Showing Your Scars

Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 4/4/2018

In the early 17th century, the phrase “Doubting Thomas” entered our common vocabulary.  Since then, it has been an insult reserved for only the most habitually agnostic, the skeptic unwilling to accept even the most obvious truth.  When the derogatory label is assigned to Christians, doubting is nearly as unfaithful as Peter’s denial or Judas’ betrayal.

But if fear, the emotion motivating the other disciples to hide in a locked upper room after the crucifixion, not doubt, is the opposite of faith, then Thomas deserves better than being dismissed by a catchphrase of unbelief.  To seriously reconsider the merit of his discipleship, today’s resurrection text is a good place to begin by asking, Why is Thomas a model of faithfulness?

John 20:19-28 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

​ ​When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Congregational Responses:

-Thomas refused to believe the words of the world and instead waited to hear it from God.

-Thomas isn’t locked in the upper room but likely out searching for Jesus among the living.

-Thomas assumes Jesus will respond to his questions.

When a dear friend was diagnosed with cancer at age 32, David Jay, a fashion and beauty photographer, started taking pictures.  He took pictures of other younger women who were courageous enough to disrobe for the camera.  One woman sits topless beside her clothed daughter; another woman grieves her misshapen skin; another woman stares defiantly into the lens; another woman is folded over in tears.  What all these survivors have in common is the mastectomy lines of the surgeon’s scalpel on their bare chests.  This collection of life-sized portraits has traveled the world with the tagline, “Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon.”  While raising awareness about the disease can be lifesaving, the primary purpose of this art show is revealing the fullness of our shared humanity and the wounds that unite us all.  The exhibition is called the Scar Project.      

When Jesus appears on the inside of the locked upper room for the second time, his return to earth doesn’t include the linen wrappings he left back in the grave.  Intentionally exposed, he looks more like a cadaver than the Christ.  His skin is blue and his muscles stiff from the Rigor mortis; his forehead lacerated from the thorns and his abdomen carved open by the spear; his hands and feet pierced by the nails.  With the ravages of what Religion and Empire can do to the body, he stands on full display.    

While the other disciples are still distracted making sure the curtains are drawn, the lights are out and the deadbolt is secured, it is only the Twin who steps forward to see and touch the scars of Jesus.  Mixing wet blood between his fingers, he confesses that Jesus is Lord because it is only the crucified God who is vulnerable enough to be resurrected with his scars still showing.  Thomas is a model of faithfulness because he affirms the most profound of Christian truths: it is through God’s woundedness that the wholeness of salvation comes.     

After God held an exhibition exposing the slash marks of a Good Friday world, it became easier for the rest of us who have ever bled or bruised or suffered to reveal the places where we’ve been hung on a cross too.  So if you have razor blade scabs on your wrist, confide in someone about the night you were suicidal.  If you have a shattered heart, trust someone with the betrayal of your partner’s infidelity.  If your feet are blistered, tell someone about walking day and night because there’s nowhere to lay your head. 

And if you’re still waiting for the empty tomb and Easter to arrive, then begin by remembering that it is in the uncovering of our injuries that we are saved in Jesus’ name.  The power of the resurrection isn’t that our scars disappear, but rather that we all, finally, have the courage to show them.