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Sermon: Still Wounded

April 11, 2010

John 20:19-31

I know a lot of people who are embarrassed by the scars on their bodies, and many do their best to hide those marks beneath makeup or clothing.  Some of the scars are from accidents.  Some are from surgeries.  Some are from skin diseases.  One woman bears a scar from the removal of a tattoo.  Even though the tattoo is gone, the scar is a reminder of a time in that woman’s life when she made a series of rash decisions that ended in a painful and failed relationship.  She fears that her scar is like a neon sign that tells the world about her former foolishness.  Since the tattoo had been on the inside of her forearm, whenever she goes out, she puts on long sleeves.  Even when she is home alone, she doesn’t like to look at it.  The memories are too difficult.

The worst scars, however, are usually emotional.  They can’t be covered up with clothing or makeup.  They have been etched into the psyche, and the smallest thing, the slightest reminder, could trigger an agonizing memory.  People in the world can’t see them, but those who bear deep emotional scars are very aware of their presence.  But whether the scars are inside or out, I don’t know many people who enjoy having them, or who want others to see them.

Given this normal human reaction to our scars, it might just be significant that in our scripture lesson today Jesus invited his disciples to look at his scars, to touch them.  The risen Christ, on the evening of his resurrection, showed his friends where the nails had pierced his hands.  He showed them where the soldier’s spear had been thrust into his side.  And, interestingly enough, it was only after they saw his wounds that the disciples recognized him as Jesus.  They didn’t rejoice when he stood in the room with them.  They didn’t rejoice when he said “Peace be with you.”  They rejoiced when Jesus said, “Here look at these holes.  And here, look at this ragged wound in my side.”  Jesus was known to them by his wounds.

One disciple, Thomas, wasn’t there when Jesus appeared with the others.  And they said to him, “Hey, we saw Jesus!”  But Thomas didn’t believe it.  He had heard Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus that morning, but as you know, all the disciples thought that was an idle tale.  They said to Thomas, “We saw Jesus.”

Thomas said, “That seems pretty strange to me.  I won’t believe it until I can put my fingers into the marks of the nails in his hands, and until I can put my hand through the hole in his side.  Until I see that, I can’t believe it.”

This is the reason, of course, why Thomas gets the uncharitable moniker “Doubting Thomas.”  Before he makes up his mind, Thomas only wants the same opportunity given to the rest of the disciples—to see the physical body of Jesus, complete with his wounds.  The other disciples, remember, only rejoice at the presence of Jesus after he had spoken to them and showed him his hands and his side.  Instead of “Doubting Thomas,” we should call him “Wise Thomas,” for thinking critically about his faith, for seeking a deeper understanding and for not blindly following the crowd.  My hope is that each of you exercise that faith with such wisdom…except of course that you should always unquestioningly believe everything your pastor says.

A week after that first appearance of Jesus to the disciples minus Thomas—a week after Easter—Thomas and the others were in that same room together.  Jesus appeared again.  One moment they were all standing around together and then the next moment they realized that Jesus was standing there, too.  That’s an interesting thing about the gospel according to John.  Only John makes such a big deal about the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  Only John is so concerned about the wounds in Jesus’ body.  This Jesus is not a ghost.  He is a real, resurrected human being.  But at the same time, John’s Jesus seems to simply come through locked doors without a problem.  This resurrected Jesus as seen through the eyes of John’s gospel is a strange amalgam of the physical and the supernatural.

Jesus was there in the room with the disciples and again he said, “Peace be with you.”  He turned right to Thomas and said, “Hey Thomas, come here.  Put your finger here in the mark in my hands.  Reach your hand into this hold in my side.  You no longer need to doubt.  You may believe.”

Again, Jesus was known by his wounds.  Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!”

And then John added a benediction—a beatitude, if you will—to all of those believers who came after Thomas, to every single believer for the last 2,000 years: “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  That’s you; that’s me.  We have not seen the hands and feet of a resurrected body of Jesus.  We have not put our hands in his side or watched him breathe on us and say “Peace be with you.”  Yet many of us have come to believe.  We do not believe blindly.  Each of us has reasons behind our belief, but we have come to believe without seeing.  Jesus says to us, “For that faith, you are blessed.”

*     *     *     *     *

Once upon a time, on a Sunday morning, a woman appeared in a pew of a church.  She had never attended that church before.  In fact, she had never attended any church since moving to this relatively small town six years ago.  Six years can be a long time, especially when you are going through a nasty divorce, as she was, and though the divorce had been final for more than a year, she was—her name was Gwen—Gwen was still much wounded from the ordeal.

