Easter Sunday 2023
Part 6 of a 6-part series looking for answers to the question, if God is both good and all-powerful, how can he allow us to suffer?
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Something seems out of place in the account of Thomas’ touching the wounds of Jesus. And that thing is the wounds themselves. If Jesus was raised from the dead with a new and improved resurrection body, why resurrect the wounds? Wouldn’t it make sense to remove all traces of the atrocities of the cross? Why would he still have, in His resurrected state, holes in his hands and feet where the nails were driven, and a hole in his side where a spear had been thrust by a roman soldier to ensure he was dead? Why should wounds be resurrected, too? Why not remove them instead?
I believe that our wounds, as a byproduct of life’s inevitable pain and suffering, are capable of being repurposed from misery to medicine. God may not prevent every wound, but He never wastes a hurt.
Our wounds hold tremendous power to heal by identifying us - and therefore connecting us - with ourselves, with God, and with one another. [bulletin]
Allow me to explain what I mean by that.
I said previously that every pain is pregnant with purpose. It is also just as true that every scar is pregnant with a story.
Tell me some scar stories… [take in two or three]
Every scar is pregnant with a story.
And there is nothing quite so eternally significant and life changing as a good story. Whether it be the essential life lesson of a simple story like the Three Little Pigs, or the complicated and epic tale of fellowship in the Lord of the Rings, good stories hold the power to connect us, inspire us, and touch us in the most profound and life-changing ways.
Scars contain some of the most powerful stories of all - real life stories of lessons learned, friends lost and found, defeats and victories, losses and gains, injuries and healings. Wounds tell our story. Every wound, every scar - whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, is a touchstone, a mark that tells a story: my story, your story, His story - OUR story.
Stories change us. In the deepest ways, stories can even heal us – especially when those stories are shared.
The lesson of Thomas is that in order for healing to take place, we must touch the wounds, really reach out and make contact with them, rather than deny them or keep them under wraps. For Thomas, the wound was his deep disappointment in Jesus, whom he had thought would be the triumphant Messiah. Touching the wound was the medicine that cured his unbelief and opened his mouth to confess to Jesus before anyone else in history, “My Lord and my God.”
Wounds and scars are mysteriously activated when we touch them. If our scars are to have any healing value, we must extend that awkward and vulnerable invitation to another person in need of healing to put their hand into our side.
Some scars are not so easy to show, but when we are courageous enough to tell the tale, healing is bound to take place.
Allow me to share a very relevant example in this fellowship. Our sister Gidgitte has been sharing her wounds online as she battles cancer. At first I was worried about her, because I know she is normally a very, very private person. And I know many hearing this message today, even in this very room, have endured treatments similar to Gidgitte, and may wonder what makes her story so special. The answer is nothing, and everything. Even though her story and her wounds are hers and hers uniquely, in another sense, it is every cancer story. The power in her story is that she is sharing it, and in so doing, is inviting others to touch her wounds and identify with her injuries as well as her healing, to connect with her suffering as well as her rejoicing, and to find healing together. The scars she is showing us - the stories of her wounds and recovery, of faith hidden in the dark clouds of uncertainty and sometimes even despair - are profoundly important and therapeutic for those who dare to touch them. By allowing us to touch her wounds as we take in her story, her wounds have become medicinalized, able to heal those deeper wounds of the heart and soul that radiation and chemotherapy simply cannot reach.
Our wounds hold tremendous power to heal by identifying us - and therefore connecting us - with ourselves, with God, and with one another.
Let’s briefly explore those three connections that come through identifying our wounds.
Wounds Help Us to Identify Ourselves
The first way that wounds have the power to heal is that they help us identify ourselves.
Scars remind us that we are part of a larger STORY.
That may sound absurd, but most of us have no idea who we are or why we are here. We do not see ourselves as part of any big picture or grand story.
And yet our scars provide us with a connection to our past, providing our life stories with essential context in the form of both injuries and healing.
Scars are powerful because they remind us that our present lives are rooted in a much bigger story. They help us see that there is a bigger context to our lives than the things we can see here and now. They remind us that our lives are not merely today, but that there is a trajectory between who we were yesterday, who we are today, and that trajectory hints at who we will be tomorrow. Scars remind us that we are part of a larger story, and that story is not over yet.
Without the context of yesterday’s scars, we might have no frame of reference to appreciate just how far God has brought us in life – or just how far we have drifted off course only to be found again. Scars tell us a story. They tell us our own story, and we should remember those stories often with thanksgiving for the grace and mercy of God all along the way.
I’d like to say a brief word about a particular type of scars that tell a story: tattoos.
Tattoos are controlled wounds that are deliberately crafted and chosen to leave an identifying mark. Tattoos are so popular because we are aching – willing to literally suffer pain – in order to identify ourselves in a larger story with deeper meaning. Tattoos, unlike scars, do not tell the tales of our outward injuries, but they do reveal much about what is on the inside: who we are, what we feel, what we value, and what we’ve experienced, whether good or bad.
Tattoos are no longer prohibited for Christians as they were for our Old Testament brothers and sisters. They can be tremendously valuable expressions of self-identification. They invoke a deeper narrative; they hint at and provoke others to ask us about our story. The only difference between the scar of a tattoo and the scar of a physical injury is that the tale told by a tattoo can be, to a degree, controlled. We can write the beginning, middle, and end. In this way, tattoos can be tamer versions of their wild brethren, scars caused by injuries. Tattoos can be either meaningless or valuable sources of insight into our perceptions of ourselves. But the scars we bear from past wounds are never without a story.
