Every once in a while, I am reminded of my age—even without the prompting of a birthday card in the mail, or the casual glance of the grocery clerk who decides not to check my ID before ringing up my wine purchase. Though I feel younger than my years, my body doesn’t always agree. As they say in trauma studies, “the body keeps the score.”
I have been privileged in recent years to be part of research and writing about the lingering effects of physical, emotional and spiritual trauma on both body and mind—the body’s “score keeping.” I was invited into these projects because of my own body-borne trauma nine years ago—the diagnosis and treatment of a rare, usually terminal cancer. Though the cancer barely crosses my mind any more, it took a lasting toll on me. Chemo-induced nerve damage is now affecting my balance and gait. The port scar on my chest is prominent in the mirror. Occasional brain fog floats over me. When I asked my primary care physician why, after all these years, some side effects are more prominent, she smiled and said, “You’re getting older. It happens. And it beats the alternative.”
I have never been one to fear birthdays—having come perilously close to having no more birthdays at all, I celebrate every one. But my body is keeping the score of the battles, wounds and challenges I have faced.
On the Second Sunday of Easter, Jesus’ body keeps the score, as well. (John 20.19-31) Fresh from the resurrection, appearing to startled disciples in unexpected places, Jesus’ body tells a story that puzzles us still. On Easter evening, Jesus appeared in a locked room where his disciples were hiding for fear of those who had killed him. We don’t know what they said to him, but we know what Jesus said to them, “Peace to you.” Then John records one of the most troubling details about Jesus’ death and resurrection, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced.”
Wouldn’t one imagine that the resurrected body of Jesus would be pristine, perfect, unmarred? Wouldn’t one imagine that the resurrected body of Jesus, having already defied all the laws of nature, would have been erased of evidence? Wouldn’t one imagine that the disciples would have been more encouraged to see Jesus’s body pristine as a new car, rather than bloody and bruised? Apparently not, because it was in the wounds of Jesus—not his face, not his voice, not the familiarity of his step—that they knew it was him.
The defining impact of Jesus’ wounds is apparent even in American Sign Language, in which Jesus’ name is signed by touching the middle finger of one hand into the palm of the other—silently placing a finger in the mark of the nails: ASL sign for JESUS (handspeak.com)
What does it mean for us that the resurrected Jesus still bears the wounds, the marks of the struggle, the evidence of torture? It means that though the wounds may have been his most defining feature, they did not destroy him. The mark in Jesus’ side, the nail marks in his hands and feet, the thorn gouges on his forehead make us confident that all our wounds, all our sorrows, all our scars are also known to him. And that our wounds, our scars also become part of our testimony, the way we are known in the world. Jesus’ wounds witness to ours.
We live in a deeply wounded world, evidence of the struggle is everywhere apparent. Please join us for (live zoom) Worship Sunday morning, as we welcome Metro Chicago Synod Bishop Yehiel Curry as our guest preacher (remotely) who will tell us more about the saving wounds of Jesus. Please remain with us for our April Vitality Talk during which we bring the discussion of racism closer to home, learning about the ways neighbors and neighborhoods in Chicago have been wounded by generations of inequitable economic practices.
We have all been wounded. What do the wounds teach us?
Though deeply and permanently affected by cancer and its treatment, the wounds on my body and memory offer an unusual opportunity to witness to the possibility of life. Just this week, a friend who walked with me through that year of medical disability, called to be reminded of a particularly harsh period of my year-long treatment: “Our neighbor is going through a horrible round of chemo. He’s losing hope. How did you keep hoping?”
Another long-time friend recently asked, on behalf of a friend who is facing a similar treatment, about the subcutaneous injections I daily self-administered: “She’s afraid. What can I tell her? What will it be like?”
Though I am reluctant to share all the gory details of my medical history with those interested only in prurient prying, I don’t hesitate to speak candidly with those who walk (and stumble) the road I walked. The same is true when people ask about the life of faith, when they wonder about what it means to be a disciple. I have no interest in defending my faith to those who seek only to belittle or mock. But when pressed by someone who has never encountered Jesus, or one who fears Jesus is hopelessly irrelevant, or one who has been harmed by Jesus’ disciples or Jesus’ church, I have all the time in the world. My wounds witness to theirs.
Trauma researchers teach us that the body keeps the score, that the body does not forget. Jesus’ wounded, resurrected body teaches us that Jesus does not forget, either. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53.5)
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post