In preparing for my Easter sermon last week, I came across a brief mention by N.T. Wright of what, prior to now, has been for me a very small and overlooked detail of the Easter story: when Jesus appeared to his friends after his resurrection, the wounds from his suffering were still visible.
This matters, not just for an Easter narrative, but for us in understanding our own wounds. Christians are prone to make much of the fact that, upon our deaths, we’ll be healed, rid of all of our current sufferings and ailments. But in our eagerness to dream of freedom from our aging, failing bodies—bodies many of us tend to despise for reasons related more to our human condition than any particular suffering—we often conclude that we will no longer see or have record of the scars we’re accumulating along the way.
Maybe. But if that isn’t true for Jesus, why would it be true for us? What if there is a good, maybe beautiful, reason for the possibility that we’ll carry signs of our wounds with us beyond the grave? What if this is good news about the trauma and grief we accumulate along the way?
Wright offers this possibility:
All we can surmise from the picture of Jesus’s resurrection is that just as his wounds were still visible, not now as sources of pain and death, but as signs of his victory, so the Christian’s risen body will bear such marks of his or her loyalty to God’s particular calling as are appropriate, not least where that has involved suffering.
What we do now with our lives and our bodies and what we bear in this life—yes, even in our bodies—is not just how we fill the space until the end. We are not just toiling to make the best of things, to mitigate the damage, to hold on, to pass the time. Even in our most crushing disappointments, defeats, and failures, we are building a lasting reality.
None of our suffering is in vain. None of it is wasted or worthless. All of it is seen, and it will be fulfilled and completed in God’s future.
Is life still painful at times? Absolutely, sometimes beyond what we can bear ourselves. Paul says that as long as we are alive, we are “carrying around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus.” So any suggestion that we should be free of the pain is wishing in the dark. But he also tells us why: “…so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” And that is the best of all trades; in the death of our efforts to insulate our lives and our comfort, we find the life that is really life.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; bewildered, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
Everything we build, even when we have no idea we’re building anything at all, and even in our deepest sadness and suffering, will have a place in the eternal Kingdom. Our hardest days won’t merely be memories. They will be markings of Resurrection victory over brokenness and loss and even death.