Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In our New Testament there is, of course, not just one account of the resurrection of Jesus, but four. Each of the four Gospel writers describe this event, based on their own perspectives, and the testimonies of others who have come before them. And although there are slight variations between each of these accounts, the essence of the resurrection story is the same:
Various followers of Jesus encounter the empty tomb, and at first they are in disbelief. They hear that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but they remain in doubt. And then, one by one, they begin to see evidence of the resurrection, and their disbelief and fear turns to faith and joy.
The most famous disciple to doubt the resurrection is, of course, Thomas. He is not the only skeptic, as we have seen, yet he is the last to profess faith, and perhaps for good reason—he has not witnessed what the others have seen. By now the others have amassed plenty of evidence—the empty tomb, the abandoned grave cloths, the testimony of the angels and eyewitnesses, and finally the appearance of the risen Jesus himself. But in his absence, without first-hand proof, Thomas remains unconvinced. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger on his wounds, I will not believe.”
To our ears, perhaps, the words of Thomas sound defiant; Thomas is resistant to the good news. We wonder, what is the reason for his doubt. Does Thomas not trust in the word of his fellow disciples? Does he think they are mistaken, misguided? Or, is the news so unbelievable, Thomas stands genuinely in shock, incapable of belief?
In a way, we can sympathize with Thomas’ plight. Rumors swirled in Jesus’ day, just as they do today. In our attempt to stay informed of current events, for example, the spread of the virus or the latest political maneuvers, we hear conflicting accounts and divergent perspectives. Sometimes it is hard to know what to believe, whom to trust. Sometimes we just want to witness things for ourselves, to make up our minds based on what we see with our own eyes.
Whatever the reason behind Thomas’ doubt, Jesus is not surprised by the disciples’ need for physical evidence, in order to believe. This is a natural human reaction to an unbelievable event.
So a week later, Jesus appears again, not in anger, or disappointment, but in peace. He then turns to Thomas, shows him his wounds on his hands and side, and says to Thomas, put your finger here, put your hand there. Believe! And Thomas believes.
During Holy Week, I read a short essay that posed the question, Why were the wounds of Jesus still visible after his resurrection? After all, as the author of this essay writes, in most societies “scars are signs of imperfection, a defacement, something most of us try to hide — and in the case of Jesus, his scars were reminders of searing pain, vulnerability and indignity.” Jesus could have returned to earth with a perfect body, or with no body, in spirit only. Why did Jesus return with the physical marks of his betrayal, persecution, and brutal death?
One obvious answer to this question lies in the disciples’ need for physical evidence in order to believe. By returning with the scars of his crucifixion, Jesus offers verifiable proof that it is he who was crucified. By his healed wounds, the disciples know that Jesus is alive, and they are emboldened to spread this good news that they have seen with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands.
But there may be another purpose to the risen Jesus bearing the scars of his crucifixion. For the infliction of these grievous wounds on Good Friday, the nails pounded into his palms, the thorns crushed into his head, the spear thrust into his side—these indignities, these insults to the body of Jesus, led to his cruxifixction…but this was not the end of this story. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead, and his wounds—once open and bleeding, were now closed, in the process of healing. The wounds were signs of Jesus’ suffering; the scars a mark of God’s healing.
And here we find the most powerful element of the humanity of Jesus. For in suffering wounds, in revealing the scars of healing, Jesus expresses his empathy with humankind, with his disciples, with us. By suffering on the cross, by being wounded, Jesus became vulnerable like us. Of course, in our world, and especially in some cultures today, vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, but Jesus made himself vulnerable for us. This word in English, vulnerable, comes from the Latin vulnus, which means wound. Jesus allowed himself to be wounded, to show that even the most painful wounds can be healed by God.
By submitting to wounding, by being vulnerable, Jesus has expressed his empathy, his solidarity with us. He knows the suffering we endure. He has lived through the same hurts and insults and sorrows that bring us physical pain and mental anguish, that cause us emotional strain or send us to a spiritual desert.
This empathy of Jesus should give us hope. For these scars that we carry with us are a sign of the healing of God, and the resurrection that awaits us. As they were for Jesus, the wounds that we suffer in life are part of our story, but they do not define us. What we suffer today is not for us the final word. For God, through God’s love and compassion, is healing us.
The scars—these marks of healing—that we carry with us each day—these are not flaws to be covered up. Rather, they are signs of God’s presence, God’s healing, God’s promise of resurrection. For Jesus came not to fix us, but to remake us into a new creation, free from judgment and sin, free of fear and shame.
The theologian Andy Crouch writes, “Perhaps our scars, which are so often a source of shame and regret, are the truest clues we have to the full form of our resurrection bodies.” That is, just as God raised Jesus—insulted, battered, wounded—God is restoring and healing each of us, renewing us in the likeness of Jesus, preparing each of us for resurrection and eternal life.
And so, on this second Sunday of Easter, let us give thanks for the risen Jesus, whose own scars point to his empathy for the suffering we endure, and also to the healing and renewal and resurrection that God is working in our lives.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.