In my immediate circle of church music colleagues, discussions about what we’d do when we returned to our sanctuaries for Sunday worship began nearly a month ago, as it became evident that Holy Week, Triduum, and Easter Sunday would be observed very minimally and/or remotely via video recordings or streaming services.
While discussing our potential return, my colleagues—both Protestant and Roman Catholic—observed how difficult it was going to be not only in terms of practical matters (a choir in a time of social distancing, with a virus carried in breath droplets?), but also in terms of any return while the COVID-19 virus was still very much present and active. (Note: these are discussions from early April; a month or so later, things are different.)
I shared that my own plan—no matter which Sunday it turned out to be—was to celebrate that Sunday with the trumpets I’d hired for Easter Sunday (which we have the room for while observing social distancing). There was some incredulity that I planned to make the “homecoming” Sunday (the term largely being used to describe it) as much like Easter as possible. A few people asked how I could do plan this, when there might be people in the congregation with family, neighbors, or friends still adversely impacted by the disease?
In Chicago, where I live, it looks likely—as of this writing—that our “homecoming” won’t be until Trinity Sunday in June (as much as I’d prefer Pentecost on May 31st). I know that, nationwide, churches are on something of a carousel or roulette wheel, as local orders about public gatherings vary widely, with some places not ever outright prohibiting public gatherings, including church services. Since I live in Illinois, I’m in one of only eleven states in which the prohibition of public gatherings has no exemption for religious services.
The larger point here isn’t about the calendrical particulars that are rightly occupying everyone’s attention, but about our broader embrace and implementation of what the Easter Resurrection is—and isn’t. My reply when colleagues asked how I could think of an Easter-imbued service while still in the midst of the pandemic was this: it’s a marvelous opportunity to recall and rejoice that the risen, glorified Body of Christ is wounded.
We do give some acknowledgement to the wounds of Christ’s glorified body on Easter II, with the Thomas account. But we tend to gloss over that it wasn’t until Christ showed his fearful followers the wounds that they rejoiced—the wounds were how they recognized him. Most often our attention that day gets focused on the movement from doubt to belief that Thomas makes. He makes that move only after he is invited into the wounds, including putting his hand into the pierced side from which the Church-birthing blood and water flowed. Through blessed, believing Thomas, Christ shows us the entry into his body is a wounded place.
After Easter II is over, the glorious wounds of Christ sort of vanish from our Easter celebrations. It’s almost as though we believe that the Resurrection erased the Crucifixion. Yet Good Shepherd Sunday, it seems to me, would be another time to truly focus on the wounds from Christ’s Passion: The life of biblical-era shepherds was hard and dangerous, and it’s likely that they were frequently wounded from encounters with brambly countrysides, wild animals, livestock thieves, rival shepherds, and the flock itself (sheep aren’t biters, but are AGGRESSIVE head-butters). A wounded shepherd in Jesus’ day was likely a common thing.
But our Good Shepherd is beyond even that biblical reality. The wounds of the Good Shepherd did not heal over, nor were they covered with celestial scar tissue of some sort. They are still wounds, they are still open, still entry points into the Body of Christ. This is true not only of the Easter season’s Sundays, but every Sunday (see John Paul II, Dies Domini, #2). Perhaps returning to our celebrations this year with a still-sick and suffering world around us can help us seek out, or allow ourselves to be, the still-wounded, glorified, risen Christ.
Even before the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was plenty of woundedness in the Body of Christ during the Sundays of Easter and the Sundays of the year. As glorious as our celebrations of the Resurrection need to be, covering over the realities that Christ was raised with his wounds intact is doing the Paschal Mystery a disservice. It caves in to the suffering-and-death aversion/denial syndrome of the surrounding culture. If we really need to see the wounded Shepherd in order to believe and be blessed, there is plenty of brokenness to behold in our world, lots of still-walking but hurting companions all around us. To behold these wounds is to see the gate into the Good Shepherd’s glorious body, and —as it was in that upper room—must be a cause for our rejoicing.