Like most people who come to a church for the first time, she was looking for something.  Gwen had a deep ache in her heart whenever she thought of all the years wasted.  She was terribly afraid at the prospect of starting her life all over again, had no clue how she could make it on her own.  And she was lonely, terribly lonely.  Gwen had no children, no family nearby, and could not yet afford to move anywhere else.  So Gwen, feeling she had no other options and remembering one or two happy weeks at Vacation Bible School as a child, decided she might as well try church.

Something happened that morning.  As had happened with John Wesley, she felt her heart “strangely warmed” during the service.  She enjoyed the music.  She liked the way the liturgist proclaimed the scripture with firm confidence.  She found the sermon not at all distasteful because the preacher had a calm, fatherly presence.  Something unseen seemed to carry Gwen through worship that day.

It so happened that this church gave an altar call once a month—not just every fifth Sunday like the heathens do it—and the altar call was on that very day Gwen attended.  The preacher asked if there was anyone that would like to bring their wounded heart to Jesus, anyone who would like to turn over a new leaf and come to Jesus.  Then he sort of looked at Gwen, and she knew this was something she should do.  Gwen got up, on somewhat unsteady legs, and came down the aisle to kneel and receive a beautiful prayer with laying on of hands.

That moment seemed to fan a spark inside Gwen’s heart into a full-fledged brush fire, wild and uncontrollable.  She first started reading her Bible voraciously.  Each week she had several new questions about scripture for the pastor, and then when he encouraged her to see the adult Sunday School leader, she poured out her questions to him.  She joined the church, became involved in every activity she could find, and even seemed to relish serving on committees.  That last bit seemed a little odd to the more established members, but they were glad for the help.  Gwen seemed to come alive.  The change was remarkable.

Then, one Sunday about ten months later there was another altar call.  The pastor invited anyone, everyone, to come to Jesus.  Gwen again got up out of her pew—in four months, she had already acquired her own pew—and came forward.  Gwen kneeled at the rail and the pastor came close to her.  When he began to put his hand on her shoulder, she waved him away and stood up.  She turned and faced her new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Gwen said, “I don’t know how to say this, but I’m leaving the church.”  Everybody sort of perked their ears up at that one.  They knew that one of the members of the Trustees told a lot of off color jokes, but nobody had ever left the church over that before.  It must be something worse than that.

“I’m sorry,” she said again.  “I know you’ve been good to me, and I appreciate that, but this just isn’t working.  I came here for the first time, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart.  I asked Jesus to heal me, but…but it just isn’t working.  I’m still…I just can’t do it anymore.  I’m not healed, and I can’t pretend.”

Gwen walked back down the aisle of the church, taking her still broken heart with her, her loneliness and depression, her fear of the future—she took it all with her—and walked back out the door of the church never to return.

In her ten months in that church, she had met Jesus.  She heard and read a lot of the great stories.  She had heard the inspirational stories about change and hope.  In those ten months she had experienced a beautiful Christmas and a joyful Easter.  She had seen many faces of Jesus in those ten months, but she had never—never—met the Jesus who had wounds in his hands and a hole in his side.  She had never recognized Jesus by his wounds.

Not even Jesus got to be free of his wounds.  He sat up in the tomb with the light streaming in through the opening where the stone had been rolled away, he looked at his hands and said, “Hmm, what do you know.”  The risen Christ is also the wounded Christ.  The Jesus who experienced new life did not get to come back to perfection.  Even Jesus still had his wounds, and that is how his disciples knew it was really their friend.

Gwen expected that her wounds would disappear, that her new life with Jesus would be perfect.  And she never got to see that even Jesus still had his wounds.  If she had, she might have realized that a good life of faith, a whole and happy life, does not have to be wound-free, that mature Christians are not untouched bastions of purity and light.  We all bear our scars, and we don’t have to be ashamed of them.  We all follow the one who was wounded on our behalf, and who still carries the marks in his hands and the hole in his side.

If Gwen had ever met that Jesus, she might have had more patience, and she might have had more grace with herself.  But she expected her new life would make her look and feel more like the two men in dazzling clothes who stood watch at the tomb rather than the ragged and bloody Jesus who came out.

You are wounded.  I am wounded.  Jesus was wounded for us.

You are still wounded.  I am still wounded.  Jesus is still wounded.  But we are alive.  We are offered new life—not perfection, but resurrection.  That is the hope of our risen Lord, who comes to us, who calls us by name, and who says to us, “Peace be with you.”

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