Published April 12th, 2020 at 6:00 AM
In New Testament stories about Easter and the days after that shocking morning, there’s something easy to miss. But we can find help for getting through this bruising age of coronavirus in what’s often overlooked there.
The first time the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, one of them — now known as Doubting Thomas — wasn’t with them. Eight days later, however, the Gospel of John reports that Thomas was there when Jesus appeared in their midst.
In the Common English Bible translation of John 20:27-28, Jesus, showing his wounded body to Thomas, says this: “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
Thomas responds to Jesus with this declaration of faith: “My Lord and my God.”
Did you see what happened there? Yes, Jesus is back from the dead. And yes, Thomas came to believe.
But there’s something more. Notice that Jesus, even though resurrected, still has visible scars.
What kind of miraculous resurrection is it that returns someone from the dead with the causes of death still visible? Why are they still there for Thomas to touch and see? Why didn’t they get healed and disappear in the mysterious flash of the back-from-death process?
Just a guess, but I think the wounds are there because the gospel writers want everyone to recognize that even after we manage to get to the other side of a catastrophe, we’ll still have scars from the experience. We will always be marked by what happened to us.
In this virus crisis, that may mean that some who contracted COVID-19 and survived will always feel a little more vulnerable. It may mean that we will never look at masked nurses in hospitals again without recalling the pain they endured through this. Maybe the time we spent in quarantine will make us forever more eager to avoid enclosures and be in the company of strangers. In some way, we will change and our scars will be present.
Think back on the disasters through which our nation has come in the last 100 years. If you pay attention, you still can see people with Great Depression scars; World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan war scars; Civil Rights movement scars; political scandal scars from Watergate, Iran-Contra, presidential impeachments; 9/11 scars; AIDS scars; Great Recession scars; great natural disaster scars. You can name other traumas, other scars still visible from them.
The point is that on this side of paradise, healing is always an incomplete process, always tentative, never without scars.
The good news is that if we pay attention and do the necessary recovery work, wounds heal and become simply scars that can guide us.
A small example: When my younger daughter was five or six, I picked her up from a play date at a friend’s home. It was winter. The sidewalks were icy. I put Kate in the crook of my right arm and moved toward my car on the street, navigating steps at the end of the sidewalk.
But my foot slipped on the slick brick steps and we started to go down. I put my left hand under me to cushion our fall and protect Kate. I ended up with a one-inch gash on the back of that hand below my ring finger.
It’s still there. Every time I notice it, I think how grateful I am that I have two beautiful, smart daughters (with, now, their own scars). I also remind myself to be careful out there.
So scars are not useless.
You and I won’t get through this virus crisis without fresh wounds. But those wounds will semi-heal, turning into scars. Learn from them. Don’t ignore them. Doubting Thomas didn’t, and the biblical witness is that because he didn’t, he spent time in the presence of a living miracle.
Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and former award-winning Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s website and columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and formerly for The National Catholic Reporter. His latest book is The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. Email him at email@example.com.