As I write this letter, we are fast approaching our elder son’s fifteenth birthday. Welcoming our first son into the world was, in many ways, the joyous occasion you might imagine. But there were some unexpected complications resulting in a prolonged hospital stay. Two operations - and many lukewarm jacket potatoes - later I was desperate to escape home with my new baby and get back to normality, doing all those everyday things that we take for granted. I wanted to sit in a café with my friends and show off my new baby. I wanted to go shopping and choose my little boy some tiny baby clothes that would fit him. I was ready for my freedom.
Except that I wasn’t.
Those first few weeks of ‘freedom’ were not quite what I hoped.
I was so weak and tired that just a trip to the shop was thoroughly exhausting. Getting myself and my little one organised and out of the house to meet friends in a café seemed more hassle than it was worth. It became apparent that I would need some time to recover and readjust. I could not just pick back up where I had left off; there were wounds that still needed to heal.
This month, as we emerge further out of lockdown, we may imagine ourselves recovering our freedom and returning to doing things as we did before. In reality, we might discover that some things feel rather different. Maybe we are quite nervous about doing some everyday things that previously we would not have merited a second thought; browsing in shops or coming into church. Or perhaps we are desperate to start doing ‘normal’ things again but discover that our family and friends are more anxious than we are.
In some ways, we have become quite institutionalised. Many of us will now need time to heal, time to adjust and time to regain our emotional, physical, and perhaps spiritual strength. All of us will probably have been wounded in some way by this experience. Within this place of wounded vulnerability, we can draw strength from the knowledge that Jesus knows what it is to be fully human, to suffer and to be wounded. He knows each of us as individuals, and he promises to journey alongside us personally as we begin our healing process.
At the end of May, we celebrate the story of the first Pentecost; the point when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and are transformed and able to do all sorts of things that were previously unimaginable. The Holy Spirit continues to work in unexpected ways today, often giving us the strength and guidance to do the seemingly impossible. We have all learned so much over this past year, and there is plenty to be hopeful about for the future of our churches; not least a gradual return to safe gathered worship in all its fullness and renewed opportunities to engage with our wider community. But first we must journey together through this phase of healing and recovery, gently and compassionately supporting each other as our wounds heal.
It can seem surprising that the risen Christ retains evidence of the physical wounds inflicted upon him at his crucifixion – “he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side (John 20:20)”. Yet, by retaining the scars of his passion, the glorified Jesus shows us that our wounds are not shameful defects to hold us back, but rather a certain kind of beauty that shine as symbols of transformation and possibility. It is encouraging to know that scars can even increase our faith. After all, it was the marks of the wounds of Christ that would confirm faith in the hearts of the disciples.
As Christians we can always look to the future with true and real hope, but there is nothing ‘weak’ about first needing time to heal or about carrying wounds and scars. The words of 1 Peter 3:8 remind us all to “be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” This seems fitting as we enter this recovery phase together, acknowledging that some wounds take longer to heal than others, and committing to lovingly support each other for as long as it takes.