Sermon preached May 1, 2011 at Temple Lutheran Church. Based on John 20:19-31.
Been thinking about scars this week. We all have scars. Every one of us. Every scar brings with it a story, and those stories become a part of who we are. Every single one of us is scarred from the moment we are born. Each one of us carries at least one scar so universal that we consider it a body part: a belly button. A reminder that, even in the moment of birth, we had to adjust to a whole new reality. A whole new life during which we will pick up more scars along the way.
Each scar comes with a story. We could probably spend the rest of the day telling, and listening to, the stories that have left us with scars.
Some of the stories make us laugh as we look back. They make us laugh at our own foolishness. If I lose my hair, I will surely have to explain to people the 2.5-inch scar that barely remains hidden today on the top of my forehead. They will hear a story about a group of 19-year old males (so many scar stories probably begin with such a group!), and all the wonderful ideas we came up with to entertain ourselves. In fact, when we put our minds together, we always managed to come up with even dumber ideas.
One of those ideas was a game we called “Izzy Dizzy”. You’ve probably seen or played this game at some point. It involves standing a baseball bat up and bending over, placing your forehead on the top of the bat and spinning around the bat as many times as you can. When you stop spinning, you then try to walk a straight line.
We came up with the great idea that this was a game we should play in our dormitory hallway. Our dormitory was like a big brick shoebox with a hallway straight up the middle with doorways on both sides every few feet. We decided to place a pile of matresses in the hallway with one matress standing on end like a wall in front of them. We wanted to see who could spin around the bat and then proceed down the hall and jump over the wall and land in the luxourious pile of soft matresses.
Of course, I got to go first.
I bent down, spun around the bat as many times as I could. I started up the hallway, leaning on the wall until my shoulder bumped into a doorway. I stopped and focused on the matresses, which were right in front of me. So I positioned myself and leapt with all my might.
As soon as my feet left the floor, the whole world spun. The matresses flew away in one direction, and into my path came the concrete and steel doorway that I had just bumped into. I bumped into again, much harder and head first.
We laughed all the way to the emergency room as the others described to me what they witnessed, which was that I bumped into the doorway, stared at it, and then jumped as hard as I could straight into it.
Some of the stories make us laugh. Some of the stories are routine and mundane. I spent my college years working in food service collecting scars almost weekly—from burns, knives, and industrial fans to go with the hockey stick scars I collected on my brow.
Some of the stories that come with the scars we carry remind us every day why we call them “scars”. Some of the stories go back to the darkest moments we’ve experienced. Some of the stories we would never laugh at or forget. Some of the stories we don’t want to remember or re-open. They’re stories we wish had never happened. Even though scars are proof that we have survived–that our bodies have been mended–they still leave us forever marked, reminding us that there are things that irreversibly change us.
And the scars that mark our skin are really just the first layer of scars. They barely scratch the surface, don’t they? Because it’s not just physical scars that we carry through life. Often, the scars that hurt us the most are the ones we can’t point to on our elbow or forehead.
As we gather together this morning, we gather around a story about scars. We hear the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples. A story that particularly draws attention to Thomas and his desire, or perhaps need, to see the scars.
I imagine it’s pretty natural for each of us to relate to Thomas and the doubts he had. I suspect that the reason Thomas is included in the story is because his story reflects a piece of our own story. The Bible never refers to Thomas as a doubter. Thomas is always called “the twin”, although we never hear about the other twin (the brother or sister). Some of the other siblings among the disciples get mentioned, but not this time. It’s been suggested that Thomas is called “the twin” because he is our twin; that Thomas resembles our own struggle to believe. I find that possibility very encouraging and interesting.
As I thought about the story of Thomas this week and prayed, it occurred to me that Thomas would not have struggled with the idea that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas was there just a few pages earlier in the story when Jesus told the disciples that his friend Lazarus had died. It was Thomas that told the other disciples to go with Jesus to Lazarus’ tomb. Thomas wouldn’t have struggled with resurrection because he saw Lazarus come out of the tomb. Thomas did not need to see that Jesus was risen. What Thomas needed to see was the scars. Thomas needed to see where the nails marked Jesus’ hands. Thomas needed to see where the spear pierced Jesus’ side.
It would be reasonable to think this was simply because Thomas wanted proof that this was really Jesus. Maybe so. But I suspect that there was something more that Thomas was seeking. He needed to see the scars, touch them even. Because the good news of Easter was not simply that Jesus was alive, but that the scars were real. The scars tell the story of Jesus. They are permanent reminders of what had happened. Thomas needs to see the scars because we need to see the scars and know that they are real.
Because of Thomas, we are reminded that God has scars. God has scars just like us. Scars that, even after the resurrection, take us right back to that darkest moment and the reality that Jesus suffered the unthinkable.
The gospel of John tells us that the word of God is not a book. The gospel of John begins by telling us that the word of God became flesh and lived among us. The word of God entered into our skin, even the parts with scars.
God has scars, just like you. God knows every one of your scars, and every detail of every story behind them: the funny ones, the boring ones, and the ones that hurt more every day. In Jesus, God has come into our skin. God bears every one of our scars with us. It’s why we are invited, again and again, to this table to receive the presence of Jesus broken for us, poured out for us. God dwelt in our too-easily-scarred skin, so that we could be nourished as we continue to heal.
Our scars do serve as a sign of healing. They are proof that our bodies can mend themselves. But they are also complicated lingering reminders that we have been irreversibly changed. And God doesn’t take away those scars. Instead, we hear the words of Jesus. We hear the words of God in our skin. We hear the words of God with scars: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus sends us, scars and all, to be the hands and feet of God in the world today. We are the wounded hands and feet of Jesus.
And our scars may be just what the world needs to see. The world doesn’t need people who have it all figured out to tell them how to live and what to believe. The world needs to see scars that look just like theirs and feel just like theirs. The world needs to meet wounded broken people who have encountered a wounded broken God who has made possible a love that is unbreakable and goes beyond every scar’s damage.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus sends us, scars and all. And there is no length that Jesus not already gone to meet you in the midst of your scars. Jesus is already there. Jesus already bears the same scars, and invites you to come and see, come and touch, come and believe.
It is in the scars of the living Christ that we meet the depth of God’s love for us.
It is in the scars of the living Christ that we meet the word of God in our skin.
It is in the scars of the living Christ that God meets us right where we are. Even the parts of ourselves that we try so hard to keep hidden.
It is in the scars of the living Christ that we meet the good news of the Gospel. Amen.