John 20:19-31 “Beautiful Scars”
You may know that I enjoy reading fiction novels. I got lucky in that I had gone to my local library a day or two before it closed, and I had also seen some friends’ recommendations for some good books and got some really good ones that are helping me relax at the end of the day in some good stories. And one novel I recently finished is Circe, and it is the story from the perspective of that Greek goddess, I guess technically a nymph. I really never learned in depth about those mythologies so I learned a little along the way. Please note just in case you don’t know I am not trying to tell you want kind of book to read or not read and I certainly don’t ascribe to Greek mythology myself, this is pure entertainment for me. Anyway one detail that popped up through the story was that the mortal men that Circe loved, all had scars. And she admired their scars, for they told a story. As a goddess and immortal, anything that happened to her physically eventually was repaired completely and left no mark. She was always left, unscathed, perfect, whole, no matter what happened. In the author’s imagination Circe was drawn to those mortal markings- scars, for they tell a story, a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Something happened, something left a wound- then with time the wound then healed, and now the person goes on, alive, to tell the story of how they got that scar, she found beauty in those scars.
I have a big scar on my left shin. I like telling the story because I saw my bone, I like seeing people’s faces when they are amazed or maybe grossed out. I was 12 or so and I fell. But the story is more interesting because that moment I fell my mom and I were about to go to an airport and go see family in Florida. We stopped by the emergency room, since you could see the bone she wanted to make sure nothing was broken, no it was just a bad scrape. So we caught our flight still and went to Florida, and since I got to be in a wheelchair when we went to Disneyworld we got to skip the line for some of the rides. So, silver lining. That’s the story behind the scar on my leg.
In this gospel story we hear about Jesus’ scars. How Thomas says that unless he sees the ones on Jesus’ hands, and touches his side, he will not believe. Now Thomas gets a bad rap, he gets labeled doubting Thomas. But first remember, what an unbelievable story this is. The one they all saw die, terribly and painfully die- no one survives a crucifixion- that he is alive again? Also remember that the other disciples didn’t believe Mary at first either. She told them she had seen the Lord, and what did they do, hide. They had also already seen what Thomas asked for, to see those scars on his hands and his side.
But then, when they are still a week later behind a locked door- Jesus comes again, and this time Thomas is there too- and Jesus shows him those scars. Yes I am the very same one they crucified, yes I am the very same one who told you that this was all going to happen to me yes I am the very same one, now I am alive again, now I am healed, these scars tell the story. All they did to me did not end me, there is life beyond all of that, God shows through me that I am the righteous one, the chosen one, here I am, alive.
And Thomas proclaims his faith, Thomas worships right then and there- my Lord and my God! It is true. It wasn’t wishful thinking on the part of his friends or a fairy tale or gossip. Jesus truly was alive, standing in front of him, scars and all. He had done it. He had taken the worst the world could give, had loved with a never-failing love that could absorb all of that evil, and had risen from the dead to be able to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. Alive. With the scars to tell the story. These are beautiful scars for the story they tell is an amazing wonderful story- Jesus really was God in the flesh all along, and God has done this, God has shown this amazing love in such a strong way- what we do to harm, God transforms into life, into a Spirit that sends and Peace to overcome their fear and the power to forgive. These are Beautiful scars, faith-inspiring scars, that make Thomas proclaim with a shout his faith and his worship, his allegiance to Jesus.
Friends you know we are living through this pandemic, and it is hurting us all, wounding us all. Some as we know are physically dying or ill, we remember them before God and we think of all who are mourning at this time. For those of us not infected however, our wounds aren’t the physical kind. It’s missing people, missing normalcy. Hearing about the suffering of others all around us, hearing the stories of health care workers who aren’t provided with the equipment they need to feel safe, the ways in which peoples’ lives have been valued less than profit, of the long lines at food banks and so many people unemployed. The general anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen or even when the stay at home order will be lifted. These are the kinds of wounds that mostly don’t leave a physical mark. They do hurt but they won’t leave a visible scar. These are wounds that are emotional, psychological, and yes spiritual.
