“The Glorious Wounds of Jesus and Divine Mercy” (5/1/11 Divine Mercy Sunday)
Rev. Br. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Something that appears in our Gospel today, over and over again, may be a little surprising at first sight. I speak of the wounds of Jesus. In this account of two appearances of the Risen Christ, we hear repeatedly about his wounds, wounds now glorified after his resurrection. Immediately upon appearing to his disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” The text continues, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” These, of course, are the hands that were pierced by nails and the side that was pierced by the soldier’s lance as Christ died on the Cross.
Then Thomas, who was not present at this first appearance to the other disciples, refers to the wounds. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Sure enough, a week later, Jesus appears to his disciples again. This time Thomas is with them. The sequence is very much like the first appearance. Here too, Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” and then he shows them his wounds. This time, he invites Thomas to touch and to believe: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
So again in this second resurrection appearance, the glorious wounds of Jesus are front and center; they are the focus of the scene—wounds no longer vulnerable or painful, but wounds transformed and made glorious in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. So why does Jesus keep his wounds after the Resurrection? We could think of reasons why God might choose to do the opposite. Why not entirely heal the wounds, and cover them over, so they are no longer noticeable? Would the Lord’s Body not be a more perfect Body that way? Would it not then be a more perfect example of a resurrected body? But no, God chooses to do the opposite. Christ raises from the dead still bearing his wounds, glorified no doubt, but still the marks of wounds. Why?
Well, I am not the first person to ask this question. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican theologian of the 1200s, also asked the same question: Why did Christ raise from the dead with the scars of his wounds? Well, here are some of his answers.
First, with his wounds, Jesus helps the disciples to believe in his Resurrection. For the wounds show them that this man who stands before them is the same man whom they saw die on the Cross days earlier. It helps them know that this man standing before them in glory is the same man who had nails driven in his hands and the lance driven through his side, now no longer dead but alive—and alive with a new glory and splendor. This seems to be the same reason why doubting Thomas in the Gospel demands that, in order to believe, he needs to see the nail marks in his hands and the wound in his side. This way he knows that this is the same Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. So this is the reason doubting Thomas provides. Yet a different Thomas, Thomas Aquinas, gives a few more reasons; and these too are worth considering.
Second, Aquinas claims that Christ keeps the wounds in his resurrected body as trophies. The wounds are his trophies for his victory in the time of battle, his victory over sin and death. Jesus will bear these glorious wounds forever as a sign of his triumph, like a man taking joy in the Olympic gold medal he has won. These wounds no longer cause Jesus pain, nor are they ugly to look at, but rather they shine out brightly like the sun. Aquinas says a certain kind of beauty shines out of these wounds, a special comeliness. May we too behold the beauty of these glorious wounds someday.
Third, Aquinas maintains that Christ keeps his wounds after the resurrection to show them to the Father as he pleads on our behalf. We know from the book of Hebrews that Christ is a high priest in heaven, who always lives to make intercession on our behalf. He even now is praying for us to the Father. And Christ shows his wounds to the Father to say, “I bore the Passion and Cross for these my friends, have mercy for the sake of the wounds I suffered for their sake.” The Resurrected Christ still presents to the Father the saving merits of his Cross. In these wounds he makes present to the Father the love with which he died for us.
Fourth, the last reason I want to mention from Aquinas has to do with convincing us of his love and mercy. Aquinas says that Jesus keeps his wounds after his resurrection “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of His death.” So Jesus bears his glorious wounds to convince us of his mercy, to remind us of his love. The Resurrected Christ will for all eternity show us his wounds to show us the love with which he endured the Cross for us.
This emphasis on mercy brings us to the message of Divine Mercy. St. Faustina, a polish nun from the early 1900s, mentions a similar thing about Christ’s glorious wounds. At one point, St. Faustina hears Jesus say, “From all My wounds, like from streams, mercy flows for souls, but the wound in My Heart is the fountain of unfathomable mercy. From this fountain spring all graces for souls. The flames of compassion burn Me. I desire greatly to pour my mercy out upon souls. Speak to the whole world about My mercy” (1190).
If you are familiar with the image of Divine Mercy, it shows bright rays of light shining forth from Jesus’ heart. His wounded heart that was pierced through by the lance shines out with light rays of red and blue. In the image of Divine Mercy, we have an image of Christ’s glorious wound, the wound of his heart from which mercy flows like streams. The wound in his Heart is the fountain of unfathomable mercy. The rays of light show the majesty of this mercy.
Like Thomas in the Gospel, we too may want to reach out and touch Christ’s wounds. To come into contact with these glorious fountains of mercy. Well, we do in a way. We get to repeat Thomas’ encounter with the Risen Lord. For, we too, like Thomas, gather with other disciples of Jesus on the first day of the week, Sunday. We gather to pray in our own Upper Room, this Church. And Jesus comes to us as well, now in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He says, “Peace be with you,” and he shows us his glorious wounds.
On this altar, in the Eucharist, Christ makes present his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. He makes present his glorious wounds. He comes to us in his risen glory, but still bearing his wounds. We too, like Thomas, get to reach out and touch his wounds. We get to handle his glorious wounds when we receive Holy Communion. When we take into our hands and mouth the true body and blood of Christ, his true soul and divinity, we come into contact with his glorious wounds. And with Thomas, we too, cry out in faith and love, “My Lord and my God!”