While tattoos tend to be tidy, scars are invariably messy. Scars often tell an unfinished, still painful, unresolved story. Yet our scars, whether from wounds that were inflicted by our own choices, by the will of others, or pre-arranged long before we were conceived, reveal with tremendous power who we are, and what we have been through.
Importantly, in that context, our scars also identify and remember the places where God has been at work in our stories. For scars not only tell stories of injury, but also of healing. We have covered this in great depth over the past several weeks, but I wish to emphatically remind you that God is not the cause of most of our suffering – we can blame human free will for most, if not all, of our injuries. God rarely inflicts wounds, and only for very good reason, but God is always present to comfort us in our suffering.
And that leads to the second way that wounds have the power to heal.
Wounds Help us Identify with God
The second way that wounds have the power to heal is that they help us identify with God. I am referring, of course, to the fact that Jesus himself knew precisely what it meant to be injured and to suffer.
When Jesus invites Thomas to touch His wounds, He shows that He UNDERSTANDS our pain.
Isaiah 53:3 says of Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”... “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” (Hebrews 2:9 and 13:2)
We were reminded on Good Friday that before Resurrection Sunday could take place, Jesus was stripped naked, flogged and nailed to the suffering tree until he died. When Jesus approaches Thomas and says, “touch my wounds”, he is not only identifying himself as the same person who was crucified, but he is identifying with all of us who have been wounded by life. We must remember that the wounds of Jesus echo the woundedness we all experience, and that Jesus, more than anyone else, can relate to our suffering.
Wounds Help us Identify with One Another
Finally, the third way that wounds have the power to heal is that they help us identify with one another.
Hurt goes to hurt. Healing begins when we ACKNOWLEDGE our wounds together.
There is power when we understand our wounds together. This is one of the reasons that AA -and NA are far and away the most effective recovery programs: because they are built on the power of community - wounds touching wounds. They tap into the power of shared stories of injury and healing.
Emotional healers and therapists are discovering more and more that true healing seldom takes place in the isolation of a one-on-one counseling room, but rather in the context of a sacred community, where the injured and their advocates gather; and where wound touches wound.
As I go through life – a confessed introvert who would rather be alone or with a friend or two than in a crowd – I am coming around to finally see the beauty of God’s design and the power of community. We are strongest in life when we are active, engaged participants in a community that supports us, encourages us, builds us up, even challenges us to grow. Gaining that sense of belonging requires showing up more than once a month. Period.
When we suffer in isolation, we are the most vulnerable we will ever be. And yet most people choose to isolate themselves out of fear. There is a reason God not only designed but ordained the gathering of His people – the church – as THE primary and essential means of grace in the world today: it is not because churches are efficient, or hip, or even particularly attractive. It is because we cannot love one another if we cut ourselves off from one another. Love, the cure for all that ails the world today, cannot exist outside of community. I can only fulfill the command to love my neighbor when I connect with them. Love is not a feeling we have about someone; it must be demonstrated through tangible, touchable self-sacrifice for one another. Without love, there can be no healing. Without community, there can be no love. Without contact, there can be no community.
Shared wounds can be healed, hidden wounds cannot.
A very important side note, and one that I would like to reflect on further if I am blessed to find the time to write this sermon series out more fully, is the daunting task of racial healing that lies ahead not only for our world and our country, but for our community and right here in our church.
While I will probably never understand the incredibly complex and incomprehensible wounds that still haunt my black and brown brothers and sisters, I do not believe that racial healing is a lost cause. In fact, I believe that the blood of Christ compels us to seek healing for those wounds between us.
While there is certainly blame to be shared across generations, I also know that assigning blame doesn’t necessarily heal, any more than a proper diagnosis can cure cancer. Yet I trust in one thing: that we are one in Christ. And that when we can come together as wounded persons, under the wings of a wounded savior, we can discover common ground where healing can begin. My wounds are not the same as Christ’s wounds, are not the same as your wounds. That much is true. But the shared experience that we are all wounded in different ways, and that Christ is wounded with us in His own way – that shared woundedness opens a door, perhaps just a little, for us to understand one another. If racial healing is to begin in the world, I pray it will begin right here, in His church, among his people, where our wounds touch one another and we know one another in a new and healing way.
There is power when we understand our wounds together. When Jesus speaks of being lost and found, it is not that the sheep is lost merely to the shepherd, but also to her flock. The prodigal is not lost only to the father, but to the whole family.
And therefore, when we are found, we are not restored in isolation, but in community, into the family, in with the flock.
May we never forget that our wounds are medicine:
Our wounds are the medicine someone else needs; their wounds are the medicine we need.
And the wounds of Jesus, the body and blood, are the cure for every injury.
As we take the bread and cup, may we allow his wounds to touch our own today.
Before you eat the bread, break it in your hands. Wound it. As you partake and ingest the body of Christ, let his wounds touch your wounds, deep in your heart. Drink the cup, the nectar of suffering and life, blood and water mingled together. May each of us be healed and our wounds touch His today.