It has often been remarked that there was something about the Risen Christ that made even those closest to him hesitate. He was familiar, yet strange. Mary Magdalene thought at first he was a gardener; the disciples in the gospel this morning are uncertain until Peter literally takes the plunge. Those blessed with a mind choc-full of certainty will have no difficulty explaining this to their own satisfaction, but for those of us more accustomed to complexity and contradiction — we of little faith, perhaps — will find here something worth pondering. The cosy, conventional Jesus of popular imagining has taken on something of the transcendence of Ezekiel’s vision. We are confronted by the mystery of the burning bush, the flaming seraphim, the utter holiness of God. It is as though a veil has been drawn aside and, like Moses, we are permitted to enter the dazzling darkness of God himself. These Resurrection gospels challenge us as no others do. Jesus is revealed to us as much more than a prophet, much more than a holy man. Will we adore him as God or not? We have to answer one way or the other, don’t we?
Many of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus include a showing of the wounds in his body. I used to think that they were intended to elicit or confirm faith. A prime example would be the showing to Thomas, but reading today’s gospel, Luke 24. 35–48, made me think again. Could it be that these showings have another purpose, one that the disciples found even more necessary — an assurance of forgiveness?
You’ll notice that Jesus never finds it necessary to show the women his wounds. As far as we can tell from the gospel narratives, they never abandoned Jesus and were never afraid when they met him again after the Resurrection. When Mary Magdalene met him in the garden she wept, but for her supposed loss rather than consciousness of any sin or betrayal. The men do not get off so lightly, especially when they are gathered together in a group. There is consternation when Jesus appears among them, doubt, disbelief, a whole gamut of emotions, including fear. Jesus reassures them and shows them his wounds. This showing not only demonstrates who he is but also what he has done: ‘God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself’.
Just in case any of my female readers is quietly congratulating herself, I had better point out that we are all among the male disciples now. We are all in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness which come to us through Christ our Lord. Those wounds on his body are there for all eternity as a sign of his love and forgiveness. We are each one of us ‘graven on the palm of his hand’.