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by Brian Keepers
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. – John 20:19-20
I find it so striking in John’s Gospel that when the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, hiding behind locked doors, they don’t recognize him by the features of his face or his physical demeanor. Nor do they recognize him by the sound of his voice, as with Mary in the garden.
They recognize Jesus by the wounds in his hands and side. It’s an aha! moment for them. By beholding his wounds, their fear and sorrow is turned into joy.
Augustine of Hippo believed that the ugly wounds of the cross were transformed into beautiful scars at the resurrection, visible symbols of Christ’s triumph over sin and death. Beautiful scars that are eternally visible in Jesus’ glorified body as he reigns at the right hand of the Father. [Cited in Joel C. Elowsky, John 11-21, Ancient Commentaries IVb (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p 356.] “Crown him the Lord of love,” we sing in one of our best loved hymns. “Behold his hands and side, rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.”
Here’s what I’m wondering. If it is true that Jesus still bears his scars and we continue to recognize him by those scars, might it follow that, as the body of Christ, the world will come to know his presence among us through our own wounds and scars? Since Jesus doesn’t hide his scars, might that mean that we don’t have to hide ours?
In his novel Chasing Francis, Ian Morgan Cron tells the story of a pastor named Chase Falson who undergoes a crisis of faith and travels to Italy to visit his uncle, where he stumbles into a pilgrimage of all the key places of St. Francis of Assisi’s life and ministry. Chase encounters a group of Franciscan monks, and there is one named Thomas with whom he forges a special friendship. In one section of the book, Thomas asks Chase about his wounds—not just from ministry but from his relationship with his father. Chase is reluctant to talk about it. There is too much hurt, too much shame.
“Do you want to be a prophet?” Thomas asks.
Chase is confused. “What do you mean?”
Thomas explains: “Everywhere I go, I meet people, old and young, from all over the world, and they tell me about their lives, their relationships, their broken families, their addictions, shame, guilt, failures. You’ll never be able to speak into their souls unless you speak the truth about your own wounds. You need to tell them what Jesus has come to mean to you in the midst of your disappointments and losses. All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.” [Chasing Francis: A Pilgrimage (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), p.70.]
I am learning that all ministry not only begins at the ragged edges of our own pain, but all ministry is sustained and even flourishes when we find the courage to move more deeply into the center of our pain. It is there that the living Jesus meets us and draws us more deeply into union with him by the power of the Spirit.
Let’s just be clear: it is not our wounds that are redemptive. Christ’s wounds and his alone are redemptive. But we share in his suffering. That’s what St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I might attain the resurrection of the dead.”
The truth is there will be wounds. It is part of the call to follow Jesus. But there will also be grace. Grace in the wounds; grace through the wounds. And that grace is always just enough. I’m learning that very often our best ministry arises from our deepest pain. And that is hopeful thing.
The good news is that the Crucified and Risen One continues to appear to us. Through the scriptures and in the sacraments, he shows us his hands and side, speaks his peace over us and breathes his Spirit into us. He does all of this in order to send us out to be a community that embodies the healing and forgiveness of the cross—a community that bears witness to the beautiful scars of a Risen King who, even now, is making all things new.
Brian Keepers is the Minister of Preaching and Congregational Leadership at Fellowship Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. He is married to Tammy and has two daughters, Emma and Abby. He also serves on the adjunct faculty at Western Theological Seminary.