In the Easter story, Thomas asks to touch Christ’s wounds so he will know whether this is the same Jesus who was tortured a few days earlier. Jesus allows Thomas to poke the wounds. If the resurrection were a literal event, Christ’s wounds might mean that we would still carry our wounds into the afterlife. Eternity would not be as much fun if our risen bodies still carried scars and wounds. Heaven would look less like an idyllic home, and more like a hospital emergency room.
Because I believe all theological speech is symbolic, not literal, I believe we needn’t get snagged on such details. Resurrection stories are symbols of the life process. Such stories are not literal glimpses into another world, but symbolic revelations about this world. In scripture, a particular story is told to illustrate a universal truth about what it means to be human.
So what would it mean symbolically for the resurrected Christ to still carry wounds? Perhaps this particular story is addressing the universal pain human beings suffer in our own lives. Perhaps Christ’s wounds symbolize that our own pain is part of what brings us to fullness of life. Events that hurt us and even maim us can also bring us to a greater intimacy with others.
Perhaps resurrection means dying to our private dreams and rising to our common life with every other being. In that case, resurrection would be a symbol of something very real. It would symbolize the reality out of which we are born and into which we die. We are the sparks; life is the flint. We are never really separate, never really alone. We are always essentially that one life.
This does not mean that some invisible instructor named God sends pain so that we will learn a lesson, but it could mean that our wounds are not pointless. Just as the forest fire breaks open a pinecone to bring new life to the forest, so do our own broken hearts open up new possibilities of intimacy for humankind. When we realize the pointlessness of our own separate lives we can either choose despair or enlargement. We can wallow in our wounds or we can resurrect into the common life.