Bearing the scars?

Text: John 20:19,20
Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.


  All of us have scars and I would say that everyone at some time has taken great delight telling others how they got a particular scar. I once made the mistake in a kids’ talk asking them if they had any scars. The talk was hijacked by the kids as they gave graphic details how they got certain scars and delighted in showing them to everyone else. Sometimes when visiting folk in hospital it’s not unusual for a patient to want to show you a scar. Sometimes there is just a bit too much information as the covers are rolled back and the story is related about ‘the scar’.

Often a scar is there for a life time. It is a reminder of what happened the day we received that injury, the pain, the blood, the visit to the doctor and the stitches. A scar can remind us of an operation, an injury and our foolishness that caused it.

Some of us have scars that are not visible on the outside. We have been scarred in our hearts, and these scars remind us of certain hurts and times in our lives that we would prefer to forget. They are even more hurtful than those on the outside of our body.

The story is told of a little boy whose mother let him out of the car under a big tree and told him she would return but never did.

This man is now middle aged. One day a friend was to meet him for lunch. He arrived 15 minutes late and found his friend in a state of high agitation, pacing about, perspiring heavily, visibly upset. It seemed a little bit of an over-reaction since his friend was only 15 minutes late.

Later he said to his friend, “I know why I get so bent out of shape when someone is late but I just can’t help it. My mother kept me waiting under a tree all afternoon. And she never, ever returned. I just can’t stand it when someone I care for is late”.

He was no longer a kid but the scars that he received early in his life still affected him badly. I’m sure that all of us recognise certain inner scars that we carry. I quote, “We are very much largely shaped by others, who, in an almost frightening way, hold our destiny in their hands. We are, each of us, the product of those who have loved us or refused to love us (John Powell, Why Am I Afraid to Love?). And how true! We hear stories every so often of people who have been treated children badly in their early years and how this has scarred them for life. Most psychological scars are acquired in the first seven years of our life, and inflamed by circumstances occurring later in life. This scarring can lead to bazaar behaviour later in life. The point is that to be human is to have scars. And scars are the result of sin in one way or another.

In today’s gospel reading, the risen Christ appears in a room that is locked tight and shows himself to his despondent disciples. He spoke to them, as he had spoken so often before, saying “Peace.” But they don’t recognise that this is really Jesus. In fact, Luke reports that when the disciples first see Jesus, “They were terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost.” Luke goes on. Jesus says, “Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself. Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can see I have (Luke 24:37-39). Luke describes Jesus eating with the disciples, something not done by ghosts. There can be no doubt about it – Jesus is standing there in the room in the flesh. He is genuine human being. They saw, they touched and they believed.

John says the same thing in our Gospel reading to day, “He showed them his hands and his side (John 20: 20). He showed them his scars and then, only then, when they saw, they rejoiced.

Thomas shows up a little later. He wasn’t with the other disciples for the Easter appearance. The other disciples tell him of the risen Christ, but Thomas says, “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” (John 20:25). Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Thomas. He isn’t just being obstinate. He is going through the same concerns as the other disciples had. In effect he is saying, “I can’t believe that it’s Jesus unless I touch his scars because the Jesus I know was nailed to a cross and has wounds in his hands and feet.” Thomas is finding it hard to believe the report of his friends that they had seen Jesus – the same Jesus whom he knew to be dead.

A week later, the risen Christ again surprises the disciples. Thomas is there this time and Jesus obliges, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put in into my side,” says the risen Christ, “Stop doubting, and believe” (John 20:37) Thomas and the other disciples believe when they see Jesus’ scars. It seems that the gospel writers are deliberately making a connection between belief in the risen Christ and the scars of Christ. You see, the risen Christ could have erased the scars that he received from the nails and spear, not to mention the scars from the terrible whips that tortured his body. In fact, we would expect that the risen Christ would have the perfect body and no scars.
But the risen Christ has scars.
This person appearing before them is the very same Jesus they love and who died on the cross.
The scars on his body make it quite clear who this person is. It is by these scars that Jesus was recognised and the disciples were overjoyed.

