Sermon Sunday 8th April Seeing Scars Martin Baker
Over the last two months we’ve been following through on the stories from the Gospel of John:
The Word Becoming Flesh
Signs and Wonders
Jesus washing the feet of his disciples
The crucifixion and resurrection
This is the last story – the word which became flesh is injured and scarred. And Jesus appears to the disciples.
The story today is almost like the launching pad, the beginning of the story going from a small trouble group in Jerusalem. To going out now into the whole world. With the words: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
19 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." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained."
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "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."
26 A week later his 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." 27 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." 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 come to believe."
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
I don’t know how the conversation came up a week or two ago. I was speaking to Annemarie and Lynette perhaps and we were just talking about the stupid things we did as kids.
My list was longer than others. But I remember putting my finger in to a pencil sharpener to see what would happen. And another time with one of those keys from a sardine can and shoving it through the bars into the heater.
Every year apparently emergency services in colder climates are called to free people’s tongues from frozen windscreens and door handles.
Has anyone here done anything really silly like that?
We usually remember those things don’t we? You may have noticed that I don’t look at you very directly sometimes. My right eye was damaged when my genius brothers were testing out a new crossbow that they had just made.
If we went around now and asked to see each other’s scars and injuries. I imagine we would have a lot of stories to tell. It would be a different way of getting to know one another.
I remember breaking an ankle falling down a hill. And a few days later going to the supermarket on crutches and realising how difficult it was to get things off the shelves. And an elderly lady came up to me and asked if she could help.
There is something powerful in that isn’t there. Being aware of another in that way.
And if we were then to talk about the scars we carry that no one sees, the hurts that perhaps every one of us carries, we would understand each other in quite a different kind of way.
Defining features. Scars. Injuries.
Most of the time we go to great lengths to hide our scars and injuries. We might see them as disfiguring or unattractive or they may speak of our vulnerability perhaps. But our story today is the opposite.
Today we hear this extraordinary reading about Thomas recognising the risen Jesus after he sees Jesus’s scars.
Two big claims. We identify Jesus by his scars. Scars inflicted by acts grounded in fear, hate corruption injustice.
And the other big claim is that we identify with Jesus by our scars. Do our scars and injuries end in death or is there a hope beyond their power? The resurrection hope that brings us to a different way of seeing our injuries and scars? The power of forgiveness and new life? Is our God distant and far away, or does God know what it’s like? Both personal and sovereign.
God revealed in scars and injury.
Jesus revealing a scared and injured God.
For centuries in Christian thinking there was the doctrine known as ‘divine apatheia’. That God was without passion, utterly passive, apathetic almost. The view held was that because God is divine and perfect God could not be seen as suffering.
It is only in the last 100 years of scholarship and thinking, and almost only since the experiences of the Great War and World War 2. Biblical scholars and theologians reflected on how both wars related to the actions of what were called Christian nations who claimed that God was on their side.
Experience of suffering and deep reflection bought an understanding that God in Jesus stands most closely not with any grand claim by a Christian nation, but that God in Jesus stands most closely with all who suffer.
Only a suffering God can help us, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said. God as ‘The fellow-sufferer who understands', said another post war theologian.
Jesus present at those most awful places of suffering and loss.
So let’s keep some of those affirmations in mind as we go back to the start of our reading today.
Jesus comes and stands among those frightened disciples locked away in a house somewhere.
Peace be with you – first thing Jesus says.
There isn’t some great glorious triumphant sun blazing out of the clouds. There isn’t a voice of condemnation or anger or even disappointment.
Peace be with you. Jesus says.
What could that mean? In this room. Door locked. And Jesus appears and says peace with you.
But Jesus has said these words before. Again and again if you read back. They are repeated in enough times and enough places for us to know that Jesus saying peace be with you is something very very important. In fact the importance of peace is affirmed in almost 100 different places in our new testament.
These words are foundational words. Our church, our community, our being, together are founded on these first words. Peace be with you.
Let’s remember back a few days ago just before the trial and execution as Jesus was eating his last meal with his disciples Jesus said,
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”
This morning the proclamation of Jesus been raised is still very fresh. Some have seen Jesus, others haven’t. There must have been grief mixed with guilt, with betrayal, with the danger still posed by who executed Jesus. All this mix of horror and adulation. What do you do? What do you do in the midst of all that?
These words of Jesus come at a point where no one is sure what to think or do or say. So these are words, peace be with you, that ground a community. That provide foundational words for a community that is very vulnerable.
And then we have Thomas recognising Jesus when he sees his scars.
Jesus 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." 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 come to believe."
Despite all the paintings and images the story doesn’t actually tell us that Thomas touched Jesus hands or put his hand in his side. What we do know is that Jesus invited him to do so. Put your finger here, reach out your hand. And he confessed my Lord and my God. So maybe the invitation was enough.
Recognising Jesus in the scars.
This is the story of faith. We can follow the progression. Living in fear and uncertainty. Not seeing so we don’t believe, believing not when we see Jesus but when we see his scars. Hearing his invitation reach out and touch. Confessing My Lord and My God. And then being told blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
We are also known by our scars. This is what we share with Jesus – how we can know him.
When you have sat with other people who have lost or suffered and survived. Our scars tell not only of our own injury but they also tell of our humanity our vulnerability and about our suffering and our triumphs and our courage and the marks and experiences that make us unique as people.
Show me your scars. And though we joke about these things we know also that the scars inflicted upon us and the scars that we have inflicted on others can be the things that leave us fearful and bitter and angry.
Before his execution we stood with those who inflicted scars and injuries on God’s son and today we are invited to stand with the resurrected Jesus loved forgiven and freed to live life in a different kind of way.
The story this morning. The most important thing is that it doesn’t stay in the locked room with the fearful dispels. We can’t stay in that locked room with all our fear and our doubts with all the talk of injury and suffering.
The story is all about moving from that place.
As the father has sent me so I send you. Jesus says. Receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says later blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. And finally we are told, that these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and through believing you may have life in his name.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.