I want to tell you the story of another mark on my body. It is a mark I chose because of something that I went through that did not leave a scar, but did affect me. I had a miscarriage in 2013. I had a very short time to know I was pregnant, to get used to the idea and start to love the beginning of a new life inside of me, when all of a sudden that life was over. There was no way, looking at me, to even know I had been pregnant. I grieved that tiny, short- lived bud of a life. I wanted some way to remember her, to always carry her with me, and yes I knew she was a she even though there’s no medical way to know. So I got a tattoo, this tattoo here on my right forearm. So I could tell the story.
And yes that was a painful time for me. I felt guilty and I blamed myself and I went deeper into depression, I grieved. But I had my other children, I had my husband, later I would add another daughter, and yes this calling to ministry. I had many reasons to live and have joy. I went to therapy, I talked to my colleagues. And this wound of my soul has healed, but not like a Greek goddess’ where there is no mark, but with a change in me. I still do not forget that little short lived bud of a life. What I went through is part of who I am today.
I am telling you this as a way to talk about what we are going through now- it is a collective grief, it is a collective psychological wound, societal anxiety, pain and loss. In some ways that makes it easier to bear and in some ways it makes it harder, because when we want to turn to someone to help us that person might be suffering in a way at the same time and not able to listen the way we need.
But as people of faith we know something- when Jesus was crucified, he went through the physical pain but he went through the psychological ,emotional, spiritual pain as well- we hear him cry out on the cross as proof. And he came back physically healed but healed in those other ways too. There was pure life and love and joy in him. He comes to his disciples and does not start blaming them for their part or plotting vengeance on those who crucified him, he breathes on them a holy breath – even as from April 2020 we want to say, hey Jesus be careful where’s your facemask! But he didn’t have to worry about coronavirus remember this is 2000 years ago, he blows on them a holy spirit, he says peace be with you- so right this is one way we don’t want to literally imitate Jesus right now, blowing on people! But what he gave with the Holy Spirit was that peace, based in his Israelite understanding of shalom which is wellness in body mind spirit and relationships with each other and relationship with God- complete well-being- that kind of shalom, peace, be with you- He has it first, to be able to give it to them as they are cowering in fear behind their locked doors he says this-and it takes them awhile. in John it isn’t immediate but they do come out from their locked doors and they do start proclaiming this Son of God who has changed everything and brings life- for those who have seen and those who haven’t- and blessing besides. The end of this passage tells it to us, they kept telling these stories, because they know that these stories bring life, so they wrote them down for us, so- we can hear these things about what God can do, and have life in Jesus’ name.
I am telling you this because the healing we need today and over the next several months, is the healing that Christ has given to us, shown us, that God can do it. The power of God’s love can heal us, and sometimes even transforms our pain into blessing. There is a verse from Isaiah some Christians quote a lot saying by “his stripes we are healed,” and I don’t often quote it in the same way because I think it can be taken out of context and misunderstood. But as I reflected for today I thought I glimpsed a new level of truth there- by the beautiful scars that tell the story that there is a beginning, middle and end, that Christ has already gone through it all, we can be healed, we can have hope- even if now we are just at the beginning or maybe the middle of this pandemic , we can trust that there will be an end. And that God will bring us peace, even now when we are worrying and grieving, because Christ is risen and showed his beautiful scars we can trust that there will be a time beyond this time. That God’s way is to do this, is to love us right through all the hard parts, to take whatever is evil and harmful and transform it, we can trust that God can do that now, too. Yes we might all need some therapy, yes we might all need some group processing that is good and helpful, those things help. We might feel that the healing of the invisible wounds is a long way off. But in the meantime we can hold on to this story: Jesus went through it all and came out on the other side. The very same one they crucified came to be alive again, and then his followers collected these stories so that we might know, so that we might have life in his name- with all of our beautiful scars, the visible ones and the invisible ones, too. We will be changed from living through this time. But we can heal and bear the scars of how we have been changed, and tell the story of how God worked through it all, we know that because of what Thomas asked to see- those beautiful scars on Resurrected Jesus. Amen!