by David Morstad
In the liturgical Christian tradition, we are approaching the second Sunday of Easter and that’s good news for me. Chances are I’m going to hear one of my very favorite stories from the Gospel of John. In the story, we are told that the disciples —most of them, anyway— had come together in a house and locked the doors, being understandably terrified given the events of the three days prior. To their amazement, Jesus appears among them and speaks, “Peace be with you.” Then follows the eventual realization on the part of everyone in the room that they were in the presence of the Divine. At that point, the story takes an odd turn. Thomas wasn’t there. And when he hears what the others have to say about what he missed he makes it clear that, unless he experiences the same thing for himself, he wasn’t buying it. A week later, Jesus is happy to oblige. “Put your finger in my wounded side. Look carefully at my mutilated hands and feet. Know, without a doubt, who I am.”
Doubting Thomas is how we came to know him. Some have reframed the story as one of trust rather than doubt. Still others, like author Diana Butler Bass in her book, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, suggest it is a story of gratitude on the part of all the disciples. I accept all those views as enriching but they all miss the reason why I love the story so much—it is a portrait of holes and holiness.
In her landmark book, The Disabled God, the late theologian Nancy Eiesland identifies what she calls a “hidden history” among Christians. The book’s title refers to Jesus, who embodies disability even after resurrection. After rising from the dead, Christ appears to many and two things are clear; first, that he is fully God, and second, that his hands and feet are still mutilated and the wound in his side is still gaping. God bears the marks of physical defect. Eiesland, herself a person with a disability, wrote, “The resurrected Christ is making good on the promise that God would be with us, embodied, as we are, both disabled and divine.”
For all our cultural preoccupation with disability as something meant to inspire or shame the rest of us, or as something tragic that will be made to disappear in a life after this one, here stands the resurrected Jesus, fully God, wounds and all. With his earthly injuries still visible to everyone, Jesus demonstrates that disability is not incompatible with God and therefore should not be incompatible with God’s people.
If the disciples were shocked and appalled upon once again seeing the violent gashes still present in the resurrected Christ, scripture does not record it. It does record that they all saw the face of God. Would that we all might look deeply enough into each person that we see the very same thing.