Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Blessing of Wounded Hands

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

Claude (right), whose grandmother was murdered by his neighbour, Innocent (left).
Claude forgave Innocent and the men have now reconciled.
From the book "As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda", by Catherine Claire Larson.

Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world. I cannot conceive of any other explanation. 
– Oscar Wilde

The risen body of Jesus Christ is wounded. This fact about the resurrection has been more present to me than usual this Easter, probably prompted by a homily that I heard during the Octave of Easter. The wounds of Christ were also mentioned by Pope Francis on Divine Mercy Sunday when he canonised John XXXIII and John Paul II:

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “By his wounds you have been healed”.

It is a startling fact that Jesus in his glorified body retained the wounds, and even more so that they are the sign by which he identifies himself to his apostles. "Look at my hands and my feet," he tells his apostles, "It is I myself!" (Luke 24:39) The marks of his suffering are mysteriously part of who Jesus is.

There is a popular slogan: “We are an Easter people.” It is often used in a superficial way that stresses the resurrection while downplaying the passion, encouraging us always to be happy and positive in the face of difficulties. God has conquered death, we are told, and we ought to forget about suffering and sadness. But such a façade cannot be maintained for long by anyone, for everyone has wounds in his own life. Easter includes the Passion within it, just as Christ’s resurrected body bears the violent imprints of the nails and the spear. To be an Easter people means to understand how our wounds are transformed by God into a new creation. On the one hand, they are healed; on the other hand, their marks remain as signs of God’s work in our life and his never-ending mercy.

I am reminded of a book I read recently, Left to Tell, the memoir of Immaculée Ilibagiza, a woman who barely survived the Rwandan genocide that claimed most of the rest of her family. It is a remarkable account, for despite the horrendous circumstances and atrocities that it relates, a deep faith and hope underpins the story. Mrs. Ilibagiza describes how it was when she was hiding in a tiny bathroom for months with several other women, with murderers literally on the other side of the wall, that she grew most in her love and knowledge of God. She tells of how she met her family’s killer and found the courage to forgive him. From the midst of wounds that are unimaginable to us who live far away from Rwanda, this soul teaches us what it really means to be “an Easter people”. It is to respond in the words of a Rwandan hymn that the author sings as she comes to terms with her family’s massacre: “Thank You, God, for love that is beyond our understanding.”

The wounded hands are what Jesus first showed to his apostles. These same hands are what they last gaze upon when he ascends into heaven:

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (Luke 24:50–52)

They are the wounds of blessing with which he continues to bless us: and they are for the apostles the cause of “great joy”. It is not a happy-clappy joy that ignores the trials and difficulties of life, but one that sees in faith that the cross is the sign of our liberation.

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