Fear and shame hang heavily over the scene in the upper room. The apostles have much to regret. Everything’s just about fallen to pieces, and now they’re hiding out. And then very quietly Jesus sneaks in to be with them. “Peace,” he says, and they are filled with joy. Jesus is neither boastful nor grand but almost shy and self-effacing. The very unpretentiousness of his presence is overwhelming. Jesus is obviously very physically present - disarmingly familiar to them - but also totally Other. He walks through the door and shows them his wounds, the deep scars in his body. The wounds confirm his “drastic physicality,” it’s really Jesus alright, but there is also mysteriously something much more. The apostles are filled with joy and utterly bewildered.
At this point we can imagine all the things Jesus might have said to them: “You fled. You left me. You denied me. How could you?” But he’ll have none of that. He simply breathes on them his own Spirit, the Spirit of forgiveness. And he says, “Peace.” No recriminations, just his warm breath, his peace and the instruction to forgive - to forgive even as he is forgiving them. Jesus’ resurrected presence allows them, first of all, to grieve the loss of their identity as perfect disciples and forgive themselves for all they have failed to do. And so he shows the apostles his wounds, for it is from this place of woundedness and vulnerability that they like him will be able to forgive others. Without vulnerability grace cannot happen,* without vulnerability any forgiveness we offer will be only cosmetic. Jesus has returned as the forgiving victim.
Photograph by Brother Brian. *from notes given by Dr. Patricia Kelly.