Monday, April 13, 2015

The beauty of scars

My sermon for this week was based on John 20:19-31.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

There is something I have always found moving about Thomas, and for that matter all the Disciples that were gathered in the upper room after Jesus' crucifixion, and before they came to believe in the resurrection.

I should pause for a moment for a PSA and say that I and every other Christian should always bristle at the Biblical use of the term "the Jews" in this Gospel passage.  I think if the discipline of Biblical Studies has taught us anything, "the Jews" actually refers to a zealous and vocal minority of people who were agitators leading to Jesus' execution.  It is not fair or just to indict an entire race of people in perpetuity for the actions of these people, who did not represent the vast majority of their countrymen and women 2000 years ago.  I say this simply because despite its Jewish roots, many quarters of Christianity has harboured an anti-Semitic bias that realistically has no place in the church and in civilized culture.

PSA over.

OK, so back to Thomas and the Disciples.  Try to imagine, if you will, the mood in the room that day.  Try to imagine the cocktail of emotions that must have been brewing.  First of all, deep sadness at the loss of their best friend and teacher, deep confusion at the loss of their Messianic hope, deep shame at the fact they all bailed on him at the 11th hour, and deep fear at the fact that they might be captured any moment and suffer the same fate as him.

In short, whereas several days earlier they had been celebrating the Passover, it must have seemed to them that Yahweh utterly failed to pass over them.

And into the midst of this sorrow, shame, misery and fear, Jesus somehow appears to them in a room that was supposed to be locked.

How that happened, no one knows.  Personally, I don't think it much matters.  What is important, I think, is what the Disciples do.  They look at his scars, the marks he still bore from the nails and the spear that pierced his side.

Now, here is a useless and academic question: why did Jesus have these marks?  Notice that they are not called scars, flesh which has healed.  If we think about the physics of the Resurrection, if Jesus could pass from a state of death (non-alive tissue) BACK to life (alive tissue), then why couldn't and why weren't his marks healed in the process?  If he could do something or have something done to him that was so wonderful and miraculous, why couldn't and why would he still bear the unhealed marks of his crucifixion?

Like I said, a useless question.  We are dealing with the miraculous here, and no laws therefore apply.

But to me it is telling that Jesus, who probably could have returned in a state of physical perfection and beauty returned instead bearing the marks of his experience.

And the Disciples saw (and Thomas even touched) them.

Jesus showed his marks to Thomas and the Disciples to prove his identity.  Thomas and the Disciples looked to the marks as a way to confirm that Jesus was who he said he was.  His face, hair, clothing, voice, not any other characteristic of Jesus identified him.  But his marks did.

This is very moving to me, because once again I think it is a call to accept one another for who we are.

It goes without saying that every single human being has experienced pain, physical, emotional or psychological.  Each and every one of us bears the marks of those experiences in some way.  Some of these marks are clear for all to see, and others are not.  But we bear them either way.

The funny thing about human nature is that many of us are awkward and uncomfortable about those marks, even though we all bear them.  We are uncomfortable about our own marks, and those of others.

Despite the ubiquity of this experience, we still have trouble accepting ourselves for our marks and scars.  This is why I am so touched by the reaction of the Disciples.  Rather than turn away from those marks, the marks that realistically they must have felt at least somewhat responsible for, they gazed on them, accepted them, Thomas even touched them, and they loved Jesus for them.

Can we not try to love ourselves and one another not only despite our marks and scars, but because of them?

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