Date: Sunday April 6th, 1997
NT Text: John 20:19-31
Sermon Title: Scars that Heal
Scars that heal
A Graffiti that can be found in a New York Subway says, "God is alive - He just doesn't want to get involved." Sometimes, in the midst of our less desirable human experiences we wonder if God is at all interested in our pain and despair. Sometimes it seems that God really does not want to get involved when we suffer.
Last Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin. Today I want to contemplate with you one of the stories of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples. From this story we will learn that the risen Christ still bears nailprints in his hands and feet. His scars are a sign that the Christ who is risen from the dead is the same person who suffered and was crucified. This God, who bears the marks of suffering on his own body is the God who is infinitely interested in our condition. It is because he has scars, that he can also understand and heal our pain.
Its fascinating how some world events bring some interesting discussion topics to our dinner tables, isn’t it!? Recently, when the tragic suicide of the Heavens Gate Cult members hit the news, the topic of false prophets came into discussion in our home. Our daughter Karis made a profound theological observation when she said: "If someone comes to me and says 'I am Jesus Christ!', I would say to that person 'Show me your nailprints.'"
We are reminded of Thomas, who considered the story of Christ's resurrection as nothing other than hearsay, until he saw the marks of his suffering. The God who saves is also the God who suffers.
Let us read from the Gospel of John 20:19-31:
Jesus comes and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you,”... he shows them his hands and his side. The risen Christ slips through the closed doors and appears before his disheartened disciples. He speaks to them, as he had spoken so often before, saying, "Peace." Only when He showed them his hands and his side they knew Him…, and they rejoiced.
Thomas showed up a little later. He wasn't with the other disciples for the Easter appearance. The other disciples told him of the risen Christ, but he would not believe, "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, the risen Christ again surprises the disciples. Thomas is there and Jesus grants him his wish, "Put your finger here," and "Do not doubt but believe."
It seems to me that we are often a bit hard on "doubting" Thomas, as if we had reason to question the strength of his faith. However, when Jesus entered the room that evening he did not rebuke Thomas for his doubts. Rather, he ministered to him, offering his wounds as proof to heal his doubts.
Jesus addresses the doubts of the frightened disciples, showing them his scars so that they might believe that the mysterious one who stands before them is the one whom they had followed and loved.
The three days that Christ spent in the realm of the dead did not change His character. When he entered the room where they were gathered, He showed them the same compassion that they had come to expect of the Jesus they knew from before.
The risen Christ has scars; nailprints in his hands and feet. The gospel accounts differ in some of the details about the exact appearance of the risen Christ. Yet, they all are concerned to connect the risen Christ with the Jesus who suffered. The risen Christ has scars.
In this passage we see a definite connection between the glorified risen Christ and the Christ who suffered. The risen Christ has scars. Being raised from the dead did not erase his scars. The Christ of Easter bears the scars of Good Friday. Thomas recognized him as risen only by touching his scars. Easter, the stunning triumph of God, the great victory over death and defeat, does not erase the scars.
The risen Christ has just moved from death to life, has come forth from the tomb triumphant. In his exalted form, the disciples mistook him for a ghost according to Luke 24:37. It was only when he showed them his scars that they knew him. When Thomas says, "I won't believe that it's Jesus unless I can poke my fingers into the nailprints in his hands", he isn’t simply expressing some stubborn cynicism. Thomas is saying, "I won't believe that it's Jesus, unless I touch his scars… because Jesus has wounds." The disciples knew their Master, because the Jesus whom they loved did not hover above the heartache of the world; he embraced the pain, he touched the agony and the sorrow, he lived where we live, he died as we must die.
In the time of the Early Church there was a heresy named Docetism (Greek: doceo: appear, seem). This heresy maintained that Christ, the Son of God, did not really suffer on the cross, that he did not really live as we must live on this earth. He only appeared to suffer, only appeared to be human.
No! the early Church said. Jesus was God, but he was fully human. The divinely risen Christ has human scars. Only a wounded God can save. First Peter goes so far as to say, "by his wounds you have been healed" (1Peter 2:24).
The risen Christ, the Christ after Easter, still has scars. Easter did not overcome all of that. Thomas reminds us that the God who can heal our scars is Himself the Wounded Healer. The event of the cross did not become undone with Easter. The sin of the world was not fixed. The injustice was not erased.
Let us explore for a moment the significance of the scars of the risen Christ. We believe that Easter is God's decisive defeat of death. The final battle has been won. Yet, for those of us who still live in a world where pain and death is a reality, the risen Christ comes to us, shows us his scars, has compassion upon us, and even shows us a way to turn our scars into opportunities to minister to others around us who are hurting.
