Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Wounds of the Risen Christ

It was the best Easter homiliy I had ever heard.

"Good Friday was the worst thing that ever happened in all history," the homilist said.  "And Easter Sunday was the best thing."

But, he said, we could not have the second without the first.

The Resurrection incorporated all of the evil that went before it, turned it around and redeemed it.  "The suffering of Good Friday led to the joy of the Resurrection.  And the Resurrection bears witness to that evil and to that suffering - as does the Mass which continues to re-present the sacrifice of Calvary."

"Some of you," he continued, "might find it hard to rejoice just because the calendar tells us it's the season to rejoice.  Some of you might still be carrying your Good Friday with you, inside of you.  But Good Friday will never leave us, and the fullness of joy will never come before we die.  And this is part of the message of Easter."

What he means, I thought, is that Jesus Christ continues to bear His wounds, even after rising.  

Dawn Eden makes much of this in her book My Peace I Give You, which is addressed to those who have suffered abuse, and who might feel ashamed or confused at carrying the scars of sin, even while living new lives in Christ.  How can we, some of us may wonder, if we're supposed to be part of God's New Creation, still be walking around so hurt and wounded?

For the scars of sin are inflicted both when we suffer sin and when we commit sin.  We are wounded when we are sinned against, and we are wounded even more deeply when we sin against others.  And no one passes through this life without collecting both kinds of wounds - the scars caused by being victimized and those caused by being victimizers.

But Christ bears His wounds - the wounds caused by our sins - even in His glorious and eternal Body.  He not only keeps His wounds, He displays them after His resurrection, displays them as a sign.  

But what does this sign signify?

It signifies this: that even the persistence of evil and suffering in our own day is being used for the glory of God and for our eternal joy.  For Easter includes Good Friday.  It includes Holy Saturday and Maundy Thursday.  It includes Adam and the Apple and the nasty thing you said to your wife on Tuesday that you've regretted ever since.  This is why Catholics insist upon a corpus on our crosses - for the suffering of Christ continues, even to this day, as we, the members of His Body - even His glorious and risen Body - carry with us the meaning of the evil we are redeeming, and continue to suffer for it along with him.  "Joyful suffering with Christ on the Cross". 

Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church. (Col. 1:24)


I don't know about you, but I find this very liberating.   I sometimes feel guilty or ashamed that I'm not as glib and gung-ho of a Christian as I ought to be.  I feel embarrassed about my sins, confused that things that I've done to others or that they've done to me still cause me so much pain.  And I feel guilty that I feel guilty.  Why should I still mourn over sin and suffering?  After all, we're forgiven in the confessional; we're Easter people, aren't we?  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Why not have an empty cross to remind us of that?  Why not join in with the sappy sentimentality of the tunes the cantor is singing and at least be up-beat, even if I can't exactly rejoice?

Why?  Because a Church without a crucifix is a shallow, empty thing - and celebrating a risen Christ without acknowledging His wounds becomes grandstanding, glad handing; it becomes a pale imitation of positive thinking and it feels like faux fellowship.  It becomes self-consuming and phony.  It communicates by means of stale salesmanship a kind of pop psychology without the psychology.

For God does not wipe the slate clean, even when He wipes away every tear (Rev. 21:4); even when He forgives us and creates us anew in the regeneration of Baptism.  In His Divine Mercy, He allows the effects of sin to remain - we keep our wounds as Christ keeps His.  And this is not merely to keep us humble, but because even the wrong we do (when we repent of it and are forgiven) and the wrongs done to us (when we have forgiven those who wronged us) become matter for something more tremendous - an eternal weight of glory that includes even the weight of the cross. (see 2 Cor. 4:17)

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