Like most loved ones of murder victims, the disciples withdrew behind locked doors. They had witnessed someone they loved, Jesus, wrongly arrested, horribly tortured and crucified. They no doubt felt guilty for abandoning and denying Jesus, in his time of need. They sat behind locked doors, wounded by shame, in fear of the Jewish leadership, worried they were next to be killed.
So when Jesus appears in spite of those locked doors, he finds a traumatized group. Jesus doesn’t berate them or judge them. His first words are “Peace I give to you.” In fact Jesus offers peace three times in our passage. The scarred Jesus brings wholeness, well-being, completeness and security to his hurting disciples. He then issues them their marching orders: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The scarred Jesus breathes on them, giving them Holy Spirit. With this breath of peace, Jesus commissions them to engage in a ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus chooses scarred people, not perfect people, to continue his work.
One person was missing from this amazing encounter, the disciple Thomas. Thomas is the disciple who spoke up when Jesus decided to go to Bethany where Lazarus his friend had died. “Yes, let’s go there that we might die with him” Thomas declared. Thomas unlike the others, didn’t need convincing that Jesus would die. But once Jesus was dead, Thomas clung to that fact. Thomas needed to be convinced that Jesus was indeed, alive. I must see his scars, Thomas insists. So Jesus returns, a week later, goes to Thomas, and invites Thomas to touch the scars. Thomas responds with that powerful exclamation of faith, “my Lord and my God!”
Our text makes it clear: the resurrected Christ is identified by his scars. Thomas had it right. Thomas knew the nail prints Jesus bears, the wound in his side, would forever mark the Risen Jesus. Resurrection does not mean that scars go away – but that life continues in spite of them. Scars remain even if pain subsides and life goes on. Scars heal, but scars can also heal, if we follow the example of Jesus. Jesus does not hide his scars. He let himself be known by his scars. Jesus says, if you want to find me, look to your scars. Look to the scars in those around you. You will find me in the scars of the world.
That’s a tall order. Who likes to face their hurts? My husband Forrest has helped me understand the sacredness of scars. If you were to look closely at Forrest’s arms and hands, you would see his scars. Scars from a house fire that claimed his mother’s and sister’s life when he was just a baby. He clung to life for months. He bears these scars as a fact of life. He is not embarrassed by them nor does he draw attention to them. But these scars, and the life-long suffering they represent, have forever shaped Forrest to be the kind of loving, giving, sensitive man he is, respectful and gentle with the scars of others.
Not all fires are made of flames. Not all scars are visible to the eye. We carry most of our scars on the inside. Scars of mental or emotional pain. Traumas we have endured. Scars from rejection, or past failures, or hurts or conflicts that have or continue to sear us our minds, our spirit or our emotions. We ask: what good can come from our scars? We are trained to keep a stiff upper lip. Hold it in. Keep it secret. Keep it safe. Lock it all up. Yet, Jesus, the sinless one, did not hide his scars, but transformed them into sources of healing. Jesus now turns us into wounded healers-capable of bringing hope, forgiveness and wholeness into the world—scars and all.
There’s another ancient story that reminds us of the potency of scars. In The Odyssey, there is a scene that takes place towards the end of the story. Odysseus (o-dis-e-us) returns home after twenty years after the Trojan War and other delays. He is in disguise as an old man. At first no one recognizes him; not even his wife and child. One night before bed, Odysseus’ aged nurse bathes him. At first she thinks of him as a stranger, but then she recognizes scar from his infancy. It is through the scar that Odysseus is finally known. As Christians so it is with us. Will we let our scars heal, and be known by them?
Several years ago I was moved by rap artist Jefferson Bethke’s controversial poem on YouTube, “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus.” It has garnered close to 32 million views over four years, in addition to a lot of responses and spin-offs. There is one line of the poem that strikes a nerve: Bethke says “Church is not a museum for good people; it’s a hospital for the broken, which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin because it doesn’t depend on me, it depends on him.” What a concept – that us – Jesus’ church – is as scarred as he was! That the church is where we can freely encounter our wounds without judgment--with no shame--and find healing through our scarred, Risen Savior.
Our text reminds us today that Peace and forgiveness are possible because Jesus is able to reach us behind our locked hearts. Scars heal – and so we are called to listen and to action where there is hurt and pain. It has become well known in Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in at least 41 countries around the world: South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Bosnia, Canada are among some of them. It’s in part what the Black Lives Matter movement is striving to achieve. It happens in prison groups where survivors of crime and offenders are brought together for dialogue. It happens at coffee shops where estranged friends meet to talk things over. It happens in worship when we publicly confess our sin. Through it all we learn to hold each other’s scars as holy, we are touched and transformed by each other’s wounds – through the power of the Holy Spirit moving among us.
Legend tells us that Thomas, scarred and healed of his trauma, went forth to new lands to preach the Good News. He is thought to be the only Apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to share the gospel. It is said that Thomas crossed the largest area, even more than Paul, which includes the Parthian Empire, and is said to have brought the gospel to India.
This same scarred Jesus is calling us to new places, because scars heal. What shall we do? Shall we lock our scars away and through away the key? Shall we just continue to pretend we’re OK—when we know how much hurt we have borne? Or will we- like Thomas – let God use our scars and imperfections to heal and to bring forgiveness and peace to our hurting world?
The writer Ernest Hemingway once observed: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” So this is our Easter promise: that we can be strong at the broken places. In Christ, our scars heal. They enable us to enter locked hearts, to dismantle fear, to breathe peace, to forgive. Wounded healers, let us hold the scars of the world sacred, because that’s where Jesus is. Like Thomas may we gaze upon the brokenness around us, and see in it our savior’s face – and respond—“My Lord and my God!”