Sunday, April 11, 2021

Mercy Sunday

Again, this morning Jesus steps very quietly through the locked doors of the upper room and exposes his wounds for Thomas and for each of us – holes in his hands and side. And there are others we don’t see, but they’re there alright - in his feet, of course, and still others we probably never hear about, narrow deep holes in his head from the soldiers pounding on the thorns in his crown and definitely angry welts on his back from his scourging. These last were made vividly clear for me a few weeks ago when I came upon a Civil War-era photograph of an elderly slave; he looks away from us with his back to the camera. The man had endured daily lashings for years; deep ridges furrow his old black back. A history of cruelty engraved there in his flesh. Jesus’ back is probably like that. And one day if we embrace him in heaven, perhaps we’ll feel those ridges. My brothers, Jesus will always, always bear wounds in his risen body. 

But why? It baffles me still, especially as I remember the hours spent anguishing at bathroom mirrors over the state of my skin. Examining each inch. Has the pimple gone away? Will a new one appear? What’s that over there? Will the scar disappear before a dance, a party? What if I don’t look presentable? Better to put a dab of lotion, something to disguise it. Bella figura, we call it in Italian. Craziness and vanity are more like it. How different the quiet beauty of the risen Lord this morning. He simply, most gladly shows us his wounded body. Why? These holes reveal what love has done to God what love has done to God - torn him apart, even broken his heart. He is not embarrassed by the intimacy of baring these wounds for us. Why would he be? He gladly shows us because these are the radiant sacraments of his compassion, bright jewels that proclaim the boundless love of God for us.

Jesus has become our sin, taken on the depth of our guilt and depravity, swallowed it up, because he could not bear to have it burden us. And his crucifixion is the fullest expression of God’s outrage at sin. And we see on Christ’s body what the ugliness of sin has done – our stupidity and jealousy, rage and mistrust, our betrayals and denials, our potential for cruelty and scapegoating – it’s all right there. In his “passion to set right our sin-filled, disjointed universe,” God has allowed his body to be torn apart - because of love - so that he might gather our world “into the bliss of divine life.”1 And now his body is left with marks that won’t ever go away.

God indeed is love, and Love is never ugly. Saint Augustine assures us, God’s love is always creating beauty in place of irregularity and unevenness.2 God in Christ forever disfigured out of love reveals true, divine beauty, far beyond aesthetics, mere prettiness, or the cosmetic perfection I was looking for in a bathroom mirror. Jesus’ love has transvalued3 our sin and the big mess we’ve made of things, flipped it around. His crucifixion in all its brutality and revulsion has put an end to all we may have believed about beauty. The love of Christ poured out on the cross has reversed the ugliness of sin into the beauty of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. And so, in his wounded body, the incomprehensibility of God is blindingly, beautifully revealed. The wounds Jesus bears, the marks of our most heinous act of hatred and rejection, are transcendently beautiful because he forgave those who inflicted them, because he, God’s Lamb absolutely refused to retaliate, because he trusted that love is always more powerful, because he trusted in his belovedness, trusted that his Father would not let his Beloved One know decay.

His wounds make clear what Love has endured, what love and forgiveness can accomplish, what love and forgiveness demand of us – getting wounded like him, even unto suffering and death. And this morning Jesus’ greeting of peace and his breathing forth of God’s Spirit empower us to go and do likewise – to transform by forgiveness, love, and compassion. A wounded God continues to show us his wounded body in ten thousand places, whenever we long to see him.

Being merciful as God is merciful is now possible for us if we too dare to open our wounded hands and hearts to one another, with nothing to hide. At ease with the awkwardness of our woundedness, we have nothing to lose. Then perhaps we can begin to act with compassion, as we see more easily that we all bear the same sins and sorrows. Honestly seeing our own mess mercied by Christ, we can forgive ourselves, forgive one another. Forgiveness transforms – forgiveness has the power to create beauty out of chaos, the beauty of mercy. 

As we gather together this morning to consume Christ’s wounded body, let us rejoice for we are what we eat and what we are becoming - more and more his beautiful, broken body.

Christ and Saint John by Verrocchio; 1. Robert Barron, 2. Saint Augustine,  3. Von Balthazar.; Meditation by one of the monks.