Scars, Change, and Hope


A sermon on Luke 24:36b-48

A week or two ago, my daughter and I fell into a conversation about our various scars. Thankfully, in her 10 years she hasn’t yet experienced many injuries that have left lasting marks, but she has just enough experience to have noticed two things:

First, the skin of a scar feels different. It doesn’t hurt anymore, but it will never be quite the same. Our bodies have the power to heal, but not without some permanent change.

Second, these changes leave embedded memories. With the marks of past injuries come the chance to tell their stories.

This was the delight of our conversation, because our scars gave us the chance to tell each other our stories. To invite each other into the experiences that had, in some way, marked our bodies; AND to affirm the learning and the change that we carry along with our scars.

This sweet parenting moment gave me a new perspective on the scene from today’s gospel of Jesus showing his scars to his disciples. In the memory of my recent experience, I saw the very personal nature of Jesus inviting his loved ones to touch his scars,to draw near, and feel his realness under their fingertips, and to hear his story.

Of course, his story is not much like the stories I tell my daughter about my scars. Jesus’s story involves the unfolding revelation of God through Moses and the prophets and the Psalms. Jesus’s story is about the divine plan for forgiving and restoring all humanity to right relationship with God. Jesus’s story is about suffering and dying… and then rising again on the third day with a scarred body.

It’s the kind of story that the disciples struggled to understand, making them believe he MUST be a ghost, because the kinds of injuries he sustained don’t turn into scars. They kill you. OR – if you have the power to rise from the dead, then surely you rise victorious and whole. Transformed into something more than damaged flesh and bone.

But, Jesus rose with a body that was scarred. And he showed his scars to his disciples because the scars are a vital part of his story. The resurrection did not reverse all memory of the crucifixion, because the crucifixion is essential to the redemptive work of God in Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this truth about the importance of Jesus’s scars. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran teacher and theologian who opposed the Nazi regime. He was executed in Flossenburg concentration camp, 73 years ago this past Tuesday.

Bonhoeffer left many powerful writings on topics of theology, scripture, and the Christian life, but perhaps one of his most compelling insights comes from the letters he wrote from prison before his execution. In the context of his own physical suffering and consciousness of his imminent death Bonhoeffer wrote:

“(God) is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. [The Bible] … makes quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. … The Bible directs (humanity) to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.”[1]

Only the suffering God can help in a world where we inevitably suffer. Where we get hurt, and where we hurt others, and where both experiences leave us with scars.

The scars of living in a sinful world threaten to undermine our worth, and to deform the image of God in which we are made, and to tell us to give up hope. And only the suffering God can help. Only the God with scars can offer us hope.

Jesus’s scars matter because he holds in his resurrected body the reality of brokenness. Jesus’s scars mean that he knows our same suffering and was changed by it in his own way. He became the suffering God, so that we can still see ourselves in his image – and know that the ways that we are changed by suffering do not permanently cut us off from God. Rather, the way that suffering changes God, has the consequence of changing us.

After showing the disciples his scars and opening their minds to the fullness of his story, Jesus commissions them as witnesses. He calls them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. That might sound like a fairly standard evangelical formula that undermines the comfort of Jesus’s scars and calls us to some kind of moral perfection, but the word translated as repentance does not have the association of moral reform that it usually conveys in North American Christianity.

In the original Greek, the word is metanoia, which means a change of mind. The disciples are to proclaim a change of mind and forgiveness of sins. In other words, the story of the suffering God changes our minds about how we stand before God! It reveals a God who comes to us in vulnerability, who joins us in our pain, and who rises from death in a body that shows the scars of what he has been through.

And when we know God in that way, when we see the scars, we know that the sin that has separated us from God is forgiven and we are changed. Our aloneness, and fear, and shame are healed by his scars in a way that empowers us to reach out to others as witnesses to this amazing change.

Last week I told you that each week of Easter I would be examining one of our Synod’s core discipleship values, and this week that core value is CHANGE. The Synod describes the change that guides us in our walk of faith this way:

“The gospel is about transformation, stirred by the power of life over death. Hope-filled people can change; hopeless people cannot.”

Gospel change is about transformation, and specifically about the transformative power of life over death. The gospel changes us with the power of Jesus’s resurrection, because it gives us hope. It gives us the eternal hope of the resurrection from death, AND it also gives us the present hope of change.

Because if God can defeat death, and forgive our sins, that changes the way we experience life.

Life may injure us… in fact, it almost certainly will. That is our reality. And whether it is a physical hurt, or an emotional hurt. Whether we lose the wholeness of our bodies, or of our dreams, or of our relationships… those hurts will leave scars. The gospel doesn’t offer a false hope of immunity from pain.

Rather, the gospel offers us the hope that scars are not the end of the story. They are the chance to TELL the story of the potential for change – for learning from pain, and working for healing. And our scars are an invitation to tell the story of being met by the God who knows what it is like to have scars. And who rises from the dead with them.

There is one story of my scars that my daughter loves to hear most of all.

It’s the story of my c-section scar. It’s by far the biggest scar on my body, and it was by far the most painful. It was not the way I would have chosen to bring my daughter into the world if I had been in control. And I shed my share of tears over that injury.

But to my daughter, that scar is beautiful, because that scar marks the beginning of her life. And it shows her the pain I endured to set her free.

In that way, it’s a bit like Jesus’s scars. They represent real pain that he endured to bring us life, and to set us free.

They are a permanent reminder that God is with us in our pain, and that this changes everything.

Of that we are witnesses.

Thanks be the God.

[1] Quoted in: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/dietrich-bonhoeffer.html.

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