19 April 2015

Wounds That Do Not Heal: A Sermon for Easter 3B

I love Liturgy. It’s one of the reasons I am an Episcopalian. But there’s no doubt that because we say the same words week after week, year after year, we sometimes say them without giving much thought to what they really mean.

In the Apostles creed, the one that we use every time there is a baptism, we say

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting.

My guess is that most of you are like me, and don’t give a lot of thought to the resurrection of the body most of the time. And when we do think about it, we don’t think of resurrection in our current bodies. We imagine better bodies, taller, thinner, stronger bodies, bodies that don’t ache when it rains or wheeze when the flowers bloom, bodies that don’t grow malignancies, bodies without depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

One of the things that we say to each other when someone dies after a difficult physical or mental illness is “at least they aren't in pain anymore.” Whatever we believe about the afterlife, we seem fairly sure that we will shed these broken bodies. It’s comforting to think that way, and in the case of the things that affect only our physical bodies, it’s what I believe. But what about the wounds that aren't just physical, The broken-ness of our minds and our souls that shapes who we are? How can we split what is good about us, our compassion, our resilience, even our humor, from the pain that made us this way?

When my first child was stillborn, nearly ten years ago, I was approached by many women who offered their sympathy, and told me that it had happened to them, too. They meant to tell me that I was not alone in my grief, and I was grateful for it, but what struck me as I looked at them, was how open that grief still was for them, years, sometimes decades later. These were women with full, happy lives, healthy children, even grandchildren, and yet the wound was still open. And I thought, “I am never going to get out of this. I am going to be this person forever.” And it terrified me.

Ten years later, I have a full and happy life, and two healthy children. But I am still that person who has lost a child, because no matter how much journaling or therapy or reading or writing or exercising or praying you do, you cannot go back to being the person that you were before the lid was blown off your life. Many of you, most of you, have wounds of your own. They are the unavoidable result of living in a broken world. And some of them will never heal.

The disciples had their own wounds, loss and fear, wounds that were as real as the holes in Jesus’ hands, wounds that were still bleeding away their courage and their vitality, wounds so fresh that they could not see what was happening in front of them despite many signs. The women had found the empty tomb, in the passage just before today’s Gospel reading Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and now he appears to them in an upper room and says “Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with you” is another thing we say every week without giving it much thought. It’s a powerful blessing, if you’re paying attention. The Hebrew word Jesus would have used is “Shalom” which means “Peace”, but not just the absence of conflict, completeness, fullness and rest. Shalom is a full relationship with God and with each other. Think about that when we pass the peace this morning, and what it would mean for the world if we were sincere about it.

But the disciples weren't ready to receive the peace that Jesus offered. They didn't know what what happening until he showed them his wounds to prove he wasn't a ghost. It’s an understandable confusion, even with the signs and the scriptures. Who among us, faced with a loved one thought to be dead would think “this is the fulfillment of the scriptures!” instead of pinching ourselves, or wondering if someone had slipped something into our drinks.  Jesus then asked for a piece of fish, maybe to give further proof that he was alive, or maybe he was just hungry. Either way it gave the disciples time to process what they were seeing. Only then could he open their minds to the scriptures, and they were able to see how God was using the crucifixion and the resurrection to bring the peace that Jesus offered. It wasn't that they hadn't known the scriptures before, it was that they were too wounded to see clearly.

With the guidance of the resurrected Jesus, the disciples were able to see that the resurrection was about more than life after death and embarrassing human powers, it was about repentance and forgiveness and peace not just for chosen people but for all people, where repentance is not just being sorry for what you did wrong, but having a changed mind and a changed heart, a new perspective, a new community.

That’s the story that is at the heart of the crucifixion and resurrection. The same story that weaves through the whole history of God’s people. In the midst of destruction God is working. Jesus appeared with hands still wounded from the crucifixion, because there are wounds that never heal. Our wounds may never heal, but just as Jesus’ wounds were no longer bleeding, the promise of the resurrection is that our wounds do not have to bleed us of our lives and our vitality, and we can use our whole selves, wounds and all, to offer fullness, rest and relationship to others.

Peace be with you.



  1. I've read this over and over, and I love it more every time. The part that most resonates with me: Jesus shows them his wounds so they know he's not a ghost. Our wounds make us real, make us who we are. Make us more than just shadows. Our wounds--when they've stopped bleeding--are part of what makes us, paradoxically, whole.

    1. I think society needs a better understanding of wounds that are no longer bleeding but are not healed. We have ways of talking about grieving, wallowing and healed, but no real way of acknowledging that someone can be better without being healed. It makes it very hard to talk about old wounds, because you're supposed to be either fragile or over it, when in reality you can be neither and that's okay.



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