Gazing on glorious scars

April 15, 2018

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Preached by Canon Sue Wallace using John 20:19-31, at Eucharist on Sunday 15th April 2018, the Third Sunday of Easter.

I have a scar on my left leg. It is rather a large scar, two inches in length and an inch across, with what looks like six scarry insect legs sticking out of it. Over the years it has faded to blend more with the surrounding leg muscle and hides in the inner thigh, and I am grateful that it is in a place where no-one normally sees it, but when it was young it was angry, red and much nearer my knee. I got it when I was four years old. I was learning to ride a bike and my dad set up a slalom course from bamboo in the back garden. Seeing footage of the athletics on TV I decided that I could use these bamboo poles as hurdles and run and jump over them, but one day I missed, hit a pole, grazed my leg, and it healed with a small piece of wood inside.

Weeks later we went to the hospital and they did a rather ugly job of removing the wood and stitching my leg, hence the scar, especially as the original wound was tiny. But the scar and the story behind the scar have become part of my story and part of me.

In todays gospel we hear a very famous story of scars and the showing of scars, and this too has become part of my story. Jesus greets his disciples and the first thing he does is to show them his hands and his side. Yet Thomas misses this great occasion. Thomas is elsewhere.

We don’t know where Thomas was or why he wasn’t with the other disciples, but I, for one, have always been grateful that Thomas wasn’t there. We often call him doubting Thomas, which seems rather unfair really, because we could just as easily call him, sensible Thomas, or not-easily-fooled Thomas. I love Thomas because he speaks the words that virtually any of us would speak if someone came up to us and declared that one of our friends had recently risen up from the grave. We would want to see the evidence because it is a widely accepted belief that once someone has been dead and buried for a day or two, that they are not going to suddenly resuscitate themselves. Thomas’

words and his sensible nature make him a reliable witness, one who was so utterly convinced that Christ was alive that he eventually toured India spreading the gospel, ultimately giving up his life for his belief that Jesus was alive. There are many churches in India that say they were founded by that same Thomas on his missionary travels.

 

We have also to remember that this wasn’t an easy death. This isn’t something akin to the potion that Juliet drank in Romeo and Juliet, faking death so that she could sleep and rise again.

 

Jesus was tortured by being whipped mercilessly, and his death was not an act of fainting. Analyses of his cause of death vary from massive blood loss, to asphyxiation, to a literally broken heart, a massive cardiac rupture. His side was pierced by a spear and out flowed blood and water. The presence of blood was expected, and the water, some medics say, was a massive fluid buildup around the heart and lungs visible in victims of torture, moreover his skin had been shredded. These injuries were not the kind of injuries someone simply recovers from. Jesus was dead.

 

Yet in this gospel Jesus is reappearing to the disciples in the room as a physical touchable human who breathes his breath upon the disciples.  He is not carried in on a stretcher as a victim of torture, being taken to a quiet corner, and slowly nursed back to health. Neither is he appearing as if nothing had happened; for he shows his scars. When I was a small child, and I too had a big scar I was comforted by that fact. Jesus has scars, and now so do I. Yet a glorious and risen Christ did not need to have visible scars, so I wonder why he still chose to bear them?

 

I had wondered if perhaps the reason Jesus showed his scars was simply because he was answering Thomas’ challenge “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.” However this could not be the case because he showed his scars to the other disciples before Thomas said these words.

I had also wondered if he was using the scars as a means of identification. “I am not simply someone who looks like Jesus. I am not an imposter, for I bear the scars of the crucifixion.”

 

Another explanation might be that Jesus chooses to bear the scars as marks of his love, and badges of his triumph upon the cross. As Wesley wrote in the hymn “Lo he comes” inspired by a text of John Cennick.  “Those dear tokens of His passion

Still His dazzling body bears; With what rapture, gaze we on those glorious scars!”

 

I think this is true, but I wonder if there is another reason. Let us wind back the clock once more to this moment of Christ’s appearing to the disciples. “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”

 

“Peace be with you”

“Shalom aleichem” .

 

Shalom in Hebrew does not just mean peace. It also means wellbeing, harmony, wholeness, completeness, safety in mind body and estate.

 

Thus it is that Christ stands with his scarred arms outstretched and greets his disciples saying “Wholeness now be with you. Completeness now be with you, wellbeing be with you.” as he is showing us his scars. And in this act, it seems to me, he is doing two things: He is promising us completeness and wholeness through his sacrifice, but he is also redefining what completeness and wholeness look like. He is whole and perfect and yet chooses to bear scars. Thus it is that our wholeness and perfection can also include our scars – and our past injuries and heartbreaks can also be a means of bringing health and healing to others. It stands proudly and utterly against the images of bodily perfection peddled in the glossy airbrushed magazines, but it also proudly and utterly proclaims hope: Hope in the face of death – but also hope for the transformation of our very woundedness by his passion and death.

 

And so, as we mentally gaze upon his glorious scars, let us offer him our scars too; our visible scars, but also our hidden ones, those heartbreaks and disappointments that are hidden deep inside us,  and instead of us reaching our and touching Christ’s wounds, let us invite him to touch our wounds with his Spirit and transform them with his resurrection message of peace. “Shalom aleichem. Peace be with you.” Amen.