Reflection - Resurrect Image

By Mike Folland - Acting Executive Director, Synod Secretariat & Ministry and Mission

In our Church calendar this year, for the first Sunday after Easter, we read of the risen Jesus encountering most of the disciples in a locked room and then the disciple Thomas a week later (John 20:19-29). All of the disciples are grappling with a recent traumatic event and Thomas’ response appears to be more nuanced and complex. 

The events of the last few days have seen Jesus betrayed by a colleague, arrested, condemned, tortured, and executed in a brutal fashion. To witness such violence is traumatic enough, but added to this would be the loss of a mentor, friend, and leader – and the crushing of hopes and dreams for what was expected of God’s intervention in the world. 

When Jesus first meets with the disciples in the locked room, Thomas is absent. We are not told why, but one could guess that Thomas is deeply affected by the trauma and is trying to deal with the flooding emotions of sadness and grief. When he does meet with the disciples, their wild exuberance and joy feel discordant and unreal to Thomas. In effect, he says, “I can’t deal with your smiling, positive faces at the moment. I can’t deal with a hope that isn’t real to me. Don’t give me fake optimism – it must be authentic for me to believe. In fact, unless I physically touch the wounds of a risen Jesus, I can’t believe.” 

A week later, when all of the remaining disciples are together again, the risen Jesus meets them once more in a locked room. It is Jesus who initiates an encounter with Thomas, inviting him to come forward and touch his wounds. Jesus affirms Thomas’ pain and trauma response to search for a tangible, bodily reality. 

The power of this story for me is the realisation that even the risen Jesus carries wounds. 

As a serving Army Chaplain, I have had significant contact with soldiers working through Moral Injury or PTSD. I have also worked for an organisation working in child protection and, as the Child Nominee, heard the stories of children and young people experiencing abuse, neglect and other trauma. For many, if not most, of these people, their experiences of trauma have had a tangible and ongoing impact on their bodies. Their emotional and moral wounds are manifested in a range of physical symptoms. These symptoms may lay dormant for years until triggered, sometimes quite unexpectedly. 

Over the years, the disciple Thomas has often been judged critically for doubting the reality of the resurrection. However, Thomas, I believe, should be acknowledged for his authenticity and vulnerability as he works through his trauma response. The process of healing and restoration cannot be artificially rushed or even wished away. That the risen Jesus still carried wounds beyond resurrection demonstrates a God who invites authentic faith. A vulnerable faith that doesn’t expect a wishful, “everything should be fine” attitude, or worse, a judgmental expectation that Christians shouldn’t carry wounds.  

The risen and yet still wounded Christ invites us to bring our own trauma experiences and our own wounds in faith to share in the restoration and ongoing resurrection through God. To join with Thomas, authentically to proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” 

 Mike Folland continues to serve part-time as an Army Chaplain and is a member of The Gap UCA. Mike is also working in a short-term role as an acting Executive Director in the Synod office. 

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