St. James the Less #88
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. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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."
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." 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!" 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."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
There are a lot of curious things about the Easter story. If the resurrection isn’t enough, there are also angels clad in garments as bright as lightning and women being given the most important news of all time in a male dominated society.
But one of the other bizarre aspects of this story is Jesus’ resurrected body. In some ways his identity is hidden and yet still recognizable when he calls a person by name. He still eats fish and yet he can appear in a room without having to open the door. He is physically present, you could shake his hand, and yet he can disappear after breaking bread with his friends.
There is enough in our gospel today to really make us scratch our head. But putting all those other oddities aside, the one that sticks out to me is Jesus’ scars. His renewed and transformed resurrected body still had the visible scars of his crucifixion. This is baffling to me.
When we daydream of what we’ll look like in heaven or even what our resurrected bodies will look like, I doubt we add-in the scars that we’ve accrued over the years. But each scar tells a story.
They may be birth marks, or scratches from accidents that have never fully healed, or incisions from surgeries, but they are all a part of us and our life’s story.
We may try to hide them or cover them up, but they are known as scars because they are permanent, they will never go away.
Shortly after the end of the First World War a poem was published by Edward Shillito entitled Jesus of the Scars. The world at the time was very aware of scars either from the soldiers who returned home bearing the visible marks of war, or the natural landscape itself that had been ravaged by trenches and tanks.
When hearing this passage, even with all its oddities, the poet—like so many others who survived the Great War—couldn’t help but focus on one verse, “He showed them his hands and his side.”
The poem goes like this:
“If we have never sought, we seek Thee now; Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars; We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow, We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. The heavens frighten us; they are too calm; In all the universe we have no place. Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm? Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace. If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near, Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine; We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear, Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign. The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.”
Amazing, isn’t it?
Even Jesus’ resurrected body bears the signs of his death and victory. The marks of his greatest moment of humiliation and pain are there for eternity, to show the great price that was paid for us.
Some may consider those scars as blemishes to the resurrected body, but it’s those blemishes that Jesus invites Thomas to touch for himself, so that he might find hope in who Jesus truly is, “My Lord and my God.”
To be human means to have scars, to be nicked up a bit, to have chinks in our armor. Jesus is no different in that respect, but unlike our blemishes, only his are the signs of salvation.
Our scars are a part of our story, and they just might join us in the age to come. We cannot hide from them (whether they are physical or emotional), in fact, to be redeemed and made new seems to mean that we don’t wash away everything about us, even the parts we’d love to hide or get rid of. Our story continues into the new heaven and the new earth.
Though our scars don’t ultimately define us, Jesus’ scars do. And we can look at his scars for our hope and our confidence even during a time like this. Even in the midst of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety about money, bills, our health, the economy, and our family: when Jesus speaks to us in the quietness of our heart and says, “Peace be with you,” we can be certain about the peace he offers by looking at the scars on his hands and side.
A group of people who are locked in their home and living in fear and anxiety: does it sound familiar? Are we talking about John 20 or April 2020? The peace Jesus gives is never failing and never ending. It is a peace which Paul says “passes all understanding.” This perfect peace of God is eternal and is yet trying to break into this old and broken world.
God’s peace is linked to resurrection and resurrection is ultimately linked to Jesus’ scars.
I can’t help but think of how Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in this moment:
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Jesus’ resurrection proves to us that the old is not obliterated (not even the scars), but that which is old and broken is being restored and made whole. Our old and broken selves, that have been worn down by worry and fear, are being made new by the power of God’s wild and life-giving Spirit.
It is Jesus of the Scars who is our hope and the source of all peace.