The sermon for week April 27, 2014
In today’s scripture, Jesus appears to his disciples who are hiding out in a locked room. Jesus still has scars from the cross. What does it mean to follow a God or teacher who still bears scars?
Father Greg Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention program in the nation. He spoke at Lourdes University on April 12th and shared this story of José.
At a recent social workers' training event, José told the audience that when he was 6 years old, his mother asked him, “Why don’t you just kill yourself?” The social workers gasped, and then he said, "It sounds way worser in Spanish." When he was 9 years old, she drove him into Mexico, and left him at an orphanage. He stayed at the orphanage until his grandmother picked him up 90 days later.
When José’s mother was not actively trying to abandon him, she beat him. José said that "My mom beat me every single day. In fact, I had to wear three T-shirts to school every day. Kids at school would make fun of me, ‘Why you wearing 3 t-shirts and it’s 90 outside stupid?’" And then José kind of loses the battle with his own tears a little bit and he says: "I wore three T-shirts well into my adult years, because I was ashamed of my wounds. I didn't want anybody to see them.”
Easter is over. It seems too soon. We waited for 40 days of Lent and now the eggs have been hunted, the baskets emptied of their goodies, the ham eaten, and we’ve all moved on. It wasn’t so different in Jerusalem. Friday and Saturday had passed. Sunday had come, and with the dawn came unexpected, indeed unbelievable news. Jesus had risen from the dead!
The disciples who gathered in the room had heard the news but hadn’t seen anything to confirm it, so they closed the door and locked it. And they waited. Some wondered if it was time to go home, to see if they could take up fishing again with their family or do whatever it was they did before Jesus came into their lives. I get the sense that they didn’t quite know what they were waiting for.
We know the story--their waiting paid off. Jesus comes in without knocking and apparently without opening the door, and says “Peace be with you.” Then, unlike José who wanted to hide his scars, Jesus shows the disciples his scarred hands and side. Eight days later, Jesus again invites Thomas to touch him. To place his fingers in the print of the nails. To put his hand in Jesus’ wounded side.
This is odd… Why does Jesus have these scars? On Sunday, Mary Magdalene knew Jesus by hearing him say her name aloud in the garden. In the Emmaus story, the two disciples recognized Jesus when he broke bread. No mention of wounded hands. Why wounds in this story?
There is something in the scars, something important. The scars remain as a witness to the truth. This really happened, the trial, the cross, the agony, all of it. Why didn’t God fix Jesus up? Surely God could have. Maybe God did fix Jesus up, because he was not limited by time and space; he appears through locked doors, he disappears after the Emmaus disciples recognize him. But this is no ghost! Touch my hands, my side. Touch these wounds and peace be with you.
There’s something with the scars, and for me they are saying that we won’t see Jesus unless we see his wounds. The resurrected Christ is forever the wounded Christ--living but never all fixed up. Not bound by death, yet scarred for eternity.
Barbara Lundblad, professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York, points out that those who know sign language know the sign for Jesus. They touch the left middle finger to the right palm and then the right middle finger to the left palm. They bear Jesus’ name in their own flesh (46).
We must touch the places where the wounds are. Yet we see something else. Christ meets us before we’re all fixed up.
• Have you been betrayed by someone you loved or betrayed by a cause you’d given your life to? “Behold”, said Jesus, “one of you will betray me.” (Matt 6:20)
• Have you been let down by your closest friend or by people who have broken large or small promises without apology? “Could you not stay awake with me one hour?” Jesus asked them. (Matt 26:40)
• Have you felt utterly alone, completely abandoned? Jesus cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)
Touch the palms of your hands. Jesus was wounded long before the cross. His wounds touch the wounded places of our lives: all the betrayals and all the denials---our own and those made against us.
Touch the places where the wounds are in your own life and in the lives of others. No one is unscarred by living. You and I have wounds almost too painful to bear, wounds we can’t talk about, even with those we love. We will never be all fixed up, not in this life. The wounded Christ comes to us saying, “Peace be with you.” You don’t have to pretend it’s all okay, that you’re all right, that everything in your life is peachy-keen. Jesus comes to you and me as we’re saying “Peace be with you.”
José found that peace in his scars. After fighting back his tears, he says to that crowd of social workers. “Now my wounds are my friends. I welcome my wounds. I run my fingers over my wounds." Then he looks at this crowd and he says, "How can I help the wounded if I don't welcome my own wounds?"
Father Boyle concludes that, “José knows the truth that is a gospel truth. If we don’t transform our pain, we’re going to transmit our pain” (Boyle).
This is person to person, it’s individual. It’s also corporate. Jesus received scars from individuals, but he was put to death by institutions. By the Temple, by the religious establishment, and by the political institution, the crucifixion is how the Romans killed their political enemies. Individual people can give us scars, and so can systems.
Our religion can often become a system: we do this to get this result. For a new generation, they don’t want a system, they want a story. If you talk about the institution of the church as a model, they will talk about the Crusades, colonialism, war, injustice, racism, damage to the environment, the whole gamut of awfulness. Yet if you talk about the story of Jesus, they are much more receptive to that. So there’s a move called the emergent church movement, or the progressive Christian movement which states that we should go back before our Christian story was reduced to a system of belief, an abstraction, and see what that has to offer. Author Brian McLaren states that, “We Christians are probably at our worst when we present our faith as a system and not a story.” (Tippet)
I’m a pro-institution guy. Yet our institution has its dark spots when it forgets the story it came out of and was founded on. When that happens, bad things happen. And when those bad things come to light, there’s always a movement which springs up to change those things. We are heirs to one such movement, the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther saw corruption in the Roman Catholic church, how the church was saying one thing and doing another and wounding people in the process. He started a movement.
Educator and author Parker Palmer states, “We live divided lives. Our internal reality says one thing and publically we say another. In that way, we are complicit in our own diminishment” (Tippet). When people ask the questions that needs to be asked, we can grapple with the hard truths, talk about our scars and in doing so, make it okay for others to talk about their scars too both corporately as the institution of the church and privately as the people who are the church.
How can we help the wounded if we don't welcome our own wounds?
Touch the scars. We follow a God who bears scars. This is a faith that is embodied and this scripture alone proves that the Bible isn’t about getting humanity to heaven, it’s about getting heaven to earth. It’s a heaven-coming-down story. This means it’s real. We encounter it with our whole selves, before we’re fixed up. Jesus followers are not waiting for heaven but are actively rebuilding, restoring and renewing this world.
This faith journey, it’s an encounter. It’s not abstract, it’s in our bones, it is embodied. Many of you tell me that you most feel in touch with God and your faith when you’re taking communion--that’s because it’s an action you take with your whole body. For some of you it’s when you visit someone: a new visitor, someone recovering from a sickness or joint replacement or those young mothers who recently gave birth. Or when you’re in service at Saint Paul’s or on a mission trip. Embodied. One woman spoke about how she worships best in small group settings like our Monday night book study or Wednesday night Bible study. There is where true sharing happens. There we are knit together.
May this place be a place where you welcome your wounds. Where you run your finger over your wounds. May this be a place where we learn to transform our pain so we don’t transmit it.
Boyle, Gregory. Power of Boundless Compassion. Speech given at Lourdes University on April 12, 2014.
Lunblad, Barbara. Transforming the Stone: Preaching through resistance to change.
Tippet, Krista. Brian McLaren-The Equation of Change. On Being Podcast. March 13, 2014.