Scars and Spirit

Apostles Anglican Church

Fr. John A. Roop

The Second Sunday of Easter:  Scars and Spirit

(Isaiah 26:1-9, 19 / Psalm 111 / 1 John 5:1-5 / John 20:19-31)

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation:  Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

When I was thirteen, I was stabbed.  It was all in good fun, of course, an accident really.  But, I ended up in the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta nonetheless, bleeding profusely.  And I did get my first stitches, and my first real scar.  It has faded through the decades, and I can barely find it now myself.  Honestly, I miss it just a little bit.  When I was younger and people saw it and asked about it, I got to tell my story:  when I was thirteen, I was stabbed

I have other scars:  one on my right hand from reconstructive surgery following an accident in a karate demonstration, one on the opposite arm from another minor surgery.  There are other scars that you can’t see, scars left by careless and hurtful words and deeds and slights inflicted unintentionally by those who have otherwise loved me well, and some scars caused just by the rough edges of life.  You know the kind I mean, don’t you?  We all have them.

Our scars are part of our story.  For most us — thanks be to God — they are not the heart of our story; they lie on the periphery of it.  And one day, in the new heavens and the new earth, they will be old tales long forgotten, faded entirely:

1 Corinthians 15:53 (ESV): 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 

I suppose our scars will be erased in the eschaton.  I think there will be only one set of human scars left in the end, only one set of scars retained unto the ages of ages:

John 20:19–21 (ESV): 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Jesus showed them his hands and his side; he showed them his scars.  Why in the world — why, from this world to the next — would Jesus retain his scars?  Surely, it was not just for identification.  The disciples had been with him for three years.  They knew his voice as sheep know the shepherd’s voice.  They knew his mannerisms as Cleopas knew him in the breaking of bread.  No, it’s not just a matter of identification.  As for us, so for Jesus:  his scars are his story.  But his scars are not on the periphery of the story; no, his scars are his story, and not his story only, but the story of redemption for us all.  Look deeply enough at those scars and they tell the story of the Lamb of God slain from before the foundations of the world (cf Rev 13:8).  Look deeply enough at those scars and they tell the story of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the one and the only one worthy to open the scroll of God’s will for the unfolding of past, present, and future, the Lion standing as the lamb slain and risen (cf Rev 5:5-6).  Look deeply enough at those scars and they tell the story of the divine love that obtains among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and that overflows to create, redeem, and sanctify a world.  His scars are his story, the full story, the only story worth telling.

John 20:19b–20a (ESV): Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. 

What a juxtaposition:  peace and scars.  But it had to be this way.  Our society — some in our society — call out, “No justice, no peace.”   And that is fitting and right as far as it goes.  But the Gospel cries out the fuller truth:  no scars, no peace.  Isaiah glimpsed it from afar:

Isaiah 53:4–5 (ESV): 4  Surely he has borne our griefs 

and carried our sorrows; 

  yet we esteemed him stricken, 

smitten by God, and afflicted. 

 5  But he was pierced for our transgressions; 

he was crushed for our iniquities; 

  upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, 

and with his wounds we are healed. 

His chastisement, our peace:  Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  And how could they be sure that his greeting was not mere words, mere lip service to shalom?  How could they be sure that the peace had finally been won?  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  With his wounds we are healed.  This is the story, the story of their people told by Isaiah, the story that no one really understood until this moment when it was standing right in front of them, the story written not with pen on parchment but with nails and spear on human flesh.  His scars are the story:  the long and winding story of man created in the image of God; of man fallen from glory through his own fault and through the devil’s deception; of sin multiplied and judged in flood waters; of a covenant made and a people formed; of Israel delivered from slavery; of conquest and kingdom and exile; of the Messiah’s incarnation, life, death, burial, and resurrection; of God’s unrelenting and indomitable purpose to redeem and renew his creation and to have a holy people for himself in and through his Son.  It’s all there in the scars.  And his scars drew them — and his scars draw us — into the story.

John 20:21–23 (ESV): 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 

Jesus breathed on them, a strange thing to do until we remember the intimate connection between breath and Spirit and life:

Genesis 2:7 (ESV): 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

In this upper room we are witnessing a new creation story:  God the Son breathing into his new creations the very breath of life — the Holy Spirit — making them for the first time fully living creatures, born again, born from above.  And then, like Adam being told to work and to keep the garden, these brand new men are told to work and to keep the world, to proclaim the peace of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of man to God through the scars of Jesus.  I do not know if St. Paul had this moment in mind when he penned these words, but well he might have had:

2 Corinthians 5:17–21 (ESV): 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

And we should have this moment in mind when, at the end of the Eucharist, we pray:

And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do,

to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.

We should have this moment in mind when we are sent into the world with the deacon’s words ringing in our ears:  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Go in peace because of his scars.  Proclaim peace — do the work you have been given to do — because he has breathed on you his Holy Spirit.

