one who wants specifics.

And now Thomas has seen the danger, lived through the death, and holds in his body the shocking resurrection message. It doesn’t make sense. It’s too much to hold. And so he leaves. Maybe he is hiding out alone. Maybe he’s snuck back to the empty gravesite. Maybe he is plotting a journey away from the death, pain, and wounds. We might say Thomas is not there when Jesus comes because of his own wounds. So when the other disciples tell him of Jesus’s return, he says what each of us says, in some version or another. I need to encounter Risen Christ myself. I need to see the wounds. I need to touch them, too.  

We cannot truly know another person without knowing something of their struggles. Everyone you meet is carrying some type of burden: a bodily limitation, a memory that won’t heal, a medical diagnosis, a relationship severed. And what enables a meeting between you and another is the courage to confess: this is where I hurt, this is where I am broken; this is the gaping hole in my life. This is the wound that I carry.  

As a kid, my deafness was a limitation that I carried. I didn’t want to tell people I couldn’t hear them on my right side, so I would miss whole conversations and sometimes others would read into my lack of engagement. My speech took years to be corrected and I was angry at having to work so hard at something that came naturally to others. And people judged me for lack of speaking skill. In divinity school I took a theology class in which I had to present a book about the Holy Spirit. The formal name such studies is Pneumatology, spelled with a silent “P.” I had read and absorbed a difficult theology book and was well prepared to lead a seminar discussion on it. Yet I kept stumbling over the word, my brain seemingly unable to make the connections. I could feel the professor’s ire all coming toward me across the room. I’ve carried the embarrassment of the moment ever since. Some wounds linger a long time.

A week later, after Thomas has reconnected with the disciples, Jesus enters again, again speaking words of peace. He comes to Thomas, the realist, and says “touch my wounds.” Actually Jesus says, ‘thrust your hand into my side.” Let your fingers poke into the gashes on my hands. Feel these crucifying credentials. Identify me by my suffering side. Touch my wounds.

It was a strange thing to realize, early in ministry, that my greatest passion was also my deepest fear. How can God be leading me to preach, I wondered, when I was so scared of messing up when speaking publicly. Here was this holy invitation to touch the wound. Here Jesus said:  know the weakness, the limitation, feel it all and find here my presence. For Jesus changes locked doors into open paths, unbelieving realists into dreamers who trust God’s infinite possibility.  

Scripture doesn’t tell us that Thomas did touch the wound, only that Jesus’s willingness to share his body transformed Thomas from unbelieving into believing, from hesitant disciple into fearless apostle, from person hiding out to one traveling the world with gospel’s resurrecting news. I like to think Thomas did touch Jesus’s wounds, that he took his finger and ran it gently across the edge of the hole, felt the rawness, shocking blow Jesus’s body absorbed and also felt how the skin transmitted such love that one could rise up from the grave into life.

Jesus’s wounds were personal ones; and yet they also speak beyond Christ, into the communal wounds of our world. Father Tomas Halik is a Catholic priest was visiting Chennai in southern India, when this story of Thomas’ encounter with Jesus was read during Sunday worship. Later that day his hosts took him to visit an orphanage near the city. Although accustomed to being in suffering places, Halik writes that nothing prepared him for what he saw. He said, “in cots that were more like poultry pens lay small, abandoned children, their stomachs swollen with hunger, tiny skeletons covered in black, inflamed skin. In the seemingly endless corridors their feverish eyes stared out at me from everywhere, and they stretched their pink-palmed hands out to me. In that unbreathable air, . . . I felt a mental, physical, and moral nausea. I had the suffocating sense of helplessness and bitter shame that one feels when confronted with the poor . . . I wanted to cowardly run away as fast as I could, to close my eyes and heart and to forget . . . 

“Suddenly, Jesus spoke to me,” he continued. “And the words from morning worship returned, “touch my wounds. Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Now I understood that “all painful wounds and all the human misery in the world are ‘Christ’s wounds.’ What Jesus was saying to all of us  . . is to touch the wounds of humanity. For by entering into the anguish of others we encounter the risen Christ anew.”[2]

Daily we face the wounds of our lives and the wounds all around us. Hear Jesus speak peace. Feel him breathe the power of new creation upon you. Touch the wounds and find Christ there. Amen. 

[1] Richard Hayes, “Fingering the Evidence,” The Christian Century 109 No. 11 (April 1, 1992), 332.

[2] Tomas Halik, Touch the Wounds: On Suffering, Trust and Transformation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2023).2, 7.

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