April 28, 2019: "Scars"
April 28, 2019 Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN
Isaiah 53:1-5 (NKJV) & John 20:19-31 (NRSV)
Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
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.”
You’re here the Sunday after Easter. I’m certain there will be extra stars in your heavenly crown. While others are still in their pajamas, eating what remains of their chocolate bunnies, you’re here. The devout. The serious Christians. (OK, not really. But it’s fun to think of ourselves that way, isn’t it?)
In the “business” this is one of two Sundays we call “Low” Sunday due to traditionally low attendance. (Don’t get any ideas for next year!) The other “Low” Sunday is the Sunday after Christmas, as you might imagine.
I actually like Sundays like today. After the large Easter crowds, it’s mostly us “home” folks. Some churches over the past few years have resurrected an old tradition called “Bright” Sunday, more commonly called “Holy Humor” Sunday these days. After the glory of Easter Sunday, Holy Humor Sunday celebrates the joy of Easter with silliness and merriment and joke-telling and all manner of goofiness. I think we may try that next year. (Except you guys are goofy all year! J
Whatever we may do next year, let’s enjoy this more intimate gathering today. It’s fitting—the gathering of disciples we read about in John 20 appears to be an intimate gathering. It is Sunday evening, exactly one week since Mary and Peter and John discover an empty tomb. One week exactly since Mary encounters the risen Lord. In John’s telling of the story, she’s it. No one else seems to have seen the resurrected Jesus. She tells them about it, but it seems they don’t really believe her—either that or they don’t grasp this good news in a way that changes their behavior. We know this, because John is intentional to tell us that the disciples are still in hiding. “The doors were locked for fear,” John narrates.
The disciples are there together, hiding out in fear, when John tells us, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” Jesus shows them his scars. But Thomas isn’t there. So when the other disciples tell him, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas replies, “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.” Thomas gets a bad rap throughout Christian history, but I appreciate Thomas. This idea of a resurrected Jesus doesn’t exactly square with the scientific method. Thomas obviously doesn’t believe the woman. He doesn’t believe the men either.
Another week passes, and although the doors are shut, Jesus comes and stands among the intimate gathering of disciples once again. And once again, Jesus shows them his scars. This time, he invites Thomas to touch his scars—the symbols of his suffering.
When I have taught this story in the past, I have focused on Thomas—on doubt and belief and the fine line that separates the two. But this morning I am drawn to Jesus and his scars—his willingness to reveal his scars—the intimate invitation to Thomas to touch his scars.
This is powerful imagery. You see, I’ve got scars. You’ve got scars too. If you’re human you have scars. Do you have a belly button? Your belly button is a scar, created by the severing of the umbilical cord connecting you to your mother. We’ve all got scars.
Have you ever noticed how willing people tend to be to talk about their scars? Most people enjoy talking about themselves and are often open to telling you about their scars. Every scar has a story, doesn’t it? What about your scars? What stories do they tell?
(I invited members of the congregation to stand up and tell a brief story about their scars. Three people shared; these are their stories.)
Tom Baur: I’ve got two back surgery scars—one from a regular surgeon and another from a neuro. It came from my first job answering phones in an answering service (I’m now 35 years into that job). A locker fell over and I caught it—messed my back up and I ended up in surgery. They sent me worker’s comp and that started my business.
Linda Silvonen: So the day before third grade I was riding on the back of my brother’s bike. And we were having a good ole’ time. Suddenly I screamed—my foot got caught in the spokes of the bike and chewed off a piece of skin. Miraculously I was able to walk home. I didn’t walk again for a week. I went to the hospital, they said there wasn’t anything they could do. I have it ‘till this day—still can’t touch it, still sensitive.
Eleni Anastos: I was (I think) in my late 20’s. I was petting the head of my brother’s dog, and he flew into my face and locked onto me—he was hanging from my face. I got 180 stitches. They had to put my lips back to my face and pull it together. The dog fell down from my face and I ended up with a gaping hole.
Me? Underneath this robe, I’ve got a few scars. My weirdest scar is from a cat scratch inside my right elbow. I was 5 years old; the cat needed to show me who was boss. (Spoiler alert: I was not the boss). My biggest scar—a story only appropriate for a more intimate crowd—is the scar from two C-sections. (One for the price of two.) During my first pregnancy I was very ill with pre-eclampsia. My son was born 7 weeks early weighing only 4 pounds 2 ounces. Not only that, but during the delivery I had a severe allergic reaction to the anesthesia. My breathing became strained. I looked up at my husband with fear in my eyes and barely squeaked out, “I can’t breathe.” Dear hubby looked back and me and said, “Oh, you’re fine.” Ha! Luckily the anesthesiologist realized I wasn’t fine and quickly gave me a million milligrams of Benadryl (or something like that) and I was soon breathing easy once again.
What about your scar? What interesting story does it tell?
Our scars are signs of our humanity. They’re often signs of trauma. Sometimes signs of lessons learned (like don’t pick on the cat or take anything with Ancef in it.)
As Jesus stood before a doubting Thomas, his scars told quite a story. On the literal level, his scars were reminders of his brutal torture and death at the hands of the Romans. His side, a testament to a sword piercing him. His hands and feet, reminders of the nails that held him to a wooden cross. His brow, witness to the humiliation of being forced to wear a mock crown of thorns.
Jesus’ scars represent so much more than his brutal death and humiliation. They remind us that Jesus was the suffering servant we read about in Isaiah 53. The scars point us toward belief in a God that knows pain and sorrow.
One unique contribution of Christianity among the panoply of world religions is the redemption of human suffering. Jesus’ scars are a testament to this truth. “By his stripes we are healed,” the prophet proclaims in Isaiah 53:5. Let that sink in for a moment. “By his stripes we are healed.” God identifies with our suffering—and in our suffering we join Jesus in his. Not only do we join Jesus in his suffering, we join the suffering of all people within the universal Body of Christ.
The natural outflow of this participation in Jesus’ suffering, in being invited to look at and even touch his scars, is to manifest the same compassion that compelled Jesus to subject himself to the suffering he endured. The Suffering Servant—that’s the model for how we, his followers, are to be.
In Father Henri Nouwen’s classic book, The Wounded Healer, he recounts a story he read in the Talmud, an ancient text containing Jewish laws and legends:
Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet . . . He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?” Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.” “Where is he?” “Sitting at the gates of the city.” “How shall I know him?” “He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’”
The subtitle to The Wounded Healer is this: “In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.”
You’ve got scars. Perhaps you’re covered with wounds. Jesus understands.
“By His stripes we are healed.” By our stripes we must heal the world, lest Christ’s stripes be in vain. Let us go and be salve to the wounded world we encounter this week and beyond.
 Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 1979, p. 81-82.