One of the most terrifying and deeply troubling news stories for me of the past few years has been one that has escaped broad notice by the Western media. It is the story of extreme and widespread violence against women in Eastern Congo. Raped and tortured by warring factions in their country, women are the victims of the most horrific crimes. As one journalist reported, “Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.”(1) They bear their wounds in their own bodies, permanent scars of violence and oppression.
In this holiest week for Christians around the world, the broken and wounded body of Jesus is commemorated in services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The broken body and spilled blood of Jesus is remembered in the symbols of bread and wine on Maundy Thursday, and in the black draping of curtains and cloths on Good Friday. Jesus suffered violence in his own body, just as many do around the world today.
Even as Christian mourning turns to joy with Easter resurrection celebrations, it is important to note that Jesus bore the wounds of violence and oppression in his body—even after his resurrection. When he appeared to his disciples, according to John’s gospel, Jesus showed them “both his hands and his side” as a means by which to identify himself to them. Indeed, the text tells us that once the disciples took in these visible wounds “they rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).
The resurrection body of Jesus contained the scars from nail and sword, and these scars identified Jesus to his followers. And yet, the wounds of Jesus took on new significance in light of his resurrection. While still reminders of the violence of crucifixion his wound-marked resurrection body demonstrates God’s power over evil and death.
But his wounds reveal something else. God’s work of resurrection—indeed of new creation—begins in our wounded world. His resurrection is not a disembodied spiritual reality for life after the grave; it bears the marks of his wounded life here and now, yet with new significance.
N.T. Wright, who has written extensively on the central importance of Christ’s bodily resurrection for Christians, says it this way: “The resurrection of Jesus means that the present time is shot through with great significance….Acts of justice and mercy, the creation of beauty and the celebration of truth, deeds of love and the creation of communities of kindness and forgiveness—these all matter, and they matter forever. Take away the resurrection, and these things are important for the present but irrelevant for the future and hence not all that important after all even now. Enfolded in this vocation to build now, with gold, silver, and precious stones, the things that will last into God’s new age, is the vocation to holiness: to the fully human life, reflecting the image of God, that is made possible by Jesus’ victory on the cross and that is energized by the Spirit of the risen Jesus present within communities and persons.”(2)
Indeed, Paul’s great exposition of the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 ends by reminding the Corinthians, “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” The point of the resurrection is to demonstrate that entropy and death do not have the final word—either for humans or for God’s creation. God’s last word is resurrection in the midst of our human, often-wounded lives now.
The reality of the resurrection marked by the wounds of Jesus can bring this kind of hope and this kind of joy of new creation even into the darkest places. The reality of the bodily resurrection also compels a response from those who live in its light. We work and we toil, and perhaps even pour out our blood, sweat, and tears to tend the wounds of others. The hope of the resurrection reminds us that our labor is far from in vain for Christ has gone ahead of us. We bear the scars of toil even as we bear the image of resurrection reality in this world. We bear them as new creation, remembering that Jesus continued to wear his scars as part of his resurrected life.
The visible wounds of Jesus after his resurrection also bring hope in the midst of our suffering. Even our suffering does not have to be in vain. Many women in the Congo, despite all their horrific suffering, seem to understand this. Behind the Panzi Hospital that treats the majority of these rape cases, a new center of refuge called “City of Joy” is being built. It will be a place of long-term healing and refuge for women who have been victimized and abused in Eastern Congo. Many of the women, who carry the cement for the building on their heads, were themselves victims of these crimes. Their wounds still visible on their bodies, they are building a city of joy.(3)
Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.
(1) Jeffrey Gettleman, “Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War,” New York Times, October 7, 2007.
(2) N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 126-127.
(3) Nicholas D. Kristof, “What Are You Carrying?” New York Times video blog, March 8, 2010