When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
I want to begin today showing you a video from ELCA World Hunger that offers insight into mental scars that are so much harder to see than the physically ones. Robyn is a veteran who carries the mental scars of his service, and whose pain drove him to attempt suicide. But God intervened and he found hope in faith, and a community that affirms his leadership, scars and all. The story of his pain is important to his witness, and it speaks to the hope of resurrection. https://vimeo.com/227819317
I found a loving God. I feel loved; I don’t always feel worthy, but I feel loved. Now that’s a powerful statement of faith for us all to take away from this story.
If you really want to know a person, ask them the story of their scars. Don’t do so lightly though because it is a highly personal question. But if they are ready to share and you are prepared to be invited into the truth about experiences of pain and fear, and if you are willing to make space for confession about how difficult—and sometimes incomplete—the process of healing can be, scars are a powerful way to learn the depths of another person’s story.
But no one likes scars. We like to hide them…cover them up. Scars serve to remind us of past hurts. But there is a difference between a scar and a wound.
- A wound still hurts.
- A wound may still be open and oozing some bodily fluid.
- A wound needs to be tended to–bandaged, sutured, stitched up, cleaned up or patched up.
- A wound needs to be healed.
Scars are the residue left when the wound has healed. They don’t hurt anymore, but they let us know where we’ve been hurt. Scars should largely be left alone; they’re where the wound has closed up.
The more we nurse our scars, the greater tendency we have to create new wounds. A scar doesn’t need to be healed, it’s the mark where healing took place. Our scars should be a badge of honor that we show so that someone will know what we’ve been through, that we’ve made it, and we’re healed.
That’s why I love the role that scars play in the scenes of Jesus’s encounter with his disciples after the Resurrection. Jesus’s scars are far more than his evidence that it is really him. His scars are also his evidence that he is not immune to the kind of pain that changes us forever. Even the Divine power of resurrection does not remove Jesus’s scars. He is forever changed by the experience of his crucifixion. He experienced the pain and fear of death. He knows torment and helplessness from the inside. The new life to which he is raised is a life that holds the record of all that he suffered.
The very existence of the scars in his resurrected body is a powerful revelation, but so is his attitude toward those scars. He very intentionally shows them to his disciples. It is as though he wants to emphasize this point of bodily connection. He may be able to walk through locked doors, but his life shares this unavoidable bond with theirs. It holds the record of pain. And later, when he appears again with Thomas present, he invites Thomas to touch the scars. It is an act of intimacy and openness. His experience has not taught him to be self-protective or guarded. It has created a bridge of shared vulnerability that allows us to draw near, even in doubt. This story offers us a powerful example of what happens when there is permission to acknowledge pain, rather than covering it up as though it were a source of shame or fear.
Jesus’s scars were an important element of his resurrected life; they bore witness that new life does not erase what came before but rather transforms it into a resource for faith. In the same way, the body of Christ in the church can create space for new life and hope when we create ways to acknowledge and talk about pain. When we witness to a Christ with scars on his hands and side, we communicate God’s welcome for the brokenness in our bodies and lives.
As I write this, a new study revealed that less than half of American households belong to a church community. This new milestone surely elicits different responses, but can it be surprising that the decline in Christianity has reached this threshold? Have we not, in some ways, moved from an era referred to as Christendom, in which the church was a dominant institution that assimilated to American culture, reveled in large membership, and adopted an increasing corporate model to an era of near isolation and insulation, in which we have largely removed ourselves from the world as partners with Christ in realizing the kin-dom of God on earth as it is in heaven? The church is called to be in the world, but not of it, but has done the opposite, affirming the values and norms of the dominant culture at the same time retreating from being the hands, feet, voice, and heart of God in the world—the Body of Christ.
That body bears scars—marks of the wounds inflicted upon a revolutionary messenger of love, abundance, and peace. That body enters into locked and barricaded spaces and takes a stand. That body was both glorious and bruised. In his resurrected body, Jesus was recognizable but changed. Resurrection involves transformation, even for the Christ, but that resurrected body maintained the marks of what Jesus had been subjected to and endured. His body was scarred.
Even that proclaims good news. Scars signal healing and repair. An initial reading of this passage seems to emphasize the scars as identifiers to confirm the news of Christ’s victory over death, but they point beyond that to indicators of new life.
Jesus does not protest but readily displays his scars and even invites Thomas to examine them. These are not active wounds, they are healed markers of where the wounding occurred but no longer exists.
In the church, we struggle with exposing our scars.
- We re-write the history of the crusades even as we condemn the actions of others who claim their violence in the name of a different religion.
- We gloss over the ways the church has been complicit in the oppression of human beings created in the diverse image of God throughout history through racist, sexist, homophobic, and zenophobic stances and theologies.
- We elevate politeness over the truth in confronting those who claim Christianity but walk in the opposite direction of Jesus.
Our scars remain wounds because we pursue a superficial notion of peace that avoids conflict, stifling the voices and needs of the oppressed in favor of the comfort of the privileged, rather than the healing that comes from the peace that Jesus offers.
Scars help to tell the story. Jesus enters into the pain and suffering of humanity. His wounds were real, but he was healed from them. We can enter into the healing and restoration of a resurrection life.
- Show your scars to dispel the shadows that shame often erects to keep us bound.
- Show your scars to participate in the healing of the world.
- Show your scars as an identifier and mark of your own resurrected life.
Coming up on about 8 yrs now that all changed for me when my life changed forever.
See I have physical scars from…playing with friends, bike wrecks, being chased by people, having bricks thrown at me, sports, sled riding, etc (an interesting childhood to say the least). I have more mental scars than I can count also and that’s a whole different message. But there is one physical scar that stands out above them all from 8 yrs ago when I had a similar story to Robyn’s but I took even further measures. Fortunately by the grace of God I, like Robyn, am able to stand here today because I survived.
A few months after my suicide attmept I was at a barber shop close by and was getting my head shaved. The barber noticed me growing out a beard and noticed my scar too. He asked me what made me want to start growing out a beard and I told him that I wanted to cover up my scar. He stopped cutting, looked me in the face and said: Don’t cover up your scars, they show you’ve been through hell and survived.
I don’t tell you that to feel sorry for me if you haven’t heard my story before, but I tell you this story because I want us to be open about our scars. See them as a sign that healing began after the pain of what made that wound in the first place. We are more than our appearances, our attitudes, our language, our identified sex…we are Children of God with a soul that makes this world a more complete place.
Jesus made this world a more complete place by bearing his scars so others would have hope in this world. Well our world can seem dark at times too, so let’s show our scars to show others there’s hope in our stories that, like Jesus, we have been through hell AND SURVIVED!