The Wounds of the Risen Christ

Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday). Acts 4:32-35; Ps 118:2-4.13-15.22-24; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31

In today’s Gospel we have one of the most famous, perhaps the most famous, of all the accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. Thomas does not believe the resurrection and he sets a test for believing that Jesus has risen, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  A few days later, Jesus himself appears and invites Thomas to conduct his test, to which Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” Now this appearance of Jesus, with a body and wounds, emphasizes that the Resurrection is physical: the risen Christ is not a ghost or disembodied soul or mere symbol of the continuation of the Christian message. There is, nevertheless, something of a mystery about Christ's risen body. If Jesus has the power to rise from the dead, why does he still bear the wounds of the cross? Furthermore, what do the wounds of the risen Christ imply for our own vocation as followers of Christ?

One answer to the question of why Jesus is still wounded is that the wounds are evidence, evidence in two senses. First, the wounds are evidence of the fact of the Resurrection: the same Jesus who was crucified and suffered the spear in his side has risen again. Furthermore, the fact that Jesus has been wounded in this way and is alive also shows that his Resurrected life is a new kind of life. Wounds are normally defects in a human body, but they are not defects in the body of the risen Christ. These marks therefore teach us that the Resurrected body of Christ is indestructible and cannot be overcome by wounds or death. The second sense in which the wounds are evidence is that they help to show that this person is the genuine Jesus and not an impostor. As Jesus himself warned us, many will come in his name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will lead many astray (Matt 24:4-5). In other words, there will be many false prophets and 'messiahs'. One sure way of discerning false prophets and messiahs, however, is that they bear no wounds, or that they preach a message that one can reach heaven without the cross. As St John tells us in the Second Reading, Jesus Christ came through water and blood, not through water only. So a message of salvation is false that is without blood, that is, without sacrifice or the cross.

A second answer to the question of why Jesus is still wounded is that the wounds of Christ are for his glory, signs of love for us and of his power. But the fact that he bears these marks into eternity, given to him by his enemies in this life, tells us something important about our own future, about the resurrection of the dead. What the wounds suggest is that our future resurrected life will not be something wholly disconnected from our present life. The wounds of the risen Jesus suggest that we will carry the stamp or mark of our particular perfections or sacrifices in this life into eternity. C.S. Lewis described this idea very well when he said, “In this life we write the title page of what we are to be in eternity.” If this life is about writing the title page of our eternity, then our lives in this world are of the greatest possible importance. We should therefore be spiritually ambitious while we have the chance, and not be too afraid of suffering mental or even physical wounds in the cause of salvation. For in eternity, our wounds will be our glory.

Finally, this Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday, a devotion centered on the mercy of God, symbolized a vision of blood and water flowing from the heart of Jesus. This Sunday the Church offers a special  gift on this Sunday of a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence is a complete liberation of the soul, not only from sin, as in Confession, but also from all the punishment associated with sin. The conditions are the following: to go to Confession, to go to Communion, to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, to have the will to break with sin (including venial sin) and to take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of the Divine Mercy. You fulfill most of these conditions simply by praying here at Mass today. I shall lead a short prayer to the Divine Mercy at the end of Mass. So the only other conditions you need to fulfill are to go to Confession and to have the will to break with sin. I encourage you to make the most of this opportunity. “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you.”

 Father Andrew Pinsent, Saint Ambrose Church, Saint Louis, 19th April 2009

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