Ruth Hetland, the pastor of First Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, shared the following story that appeared in Living Lutheran magazine: “My mother had heart surgery nine years ago. At first she tired to find blouses with high neck lines to conceal the top of the long scar that began at the bottom of her throat, but over time she stopped doing that. Now she proudly wears blouses with the top button undone. Her scar peeking out for the world to see. She says she doesn’t mind who sees it because it tells a story of something she had been through, a tale she lived to tell.”
I can totally relate to what Ruth’s Mom is saying. When I was seven years old, I had an emergency appendectomy. In those days they didn’t tape you together and send you home like they do now. They made a big incision across my abdomen took out my appendix, sowed me up, wrapped a binder around my waist, and made me stay in a hospital bed for about a week. Needless to say, it was no picnic, especially for a seven year old.
As I got older and became a teenager, I was very self-conscious about that scar. I always tried to pick bathing suits that would hide it. Well, one day, I decided enough was enough. I wanted to get a Speedo like the rest of my friends. For whatever reason, I didn’t care anymore if the scar showed. I began to see it as a badge of honor. It meant that I was a survivor. And, so, I went to the store picked out a skimpy little Speedo and wore it with a smile!! My appendix scar is a symbol of something I survived, a tale I lived to tell. It’s a promise that God wasn’t finished with me yet but had an exciting future in store for me.
How about you? Do you have any scars? I’m sure that if we polled everyone in the room most of us would have a scar somewhere on our bodies and a story to go along with it. Do you try to cover that scar up? Is it a source of shame? Something to hide? Or have you come to see it as a badge of honor? A sign that you are a survivor? A promise that God isn’t finished with you yet but has an exciting future in store for you?
Most of us carry scars on our bodies. But if we take this line of thinking a step further, all of us have scars on our insides. All of us carry in our hearts the scars that live has given us, the ones that others cannot easily see. These scars come from love lost, from tragedy experienced, from abuse endured, as well as those left by our own failures and bad choices. We all carry these internal scars and usually try our best to cover them up. Some people try to cover them up by putting on a cheerful disposition. They smile. They laugh easily. But the hurt still festers slightly under the surface, trying desperately to get out.
Some people try to cover them up with alcohol and drugs, hoping to numb the pain. But in the process, they numb everything else as well. Some people try to cover them up by withdrawing from others and putting up big emotional walls around themselves. They hope these walls will stop more scars from forming in their lives. However, they also keep the good things from entering as well.
Could it be that we are wisest when we learn to see all of our scars, both inside and out, as powerful stories of what we have been through, tales we have lived to tell? Could it be that a part of our healing is to be able to show the scars we have acquired and say, “See these scars? They say something about me, about who I really am. I wear them as a badge of honor. They have given me wisdom and insight about life and about God. I have grown because of these scars. I have come to see them as a sign that I am a survivor. I have a story to tell that you need to hear.”
This brings us to our gospel lesson for today. It’s the familiar story of Jesus post-resurrection appearance to the disciples and then, later, to Thomas. Most sermons we hear on this text focus on the so-called doubting Thomas. They center on the issue of faith and the importance of not seeing but believing anyway.
Today I would like us to encounter this story in a new way. I’d like us to see it as a scar story which tells us a great deal about the role of scars in the lives of those who follow Jesus. So let’s jump into the text! John tells us that “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’. After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” [Jn 20:19-20]
As we hear this detail for a second time, notice that the disciples don’t really know it is Jesus until they see his scars, the marks of his crucifixion. Luke drives this point home loud and clear. He says that when Jesus appeared before the disciples “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. [Lk 24:37-40]
I would like to suggest this morning that Jesus knew it was only by showing his scars that he could prove it was really him. His resurrected form was not enough. His scars were his identity. His story to tell. “See my scars” he said to the bewildered disciples “Look at my hands and feet and side and know that it is really me!” It is then, and only then, that the disciples rejoiced and knew that it was their Lord standing before them. Jesus’ scars were an inseparable part of his person. They told his story in a way that nothing else could.
A few verses later in John’s gospel we see a similar pattern emerge: A week later Jesus’ disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” [Jn 20:26-28]
Do you see the pattern? Thomas was only asking for the same thing that the other disciples had experienced. The resurrected form of Jesus was not enough. It was only when Thomas saw Jesus’ scars that he could exclaim “My Lord and my God!” Jesus’ scars were his identity, his story to tell. And as he revealed them to the disciples they knew for certain it was their Lord who was standing before them. Jesus’ scars were an inseparable part of his person. They told his story in a way that nothing else could.
Friends in Christ, truth be told, we are all walking wounded. We carry on our bodies and in our souls the scars that life has inflicted on us. As we wear these scars, we have a choice will we try to hide them and live in a secret place of pain and suffering? OR will we find a way to show our scars and speak about our wounds in a way that can bring hope and healing to others? Like Jesus, our scars are our identity, our story to tell. They are an inseparable part of our person. They tell our story in a way that nothing else can.
So, Friends in Christ, let us be brave enough to let our scars show. May God use them as a source of healing in the lives of others. AMEN.
Copyright ©2017 David Eck