Well, here we are the Sunday after Easter. We are one Sunday after that great day of triumph instituted by our God. Easter is that wondrous event that sets right all that death made wrong. Death? Evil? Injustice? Easter declares that God’s good purposes could not and would not be defeated – that in and through the resurrection of Jesus, God triumphed.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus slips right through closed and locked doors and appears before his despondent and fear-filled disciples. But they do not know him. He speaks to them, as he had spoken to them so often before, saying, “Peace.” But they still do not know him.
Then, John says, “He showed them his hands and his side.” In other words he showed them the scars from his wounds, and then, and only then, they recognized him and rejoiced. They recognized him by his scars.
Thomas shows up a little later, having been absent during that first resurrection appearance by Jesus. The other disciples tell him of the visit by the Risen Christ.
a. But Thomas says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
b. and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later, the Risen Christ appears, again surprising the disciples. Thomas is there this time. So Jesus obliges him, saying, “Put your finger here. Do not doubt, but believe.”
Somehow, some connection is being made here between belief in the Risen Christ and the scars of Christ. The Risen Christ still has scars. Being raised from the dead did not erase his wounds, so he must have been raised bodily – physically – not as some spiritual phantom. The Christ of Easter still bears the scars made on Good Friday. Jesus’ disciples like Thomas recognized him as risen, only by seeing his scars. Easter, the stunning triumph of God, the great victory over death, does not erase the scars. So there is and always will be lessons in the scars.
Maybe you too know someone like the person I knew some years ago. She became a Christian in her thirties. She was told by some, “If you are a Christian, a real Christian, you will always feel joy and peace in your heart.” She came to me because she did not feel peace and joy constantly; thus she began to wonder if she was a Christian – a real Christian.
She confessed that she still feels sadness at times, even after professing her faith and becoming a Christian. She wondered if something was wrong with her.
b. Was her faith not strong enough? Why was she not always joyful? As she talked she said she had been abused as a child. Her Christian faith had brought her many moments of joy – yes, but she still has those memories and thus still carries a sadness. In other words, she still bears the scars; just as the Risen Christ bears his scars.
The Risen Christ has moved from death to life. He has sallied forth from the tomb triumphant. In his exulted form the disciples initially did not recognize him. It was only when he showed them his scars that they knew him.
You know, we really shouldn’t be too hard on Thomas. When he says, “I won’t believe that it’s Jesus unless I can poke my fingers in the nail prints in his hands” –
Thomas isn’t being obstinate; he is being honest; he is revealing the same kind of curiosity and need for proof that all of us have, and at least he was courageous enough to verbalize it. Thomas may have been saying, “I won’t believe that it is Jesus, unless I can touch his scars, because I know that the real Jesus must have scars.” But notice, the scripture never says he actually touched those wounds.
Thomas and the other disciples knew Jesus, because the Jesus whom they had come to love did not hover above the heartaches of the world. He embraced the pain; he experienced the sorrow, and touched others with care; he lived where we live; he bore the wounds of the injuries of life. And he died as we must die.
Early on in the Christian church there was a heresy named Docetism. Docetism said that Christ, the Son of God, did not really suffer on the cross. He also did not really live as most of us live on this earth. He only APPEARED to suffer, and only appeared to be human. In the Greek doceo means to appear or seem, hence Docetism.
Absolutely not! the church said to that idea. The church declared that Jesus was God – yes – but he was also human – fully human as well as being fully God. The divinely human Christ bore human scars as the result of his horrible execution and death. Only a wounded God can save.
The prophet Isaiah predicted this would be so when he wrote centuries before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus: “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” The book of I Peter reiterates the idea by declaring, “by his wounds we have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). Rejecting the Docetic view that Jesus was only a spiritual being, the church has always insisted that he, like the rest of humanity was born, lived in a family, became hungry and tired, ate food and drank wine, suffered and died. The church has likewise insisted that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. So what one does physically – eats and drinks … saves one’s life or gives it up – are all vital elements in a person’s religious development. Thus, all Christians who have suffered during these past 2,000 years – all who have feared and faced death – have found their individual experience validated in the account of the HUMAN Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh, and all flesh bears scars.
To be human is to have scar tissue both inside and out. I feel quite sure you all have scars, humans that you are. In fact, it might not be too much of a stretch to say that we could almost read a person’s life story on the basis in their scars – those inside and out.