This is an ordination of sorts, a conferring of priestly grace upon the twelve and their successors, their commissioning for the particular work they have been given to do:  to forgive sins and, in some rare cases, to retain sins — an awe-filled responsibility in either case.  Soon, the Spirit will blow throughout the whole Church, the newly created body of Christ, on Pentecost, empowering all and entrusting to all the ministry of reconciliation.  But, this day it is the twelve, or, more precisely, ten of the twelve.  One is lost, and one is absent.

Thomas wasn’t with the disciples on the evening of that day; he did not see Jesus with them.  But his response to their report is telling:

Unless I see him feed the five thousand; unless I see him heal a blind man; unless I see him walk on water; unless, unless, unless:  no, none of this.

John 20:25 (ESV): But [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 

It’s the scars that Thomas insists on seeing, which means it’s the scars the others have told him about, the scars that made all the difference in the world to them.  And it is the scars that Jesus shows Thomas eight days later:

John 20:26–29 (ESV): 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

And there it is again, Jesus’ blessing of peace and his showing of his scars.  In the economy of God, peace and scars belong together.

Why was Thomas absent on the evening of the first day?  Gregory the Great insists it was for us:

It was not an accident that that particular disciple was not present. The divine mercy ordained that a doubting disciple should, by feeling in his Master the wounds of the flesh, heal in us the wounds of unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas is more profitable to our faith than the belief of the other disciples. For the touch by which he is brought to believe confirms our minds in belief, beyond all question (Forty Gospel Homilies, 26).

The scars were not just for the twelve, but for all who have not seen, that they might yet believe — for us, that we might believe.  John says as much in his commentary that immediately follows the upper room narrative:

John 20:29–31 (ESV): Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 

Many other signs, before and likely after the resurrection:  but these are written, John says — certainly meaning the seven signs that form the heart of his gospel — these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  But John also certainly has his eyes — his mind and heart — on the scars as he writes this, for they were the sign through which he and the twelve believed and understood all other signs.  The scars were the sign of peace.

It is still the scars which define the kerygma, the church’s proclamation of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.  It is still the Spirit who speaks in and through that proclamation, who empowers it, who makes it effective unto faith and repentance and rebirth.  The proclamation of a scarred God may at first seem foolish, but it the very power of God unto salvation.  That’s what Paul believed:

1 Corinthians 2:1–5 (ESV): 1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 

There is, I suppose, in every age and in every culture the temptation to recast the Gospel in the spirit of the age, to make it palatable to the norms and aspirations of the culture, to make it either prop up the status quo or else to kick out its supports by providing political remedies for the ills of society:  the prosperity gospel, the liberation gospel, the social gospel, the national gospel, the all-inclusive gospel.  But there is a fatal flaw in all these pseudo-gospels; none requires a God with scars, and that is how we can know they are false.  The true Gospel, Paul reminds us, is Jesus Christ and him crucified.  The true Gospel is known by scars and is in-breathed by the Spirit.

And, if the message of the Gospel is a God with scars, then that message is made plausible by messengers with scars.  Paul did not proclaim the Gospel from a position of power.  He did not employ eloquent rhetoric nor appeal to earthly wisdom.  His boast was weakness, fear, and trembling.  His qualification was the Spirit.  His credentials were the marks of Jesus that he bore on his body, the scars of the lash and the rod and the stones.  We serve a scarred Christ who himself told us:

Luke 9:23b–24 (ESV): 23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” 

It is difficult to imagine carrying the cross without incurring some scars, scars inflicted by offering forgiveness to those who have hurt us, by loving our enemies and praying for them, by turning the other cheek to those who strike out at us, by giving to those who ask from us, by putting the welfare of others before our own and the needs of others before our rights, by losing job and goods and position and liberty and even life if need be, by proclaiming the foolish Gospel of a scarred God before a scoffing world.  Yes, there may be — there almost certainly will be — scars:  as with Jesus, so with us.  “Peace be with you,” our Lord says.  “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (cf John 20:21).  Our scars, incurred for God’s sake, make our proclamation of a scarred God plausible.

This seems a strange Eastertide message, doesn’t it?  We want to hear about the empty tomb, about the risen and glorified Christ, and here I am talking of scars.  I have only two justifications.  First, I didn’t pick the lectionary texts, did I?  Nor did I assign myself to preach today.  Blame the ACNA Liturgy Task Force for the lectionary and Fr. Jack for the preaching assignment.  Second, his scars are precisely what the risen and glorified Christ wanted to talk about, wanted to show his disciples on the very day of resurrection and afterward.  And that makes his scars a central part of our proclamation always and everywhere, even in — perhaps especially in — Eastertide.

Theologians ponder the properties of God’s nature:  his omnipotence, his omniscience, his omnipresence, and the like.  And all these are explicitly or implicitly present in Scripture; all are integral to God’s self-revelation.  But, when Jesus — God incarnate — wanted to show us his character, he spread out his hands and showed us his scars.  When Jesus wanted to send us out into the world, knowing that in the world we would incur scars for his name’s sake, he breathed on us his Holy Spirit.  We worship and proclaim a scarred God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that makes all the difference.  

Let us pray.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the Cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
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