Hearers of God's word, grace and peace be unto you from God, our Creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit, active here in our midst this morning. Amen.
I'm going to embarrass my parents this morning. I'm going to point to some scars on my body (nothing indecent, don't worry!), and see if you can remember how I got them. Ready?
The first scar is on the back of my head, near my left earlobe, where I fell into the corner of the kiddie pool at
We know our scars, don't we? Anyone have any scars you'd care to tell us about, and show us, if it's in a place you can show without offending anyone? How many of you have appendectomy scars? My wife has a scar on her bottom lip where she bit through that lip falling off the monkey bars during elementary school. I grew up in a farming community, as did many of you – some folks I knew growing up had scars, and some had more; one of my Sunday School teachers was missing fingers, and my school superintendent was missing his left arm from a farming accident.
So, those scars you know so well: how did you get them? Anyone here get a scar from sitting on the couch? Sleeping? Not running with scissors? I'll tell you this: you don't get scars from not doing things, from staying home, from playing it safe. One of my favorite lines from the movie The Replacements is "Pain heals, chicks dig scars…glory lasts forever." Sure, it's chauvinistic and a clichéd line from a clichéd movie, but it illustrates the point – you don't get scars without getting beat up, putting on some hard miles, getting abused. Scars are the reminder that sometimes we bleed in this life, that there are sharp edges and pointed corners in the world that surrounds us.
Just as there's a story behind every physical scar, there's also a story behind the invisible scars we bear, isn't there? Failed relationships, dashed hopes, disappointing outcomes, painful betrayals, lifelong regrets: these things tear us up inside like knives and football cleats and windowsills tear us up on the outside. But scars don't bleed, do they? Scars are a sign that what was once a wound is now healed, in the past, no longer open and causing pain. In this life we are injured, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and even after we are healed, the scars still remain.
When we are injured, we react to all pain and suffering this way – we begin to construct protection to block the injurious element from causing us further harm. I've got calluses on the ends of the fingers of my left hand from years of playing guitar. Some of you have calluses on your thumbs from hours of Wii, Xbox and Playstation, don't you? When you go to the gym and lift weights, your muscles tear just a little bit, and your body constructs more muscle fiber around the tears, making the muscles bigger and your body stronger in response to a little bit of injury. In an emotional sense, this also happens: we learn to guard ourselves in our relationships, trusting others slowly to minimize the risk of injury. This is part of the natural process of living, the way God has created us to be, but sometimes we go too far and overbuild our protection, hoping that the fortifications we build into our lives will protect us from everything that can hurt us.
It's interesting, then, that after Jesus was put to death, the disciples who followed him chose to hide behind locked doors for fear that they would soon be captured and killed by the same enemies. They barred the door and kept themselves safe from the threatening powers outside, like Morpheus shutting down the Nebuchadnezzar in The Matrix. The gospel writer says they did it "for fear of the Jews," but I wonder if perhaps he could have just as easily written, "for fear of further injury." They had lost everything in the short space of one day – they went from being the disciples of a beloved, rebellious teacher to being the followers of a man crucified for heresy and treason. This wasn’t just physical fear, either – there was emotional fear wrapped up in it, too. Jesus was their teacher, their master, their friend, the man they had come to know as Messiah, anointed one of God – and they abandoned him in his hour of deepest need. When the powers of darkness and evil rose up to threaten Jesus, they, his friends, ran off rather than face the darkness with him. That’s the kind of act that leaves emotional scars, the kind of thing you never, ever forget.
Would we have been any different? I doubt it. For fear of what had happened to Jesus, I would have barricaded the door for as long as I could stand it. At this point the disciples had seen and testified that Jesus’ body was missing, that it was possible the resurrection Jesus foretold had taken place, but would that be good news to a group of his friends and followers who had abandoned him? How willing have you been to face a friend you’ve betrayed or hurt badly? Isn’t it easier to avoid them, to walk away, to seal yourself off from the pain you’ve caused? No one wants to pick at scars, emotional or otherwise – we all want to heal as quickly and as painlessly as possible. But with deep wounds come deep scars, and no amount of forgiveness will ever remove the scars we bear. That’s not how forgiveness works.
Into this fearful, huddled group of injured people comes the risen Christ, the crucified One, and he comes bringing peace and life. But his peace is not the peace of this world, achieved through more protection, more barriers, more watchfulness and more fortification. When Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.", he did so with a body that still bore the scars of the crucifixion, a body that will always bear the scars of the crucifixion. Even after the resurrection, the scars still remain. Why? This was a man who could heal the blind, who could lift the lame up to walk, who could call the dead out of their graves: couldn’t he erase the marks of his own death? Yes, he could – but love and forgiveness required that the scars would still remain.
Forgiving is NOT forgetting, brothers and sisters. If Jesus had erased the scars of the crucifixion, he would have erased the marks of the very hour in which his glory was revealed: the hour where he forgave the world at the height of the world’s power to harm and injure him. If Jesus had erased the scars of the crucifixion, he would have erased the marks of his never-ending love for a world determined to kill him. If Jesus had erased the scars of the crucifixion, he would have lessened the power of the resurrection, the absolute refusal of God to let darkness and evil have the final word. Were the scars ugly? Yes – but they were also the beautiful reminder that even death cannot prevail against the power of God’s love and forgiveness. The scars still remain – but the love of God also remains, and in that love those scars are healed and are not counted against the world which put them there.
This life we live today leaves scars, too – and, unfortunately, some them are hard to forgive. To be sent as a Christian is to know that the world will not be kind to those who insist upon the way of peace, forgiveness and service to one's neighbor. Never, ever think that your faith allows you the luxury of safety in this world - Jesus called his disciples to follow him to death. But within that call is great mercy, for the Father who knows the danger we face also raised Jesus to show us who has the final word. The final word does not belong to the powers of war, violence and death, but to the Creator, the Word through which it Created, and the Spirit which has now been given to you through the resurrection of Christ. The scars still remain, but they are healed and a thing of the past - so will be war, violence and death in the day of Christ that will one day come. Until that day, let your scars be scars, marks of the life you’ve lived, but the love and peace of Christ, which dwells in you through the power of the Holy Spirit, is stronger than your scars, and will uphold you your whole life long. You are sent into the world in the name of the One whose scars still remain – but whose love is stronger than the scars. Go in that love, and God bless you and your scars, now and forever. Amen.