In The Odyssey by Homer, there is that episode, near the end of the tale, when Odysseus finally returns home after years of wandering. He is disguised as an old man, so that nobody recognizes him at home – not even his own wife and son. That night, as he prepares to go to bed, an aged servant and nurse bathes him. She thinks she is merely bathing an old stranger who has visited for the night. But while bathing him, the servant notices a scar on Odysseus’ leg – the same scar she remembers from his infancy – She did not recognize him until she saw his scar.
Last week one of my grandsons noticed a scar I have on my arm. I told him about how I received it and the number of stitches it took. Unfortunately for him, that led to a litany of identifying nearly all the scars I bear on my body and the gruesome story behind each one: a scar on the chin from diving in the bathtub when I was five, a scar from a file cabinet drawer acquired on the first day of a summer job; several scars from mishandling knives; scars from knee surgery…
It was too much information, and he quickly tuned me out and went back to playing his video games. My attempts at “ain’t it yucky and awful” were not all that impressive – besides he already had a scar from stitches on his head from a fall, and a faint scar from running into a counter top. His mom worries about the scars, but I tell her they are all merely the marks of true character and the reminders of an active life. Beside, each of his scars – like my scars, tells a story – there is always a lesson in the scars.
A minister writes of a friend of his who spent much of the early years of his life in an orphanage. His mother took him there as a little boy, let him out of the car under a big cedar tree, told him she would return that afternoon … but didn’t.
This friend was now middle aged and one day was scheduled to meet the minister for lunch. Unfortunately the minister had an important phone call at the last minute, and was late – about 15 minutes late. When he finally arrived, he found his friend in a high state of agitation, pacing about, perspiring heavily, visibly upset.
Later he told the minister, “I just can’t help it.” “Of course, I understand why I get so bent out of shape when someone I am to meet is late. My mother kept me waiting under that tree at the orphanage all afternoon. She never, ever returned. So I just can’t stand for someone I love to be late.” He was now all grown up now – out on his own, successful, and functioning quite well. But he still had the scars.
So the Risen Christ – the Christ after Easter still has scars. There are people who think that Easter ought to overcome all of that. They think that, just because Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter, the cross is set right, overcome, fixed, and can and should be forgotten.
But no. . . . The Risen Christ bore nail prints in his hands and a slash in his side. That’s how the disciples knew that the mysterious one who stood before them was none other than Jesus. The Christian faith does not deny the pain nor erase the scars or hide the reality of the wound. Our faith enables us to go on in the name of Christ; for we too bear our wounds and carry our scars.
As a pastor of five congregations, have found that there are always believers who come to me to tell me about some past wound they suffered. Why do they tell me? Is it just to wallow again in self-pity for some wrong with which they have been afflicted? Rarely is that the reason. Usually they tell me so that I will know them. “You will know me now,” they seem to be saying, just as Thomas knew the Risen Christ as the obedient Jesus by his scars. We are all known by our scars.
I read of a woman in one congregation who had been assaulted in her own back yard in broad daylight at ten o’clock in the morning. It was a traumatic experience for her to go through. But through a good counselor, a loving husband and a caring family she made her way back.
As a part of her therapy, the counselor wanted her to tell someone other than a member of the family or her pastor about what had happened. She wanted her to articulate to someone else her tragedy. So to whom should she tell her story? Whom would she ask for help? “I want to tell Joe Smith,” she told the counselor. “And who is Joe Smith?” the counselor asked. “He is this man at our church who is a sometimes-recovering alcoholic who has held and then lost a number of jobs,” she replied. “I would have thought you might want to tell another woman,” stated the counselor. “Why do you want to tell Joe Smith?” “Because,” she said, “Joe knows what it is to be deeply wounded, bear the scars, and to live again to tell about it.”
Curiously, sometimes there are wounds that completely heal. It is likewise strange that somebody whom the world might regard as a failure bears wounds that may lead to another’s wholeness. Maybe the way that any of us get healed is through wounded healers. It’s difficult to be helped by someone who hasn’t been there, like some Docetist deity who has no scars.
A line of graffiti found on the wall of a New York subway reads: “God is alive – He just doesn’t get involved.” According to the Christian faith, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Christ has risen, conquering death. Yet the Risen Christ still bears nail prints in his hands as a sign that the one who is risen is also the one who was crucified. Only a crucified, wounded and scarred God can help.
We’ve all got our scars, some visible, some invisible. Some scars are more visible with age, some fade with the passage of time. The One who has called us here today, the Risen One, our Savior, also has scars to prove his love for us.
If we don’t know him, like Thomas; if we are not quite sure that we believe; he will graciously show us his scars. He will show them so that “you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). He will show all his wounds, for there is a lesson in the scars. Amen.