The Wounded Healer
We’re hooked on a happy ending. Hollywood studios will test-screen various endings of films and tend to choose the more upbeat finale. Pretty in Pink, Little Shop of Horrors, even Pretty Woman all had gloomy endings till the test-screening. We seem to like going from Once upon a time… to Happily ever after. Even being a student here has a similar narrative arc: from being a nervous fresher, facing some serious challenges, handing in that impossible essay, and finally, in beautiful sunshine, the joyful graduation day. We don’t want to look too closely at life’s scars. I remember one day when a parish minister, I was visiting this parishioner in hospital. How are you getting on? I said. Nae bad, she said. The operation went well. Do you want to see my wound? As she started to raise her nightie I said I was fine not seeing her wound. We don’t want to look too closely at the wounds of life.
The Christian year is not much different. The busiest services I conduct are Christmas and Easter – celebrating the joy of a child, and the joy of resurrection, a new life and life renewed. Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!
And rightly today the tone is joyful – in our hymns, our music, our readings, our smiles and laughter, blossom on the trees, and chocolate on the menu. This is a day for celebration, for confidence and trust, for taking a risk – for putting all our eggs in one basket…
And yet, sometimes, I wonder if the happiness of Easter can seem a little shallow. To change the metaphor, today can seem like a thin veneer, a new coat of paint over trouble below, a wrapping that will quickly peel off. Sometimes I wonder if we are so keen at Easter to sing Hallelujah that we think that all the rest of life doesn’t really matter. Only the happy ending counts. And yet a moment’s thought and we are aware of losses in our narrative arc.
We may be in pain, or have a serious health condition.
We may be troubled by anxiety or depression, and feel tormented in mind.
We may be grieving relationships which have gone awry, friendships soured, love lost, children unborn.
We may have hit a wall with our studies our career, our purpose.
We may be missing someone dear to us who has died – and many are grieving our first-year student Felicia Llena who died under two weeks ago.
And of course there is the life of our world too: the deepening crisis of climate change; lives shattered and millions displaced in Yemen, from Syria and elsewhere; and the public wound which is Brexit, with its corrosive impact on our relationships.
We know those losses are real and there will still be suffering the day after Easter. After all, tomorrow is not a holiday in Scotland – we return to our classes, our deadlines, our workplace. Will Easter’s hope already be peeling away, the fresh paint fading, not really changing the underlying narrative. Does Easter really matter?
When Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb that Sunday morning, she was going through a profound time of loss. Jesus had died – her friend, the one who had rescued her, her lord. And this was compounded by the loss of his body. It wasn’t where it should be. Her feelings were already up to here – she couldn’t take much more. It was then she encountered someone somehow unfamiliar, a gardener perhaps, but who said her name. It was Jesus, raised from the dead. The tomb was empty because the grave could not hold him. In that moment, the healing of her loss began.
But whom had she encountered?
Jesus risen from the dead.
Jesus: who had been arrested, tried, mocked, forced to carry his cross, crucified and killed. Jesus who’d been wounded in body – beaten by the soldiers, a crown of thorns thrust on his head, nails driven into wrists and feet. Jesus who’d been wounded in his soul, rejected by his own, betrayed and denied, needing companionship in his suffering, but abandoned to face it alone.
It was this man who was raised from death. This wounded man. And the wounds remained – he invited Thomas to see and feel them. Julian of Norwich, the female mystic and theologian, describes this figure as horrifying and dreadful, sweet and lovely. A paradox, but which preserves the before and after of the resurrection. Jesus, a human being as we are, experienced losses and wounds as we do, was raised by God who lived fully in Jesus. And so, we can begin to be healed by this wounded healer.
Let me recap:
when we think about Easter, there are two ends of the pendulum which are mistaken.
One – that the resurrection makes our suffering unreal. But of course, our pain, our sorrow is real, no matter what the church says.
And two – that the resurrection does not matter – because it can’t change anything. But the Christian faith is precisely this, that the resurrection changes everything.
A better approach is to bring these two together: and to see the resurrection as the ongoing renewed life of the wounded healer. Jesus, who shared our losses, treats them as utterly real, but does not allow them the last word. Our losses can be changed, in the light of the resurrection. We’ll sing of this in a metaphor later in the hymn, Now the green blade riseth…
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
thy touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again
like wheat that springeth green.
In other words, if our lives sometimes can resemble winter fields, bare, colourless, lifeless, they can be transformed, becoming rich, colourful and vibrant, full of hope, inspired by the risen Jesus.
There is no guarantee, and suffering sometimes remains. But, sitting with students and others as Chaplain here, I have witnessed such transformations – in illness both in body and mind, in healing relationships, in renewed hope in studies, enjoyment in work, purpose for life, and acceptance following bereavement. I hope too we will witness reconciliation in Yemen, peace in Syria, and graceful perspective over Brexit.
One of the finest expressions of this I’ve read recently is by Jocelyn Bell-Burnett, astronomer and recent recipient of the Special Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics. She gave the £2.3 million prize away. She wrote this:
The resurrection, however literally or otherwise we interpret it, demonstrates the power of God to bring life out of brokenness; not just to take the hurt out of brokenness but to add something to the world. It helps us to sense the usefulness, the possible meaning in our suffering, and to turn it into a gift. The resurrection affirms me with my pain and my anger at what has happened. It does not take away my pain; it still hurts. But I sense that I am being transfigured; I am being enabled to begin again to love confidently and to remake the spirit of my world.
Our other reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, also explores being in this space between Christ’s resurrection, and the final end of all things. He acknowledges that plenty of horrible stuff still happens in the world – from rulers, authorities and powers, from death – but he is sure that Jesus’ rising from the dead makes all the difference. Jesus’ rising is first-fruits, those early spring signs that the winter fields will again be filled with healthy barley, with colour and life.
The news of the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was shocking. Images show the enormity of the change, the lost roof, the fallen spire, the ceiling’s blackened wood scattered like burnt pieces of jenga on the Cathedral floor. Pictures show a strong, powerful symbol of faith, of Christianity, brought low, brought to ashes. And yet, could it be possible that there is something powerful in this damaged presence, this wounded church? Is the scarred cathedral a vulnerable offering to Paris and the world? Before the roof and spire rise again, could Notre Dame suggest the risen Christ as the wounded healer, offering his body and blood, his forgiveness and healing in the midst of our broken shells?
Christ is risen
He is risen indeed.