There is a story about Odysseus near the end of the book The Odyssey (written by Homer about 8th century BC) when Odysseus finally returns home after being away for a long time. He has heard that there were certain men who were very fond of his wife and wanted to find out how faithful she was to her husband. He disguises himself disguised as an old beggar; nobody recognises him at home, including his own wife and son. That night just before bed the elderly nurse, who cared for him as a child, bathes him. She thinks she is merely bathing an old stranger who visits for the night. But while bathing him, she recognises a scar on Odysseus’ leg, the same scar she remembers from his infancy. She didn’t recognise him until she saw the scar.

Jesus tells us to look at his hands and feet, reach out and put our hand in his side, to see his scars, and to believe and be filled with joy. The scars on Jesus’ body give us several messages.

Early in the history of the Christian Church, there were those who claimed that Jesus didn’t really suffer on the cross, didn’t really live as we must live on this earth. He only appeared to suffer; only appeared to be human. It was unthinkable that the Son of God could have lowered himself to such a degree.

No! The church said. Jesus was God and he was fully human. The divinely risen Christ bore human scars. Only a wounded God can save. The first letter of Peter goes so far as to say, “by his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet 2:24).

Scars are part of our life as humans. Jesus received scars because he was truly human. Even after the resurrection we must still say he is truly human. As we heard from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was keen on demonstrating to his disciples that he wasn’t a ghost or an invention of their imagination. He told them to look at his hands and feet and said, “Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones (and we might add: holes in my hands and feet where I was pierced by nails), as you see I have (Luke 24:39). Christ was truly human, even after the resurrection.

Jesus makes a point of showing his scars both to the disciples on Easter Day and a week later in the presence of Thomas. The risen Christ wants to show that the resurrection doesn’t make the cross meaningless. There is an interconnectedness between the cross and the empty tomb. There are some Christians who only want to know the glorified and risen Jesus. They know he died on a cross but that isn’t relevant now because he is alive again. Their image of Christ is a Christ in glory with his raised in blessing over the church and the world. The scars are there but they are hardly noticeable on the king with a golden crown and royal robes.

The post resurrection appearances highlight that the resurrected Christ is the one who died for us. He wants us to always keep before us that even though he has been raised the fact remains that he suffered and died, receiving horrible scars because of our sin.

That is why churches have crucifixes on their altars. As we look at the figure of Christ with nails through his hands and feet we are reminded what wounds he suffered for us, for our sinfulness. His scars remind us of the forgiveness won for us on the cross.

As we gaze at the wounds of the resurrected Christ we realise that here we have someone who knows what it means to suffer. Here is a person who has not removed himself to a high and mighty place in heaven and no longer feels for those who are hurting. He is our Saviour who hurts when we are hurting, who agonises with us in our pain, and sympathises with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). As we suffer scars of pain and hurt in our lives, we know we have a Saviour who knows what it is like to bear the scars of suffering.

The scars on the body of the resurrected Christ tell us that even though we share in the new life in Christ, our scars are still with us. When a young woman became a Christian she told, “If you are a Christian, a real Christian, you will always feel joy and peace in your heart. Jesus heals all of our sicknesses and overcomes all of our hurts.” But she felt a great sadness, even after becoming a Christian. She had been abused as a child. Yes, her Christian faith brought her much joy, but she still carried the scars.

So did the risen Christ. Even Jesus who had conquered death still bore the scars of his suffering. And I would suppose that when Jesus ascended to heaven, he still carried those marks of the nails with him. We carry scars physical, emotional and even spiritual. The way we carry those scars and bear them through our life will show to others the faith that we have and witness to others that the resurrected Lord is very real to us. Jesus’ scars bore witness to the fact that he had been crucified on a cross and that he was alive and very real to his disciples, and likewise our scars are to bear witness to the power of Jesus in our lives.

As we celebrate Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead, today we are reminded to look at his hands and feet. May we also gaze on those scars and be overjoyed that Christ suffered those wounds for us and rose again as the victor over sin and death. He has shown us his scars “that (we) might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing (we) may have life in his name” (John 20:21).

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