Jesus of the scars

Easter 2

1 Peter 1.1-12

Psalm 16

Acts 2.14a, 22-32

John 20.19-31

                                                                                                             ©Lauren Martin

Have you ever heard of the expression ‘doubting Thomas?’ What does this expression bring to mind? Did Thomas fall short, failing to believe the obvious truth his peers were able to embrace, without demanding proof?

Poor Thomas, the one who questions, the one who doubted, the one who appeared to lack faith. In short, the one we should endeavour not to be, but at times are too much alike. But was he really all these labels we have given to him?

We have journeyed with Jesus and the disciples, from Palm Sunday with crowds shouting for deliverance, to Holy Week and the crowds shouting for blood. Now we find ourselves with the disciples post-crucifixion, hidden away in fear and uncertainty on Easter evening.

Jesus appears to them, offers them peace and breathes on them, but Thomas is inexplicably nowhere to be found. He misses out on the seeing, touching, hearing and being breathed on. How does he respond? He demands to see Jesus, to see his wounds and to touch them.

Is he, like all his fellow disciples, unsatisfied to accept someone else’s account of a Risen Jesus? After all, the other disciples did not believe Mary until Jesus came to them – and even then, it took them a moment to realise it was indeed Jesus standing right in front of them – then they were able to rejoice.

Is Thomas’ request any more doubtful than the other disciples? Ultimately he is only asking for the same proof that they themselves had received. Was this desire for proof partly the result of debilitating and numbing grief and loss as he mourned for his dear friend and teacher? Suddenly the now Jesus-less community faced this new reality with fear, hidden away from outsiders.

Imagine being Thomas, all the other disciples have seen Jesus, all but you. Yet in your deep grief and uncertainty, you remain with the others – with those who have seen and witnessed the mystical encounter with the Risen Jesus. Thomas although uncertain, remains with the others. He is open to the possibility that what the others are saying is true, of the possibility of a Risen Jesus. Being open, but not blindly believing or abandoning his questions.

Thomas waits, waiting for answers, for the end of his uncertainty, for his own experience encountering the Risen Jesus. To wait while others rejoiced. Thomas who only a little while ago was so certain in his commitment to Jesus, even if it meant dying with him by returning to Judea to raise Lazarus (John 11:16), when all the other disciples were hesitant, now waits full of uncertainty and doubt.

Perhaps Thomas is an important model for us, in being open to the ‘other’. Even when we are full of doubts and questions we can still remain open, including – as in Thomas’ case – open to the invitation to enter into the peace of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Doubt causes us to question, to explore and search for answers or for what is right. Doubt can lead to faith and to truth. After encountering Jesus, it is only Mary and Thomas (the ones not breathed on) that felt the need to react and proclaim. Thomas’ doubt, lead to the most profound testimony of all the disciples “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

My Lord and my God, who still bore the wounds of his crucifixion, being the very embodiment of both the joy and triumph of Easter, and the pain and shame of a brutal and dehumanising death. The ultimate cure for violence was not more violence. Instead of leading a triumphal military victory and over throwing the Roman oppressors, Jesus bore the scars of the violence done to him. Like us, bearing the scars of our past experiences. These scars hold the pain and the reality of our wounds, individually, communally and globally.

God knows pain.

God knows our pain.

God is alive and the story has not ended.

In one of his meditations, Richard Rohr says; “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbours, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.” We can find numerous examples of this in generational trauma, in victims of abuse and violence, those who have been forced to flee their homes and those who have caused harm to others and themselves.

Rowan Williams notes that “there is no hope of understanding the Resurrection outside the process of renewing humanity in forgiveness. We are all agreed that the empty tomb proves nothing. We need to add that no amount of apparitions, however well authenticated, would mean anything either, apart from the testimony of forgiven lives communication forgiveness.”

Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily take away the pain, it doesn’t make scars vanish, wounds heal and painful memories disappear.

It is through the (now) seemingly unhygienic breathing on – a mini Pentecost if you will – that the disciples are empowered by the Spirit. They receive forgiveness and are now sent out to offer it to others. The peace Jesus gives to them is not an easy peace of inactivity, but combined with a call to action. A call that offers us all another way that challenges and breaks down the barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’. A call to live out their faith – and our faith – through seeking out and participating in a relational justice that is steeped in forgiveness, grace and mercy.

Jesus’ call to the disciples was not to stay hidden away, but to go out with peace. Just as Jesus offered peace to the disciple on that first night, he also extends that peace to the uncertain and doubt filled Thomas. There is no longer the disciples who saw Jesus and believed and Thomas ‘the doubter’, no ‘us’ and ‘him.’

As the saying goes ‘seeing is believing,’ and we are limited by our own individual and cultural perspectives. We cannot hold all of the world’s problems in our hands. We cannot live our lives outside of the context in which we find ourselves, but we can question, explore and continually seek justice and understandings of new perspectives and the pursuit equality.

Thomas did not see, but kept his mind open to the possibility. He remained in uncertainty, until he saw the resurrected Jesus Christ still bearing the wounds of a brutal death. Do we see the wounds of Christ? Or do we call to mind an imagine of a cleanly dressed, unmarked Jesus, free from unsightly scars?

I would like to share with you one of the beauties of a visual language such as Auslan. Signs can be representative of the ‘thing,’ that is to say they can be iconic. The sign for ‘Jesus’, indicates the wounds in his hands, Jesus with scars. This iconic sign is also a visual reminder of Jesus, who knew oppression, brutality and pain.

This reminder is also present in Edward Shillito’s 1919 poem “Jesus of the Scars,” in this last stanza he writes:

“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.”

This is the Jesus the disciples met. The Jesus Thomas longed to see only to proclaim my Lord and my God. The Jesus that also call us out to proclaim and embody the ‘good news,’ embracing us wounds, scars, doubts and all.