Glorious Wounds of Easter
A Personal Reflection on John 20: 19-29
by Noel E. Bordador
“Jesus showed the disciples the wounds of his hands and his side, and the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
(From the Gospel of John, the 20th chapter, verse 20)
Twenty-two summers ago, when I was seventeen, I was suddenly confronted with a struggle around my sexual identity. I was always attracted to boys my age, but I rationalized this as a passing phase of an adolescent, or perhaps, even hero worship (to explain my attraction to men older than me). But for whatever reason, that summer, I could not shake this unsettling (to say the least) feeling that I might be gay. No matter how I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t gay, no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I was really attracted to girls my age or mature women, somehow both mind and heart just didn’t buy my self-deceptions. So I turned to God, and bargained with God to take away my gay feelings, my gay attractions, which for me then were a source of fear and deep shame. I said to God, “God, you know that I want to serve you as a priest. If you take these from me, I will really go through it, and serve you for the rest of my life.” I still remember praying many times alone in my room before an image of the crucified Christ, trying to unite my sense of isolation, of brokenness, of being wounded with that of the agonizing Christ on the cross. But God did not take away my struggles. Rather, it seemed that the intensity of the struggle intensified. And there I was, feeling that my life broken, my faith tattered, with a sense that God abandoned me. In my struggles with God, I felt like Jacob who struggled with God, emerging from that fight wounded.
Broken dreams, broken lives, broken promises, broken faith. These were what the disciples thought they only had after Jesus’ death on the cross. The Gospel story tells us that it was Easter. That morning, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John saw the empty tomb, and later that day, the apostola apostolorum, Mary Magdalene, had announced that she had seen and conversed with the risen Christ. However, the disciples had not yet made sense of the reality of the resurrection; its meaning had not been comprehended because they were still in Calvary, at the cross. John describes the disciples as meeting behind locked doors, because they were very afraid of the world that, for them, remained in the grips of evil when, in fact it was, John says, the first day of the God’s sabbaton, God’s eternal Sabbath as Augustine would put it.1 Evil had been vanquished, and now the peace of God’s eternal Sabbath reigned, but the disciples did not know that yet. John also points out that the disciples were gathered under stealth, in the dark night of that first Easter, suggesting that the world was, for these disciples, still in the grips of evil darkness. The light of Easter Day had not dawned upon them. Perhaps, the night was meant to suggest the spiritual trial, the sense of desolation, or doubts, that dark night of faith, as they tried to grapple with, to make sense of that awful disaster that brought death to Jesus whom they had followed, and trusted, whom they counted on and believed to be God’s Anointed. How could God allow this evil to happen to God’s Anointed One? And what about their faith in Jesus? Did they feel betrayed by him who made them dream of the Kingdom of God, a dream now turned into a nightmare? “How could God allow this to happen to us?” The cross was a shock to the disciples. It challenged their faith in a God whom they thought they knew well, whom they thought were on their side. We can probably relate to the disciples. We are perhaps shocked when we experience the cross in our lives. There is a part of us that still believe simply that if we’re good enough, then God won’t let bad things happen to us. And when bad things do happen to us, good people, we are spiritually wounded.
Yet, in the midst of broken dreams, broken lives, broken promises, and broken faith, the risen Lord appeared to the disciples unexpectedly. But when Jesus appeared to the disciples, though he was the same Lord they knew before the crucifixion, he now appears gloriously bearing the marks of his death on the cross. Interestingly, it is only the Gospels of Luke and John that contain the resurrection story in which Jesus showed his glorious wounds, and it was through these wounds transcended by the resurrection, John tells us, that the disciples now came to know him in a way they did not know him before. John’s point is that this new “knowledge” of Jesus came to them only through the cross and Easter, and not apart from these. And it was only in seeing the glorious wounds was the highest confession of faith, “My Lord, and my God,” kyrios, theos, ever uttered in all of the Gospels, pronounced by a man (i.e., Thomas) who was supposed to have embodied disbelief. Only in light of the cross and Easter can we know who God truly is. And what sort revelation comes through these glorious wounds? For one, John tells us that the wounds of Jesus mean that God is not foreign or alien to the human experience of suffering and pain, because Jesus knows heart brokenness because his heart, his body was broken on the cross by human sin and betrayal. It is his wounded heart, and wounded body that Jesus takes up into the Godhead, forever etched in the life of God, wounds which Jesus shows to the Father, interceding, pleading, praying for the broken world in need of healing. The Gospel of John tells us that even in those moments when we, too, endure our spirituals trials, the Lord is near at hand, close to us. The Lord is ever present to our pain, even if that divine presence could not be readily felt. As the German Reformer, Martin Luther said, “God [is] hidden in [our] sufferings.” 2
But the glorious wounds tell us much more. The glorious epiphany of Jesus’ wounds says also something about who we are and who we shall be, for the epiphany of Jesus is also “our” epiphany, says Dun Scotus. The glory of Easter did not erase the wounds of Jesus, did not erase the marks of his sufferings. And so, too, John tells us, that Easter glory does not mean for us now a life free from suffering, trials or death. Our Baptism does not protect us from these. Easter does not raise human life to its glory by rendering our wounds and sufferings “invisible”.3 This is not to be taken as some kind of glorification of suffering, because what was revealed were glorious wounds, glorious, because their power to deal chaos, destruction and death had been rendered impotent by Easter. The promise of Easter, the promise we receive in our Baptism, is that whatever we suffer in life, including death, these do not have the final verdict on our hopes. Easter tells us that there is no glory in our suffering, there is no glory in our wounds except in their final “overcoming”.4 No glory in our wounds except by their life giving transformation.
How did I then survive my crisis of faith twenty-two summers ago? Through my faith, my faith in the God of the cross. When I looked at that crucifix in my room during that time, I contemplated Jesus’ sharing in my own wounded-ness, consoled by my faith in the one who knew human suffering because he himself endured it. I thought then, if God could allow his Son to be stretched out like that, to wither and die, then likewise, the same thing could happen to them who follow Jesus. But, more importantly, it was also the realization that the one who endured on the cross did not remain there, and so I hoped that God would also lead me out of that dark night. And indeed, God did so. Not by taking me out of my own cross, not by taking me out of the hell and desolation of that summer, but rather, by allowing me to pass through them with my faith intact though transformed. While my life “as I knew it” was over, there emerged a new life in Christ in which that which was seemingly fearful and shameful, that is, being gay, was transformed into a life in which my gay sexuality was no longer fearful or loathsome to me, but rather, I come to view it as a gift of God, and source of God’s blessing to me and those around me. That is the message of Good Friday and Easter. The cross of Good Friday that was a fearful and shameful instrument of death became the life giving Tree of Easter morning.
Through my wounded-ness, oddly enough, I also came to develop a deeper intimacy with God. But my wounds did not disappear completely; they remain, etched not in my body but in my soul. The wounds I experience are related to my experience as a gay man being discriminated and marginalized because I accepted and choose to celebrate my gayness. But these wounds are also wellsprings of my faith. Without the experience of this cross and wounded-ness, I don’t think I would be an effective priest. I use these life-giving, glorious wounds now to bring hope in others whose fragments of soul lie scattered and worn out by grief, in as much the wounds of Jesus brought hope and joy to the dispirited disciples. And so, through these glorious wounds, I sing the Easter praise, “Alleluia. Christ in risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
1 Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book 13, 37.
2 Martin Luther, Disputation at Heidelberg.
3 I owe this insight to Christopher Morse , Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief. PA: Trinity Press, page 284.
4 Morse, page 284.
2004 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a gay Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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