Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not all that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God we have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance but right close up. — Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain, kindle edition, 1998, p.118
If I were writing the Easter story, I wouldn’t write it like John.
For example: in the Gospel According to John, the risen Jesus greets the disciples with ‘Peace be with you!’ Shalom!
My Jesus would be still a bit angry with them, you know? He’d rebuke them. He’d tell them he expected better next time, they’d better pull their socks up or gird their loins or whatever they did back then.
And what’s more, my Jesus wouldn’t have wounds. He’d be pristine perfect.
I mean, whoever heard of a resurrected Lord with wounds?
The very thought is bizarre. Yet there it is.
Shall we try to make some sense out of this risen but wounded Lord?
Part of it is that the wounds identified Jesus. They were the wounds he had sustained so recently on the cross.
One of the unexpected things about the resurrection is that people didn’t always recognise Jesus at first—Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener, and the two on the way to Emmaus didn’t know who he was. It seems that the risen One is more than he was before. The people Jesus encounters are unable to grasp that a resurrected Person is standing in front of them. The wounds identify him.
But there is more to the wounds than that. The wounds also identify the risen Lord with us, who are still wounded in so many ways.
The risen Lord is not ashamed of his wounds. They are not signs of imperfection or shame; they have been won at the cost of his life. We who gather in his name carry wounds of various kinds—from damaged childhoods, broken relationships, losses beyond endurance or hopes crushed by ‘the changes and chances of this fleeting world’. (BCP Compline service)
The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church helps us here. It calls the Lord ‘the risen crucified One’. (Para.3)
What does that mean, ‘the risen crucified One’?
It means that it is the crucified One who is risen. The risen Lord hasn’t set the cross aside. He hasn’t put it in a cupboard somewhere out of sight. The body of Jesus is not something separate from his living presence. Jesus is the risen crucified One.
Everything that brought Jesus to the Cross is risen with him. Everything that caused him to be crucified is raised with him:
- his preaching of God’s coming kingdom
- his healing of the sick and the oppressed, which pointed to the kingdom
- his parables, that shattered human expectations of God and caused those who could hear to open their hearts to God
- his compassion for the poor and those on the margins of society
- his forgiving of sins
- his opposition to religious hypocrisy
- his intimate knowledge of God his Father—and now, through him, our Father
All of this is raised in Jesus. It’s not just a happy ending, or the resuscitation of a corpse. It is eternal life itself embodied in the risen crucified Lord Jesus Christ.
And Jesus brings his friends along. Remember the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25? The nations are arrayed before the King. They are judged on one thing: did they act with compassion towards the poor? Did they
- feed the hungry
- give water to the thirsty
- welcome the stranger
- clothe the the naked
- take care of the sick
- visit the prisoner
Because, Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
When Jesus the risen crucified One is in the midst of the two or three who gather in his name, he brings his family along. He brings the poor, the sick, the detained and the starving. He bears their wounds in his risen crucified body and calls his church to share the work.
And he also bears our wounds. We are not yet what we shall be. We still die. In 1 Corinthians (15.25–26), the Apostle Paul says Christ
must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
We still look for the fullness, the completion of Christ’s work. In the meantime, by faith we share in the overcoming of death as we look to God for eternal life.
Some Christians are embarrassed by their wounds, or even put to shame. They think that God will bless them so much that nothing bad should happen to them. That is not right. We know Jesus as the risen crucified One. He bears our wounds in his.
We belong to the risen crucified Lord, and he will complete the work he has begun in us. But right now, we walk with him by faith; we look to him for help and for strength, and as the Funeral Service says, we live
in sure and certain hope
of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To God be glory forever. Amen.
A sermon preached at Trinity Wellington Point Uniting Church, Easter 2B, 8 April 2018.