To be able to do this, we must look at our attitudes toward those who are in pain. Sometimes we have strange expectations of our fellow Christians. In our attitudes toward others we seem to imply that, "If you are a Christian, a real Christian, you will always feel Joy and Peace in your heart." But the fact is that some people feel great sadness, even if they are Christians. We wonder what is wrong with them. Is their faith not yet firm? How come that person can’t just simply get over it and go on with their life and faith?
Before we become judgmental we must look at ourselves. The reality is that we all carry our scars with us. Some of us are really good at hiding them. But we all have them. Someone may have been abused as a child, or gone through a devastating experience that shook the foundations of his or her faith. Our Christian faith has brought us much joy, yes, but still we bear the scars of our experiences.
To be human is to have scar tissue inside and out. You and I have scars, human as we are. I have a scar that I earned in my teen years when, going on a Sunday afternoon drive with my family, we were broadsided by a reckless driver. For three weeks I was flat in bed to nurse my broken bones back to health. I can still feel the bumps of scar tissue in my back, just centimeters away from the spine, as a tangible reminder of the day I could have become a paraplegic or even died, but didn't.
I recently read a story by William Willimon, that gave some profound meaning to the scars that we carry with us in life. "We've got this kid, first-year student, in the Chapel Choir", he writes. "I had mentioned something in a sermon about how I believe that we are 'marked' by God for life, for some good thing. The student's mother happened to be in the congregation that morning. After the service, she came up to me pushing her sheepish son toward me." "This one's marked," she said. Marked? He grinned.
"Nearly lost him during the first six weeks of his life. They had him in Duke Hospital putting the oxygen to him as the little thing hung between life and death. I prayed to God the whole time. Told God that, if he lived, I would dedicate him to God. He's got a scar to this day on his heal where they fed him those six weeks in the hospital. Right on his heel. I look upon that scar as God's mark. When he was a little boy, I'd point to that scar on his heel and say, 'See that? It's a sign that God's got plans for you. You've been saved, set apart by God.' He's got the scar to prove it. He's a gift."
You and I bear the scars of our painful experiences. They may not all be scars that we can touch with our hands and see with our eyes - but we have scars that shape our lives, and which God intends to use to set us apart for his good purposes.
It’s interesting how we seem to have a need to tell others about our scars. For example, I know very few men who don’t like to invoke the sympathy of others by “whining” about their high school football injuries that flare up every time the weather changes. And most women have their own stories that they like to share - we won’t get into the juicy details…
Why do we tell these stories? Is it just to wallow again in self-pity for some bad thing that has afflicted us? I think not! I think we tell our stories so that we will be known for who we are. "You will know me now by my scars ", we seem to say, even as Thomas knew the risen Christ by his scars". We are known by our scars.
And I believe there is also a deeper meaning behind our stories. We seem to suggest that our common human experience entitles us to offer compassion and understanding to others. As we look up to Christ, our Wounded Healer, our own wounds can be transformed into agents of healing for others. Like Christ, we can minister with understanding and tact because we know what pain feels like, and we have the scars to prove it. We know what the weight of sin and guilt feels like. We know what it feels like to be alone… We know the heartbreak that comes with a broken relationship… The helplessness in the face of death… We can relate… And through our scars we can offer healing to those who despair.
We have got our scars, some invisible, some more visible with age. The One who has called us here this day, our Savior, the Risen One, also has scars to prove his love to us. If you don't know him, like Thomas, if you aren't sure that you believe, he'll graciously show you his scars "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).
The risen Christ bore nailprints in his hands. That's how they knew that the mysterious one who stood before them was none other than Jesus. Thomas touched his scars. The Christian faith does not deny the pain, the reality of the wounds, the existence of the scars. Rather, our faith enables us to go on, in the Name of Christ, even with our wounds and our scars, to touch the lives of those who say in despair, “God is alive! - He just doesn’t want to get involved.” As those who have seen and experienced the healing scars of the risen Christ, we are invited to get involved and to bring God’s healing into the world.
Prayer: Lord, comfort those who experience the weight of this world in their lives; the sick, the hungry, the lonely and those who hurt. Through your healing scars set us free from our doubts; and help us to minister to others in a practical way. Show us how, and give us strength, tact, and compassion. Teach us to love and give us courage to suffer with our brothers and sisters in distress. For in so doing, we share with you in the suffering of the world, for we are your body on earth and you work through us.