Second Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2020
It was July, 1864. The American Civil War was in its fourth bloody summer. The Union army was laying siege to Petersburg, a town just south of Richmond, Virginia. It was brutal, horrific, trench warfare. Some enterprising Union soldiers had the idea of tunneling beneath the enemy, dumping a whole bunch of gunpowder, and then blowing the whole Confederate line to smithereens. And so they did. The operation was bungled but the gunpowder did go off. As a result, there is a massive, gaping crater still there today. Even the earth bears the scars of humanity’s warring madness.
It’s not just the Crater. Plants still don’t grow on parts of the World War One Verdun battlefield because of the poison gas and chemicals in the soil itself. Still, a hundred years on, farmers will plow up unexploded shells. They call it the “Iron Harvest.” Thousands of tons of World War II Allied bombs still lie beneath German cities, in 2016 one German bomb defuser said he still defused one bomb every other week. Scars that even the earth bears, telling a ghastly tale.
It is scars, outward and visible signs, that Jesus offers the disciples, telling his own ghastly tale of crucifixion. Those scars, those marks tell the tale of what he has been through. William Temple calls the scars of Jesus, “God’s credentials of suffering” ("Readings in St. John's Gospel," 384). “Here,” Jesus says, “put your finger in my side. Touch my scars.” Proof of Jesus’ suffering.
In the comfort of your own home, I bet you could point out some of your scars. Old incisions from surgeries, bike accidents, a slip of the cooking knife, a hasty moment with a hammer and nail. I have a mark on my left arm that I got when I was five years old. I was getting my tonsils out and they had to see how well my blood clotted. So they pricked my skin and said, “don’t worry, that mark will go away in a couple of weeks.” Decades later, the scar on my arms tells a different story.
We have emotional and mental scars, too. And perhaps those are the most traumatic. At least with a physical scar you can point to it, see it, show it, prove it. But with the scars in here [head] and here [heart], there is nothing to show. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus, too, had any mental scars from his death upon the cross. Sure, he shows his disciples his hands and his side, but what about his heart? What about his head?
I know you have these internal scars, and I know they still impact you. You drive by the hospital where you lost a loved one, and you shudder. You go past the old house, and the memories come flooding back in. My heart breaks for those people who see a church, any church, and the scars of the emotional wounds they received at the hands of a Christian means that they will never come back again. These are real scars for those were real wounds.
And I think, I think that our society has got some very real scars. Imprints on our collective psyche that prove how we suffered in the past. These marks, these are things that we do in reaction to events we don’t even remember or weren’t even alive for. Airports are a headache because of what happened on a September morning nineteen years ago. Street signs, statues, monuments, stand as testimony social unrest and civil strife. These are real scars.
And what we are dealing with now, will one day be a scar. Some years from now, who knows when, we’ll wash our hands and remember this strange, sad, terrible time. We’ll see a face mask and think about what we had to endure to go to the grocery store. Every time we shake a hand a little part of us will cringe. Indelible scars marked upon our society. And if anyone ever wants to know what it was like to live during this time, we will show them our scars. Like Jesus does.
So where is the hope? Of course, the hope is that these scars are proof of our faith and devotion to get through such menacing times. The hope is that years down the road, when things are hard again with something else we cannot conceive of now, we will look back on the scars from this time and take some courage. Courage to keep on living and loving even when things are hard.
The hope is that we can gaze upon the scars of Jesus, those marks in his hands and his side, and see that even the cross and death can have redemptive purposes. That his death was the means by which God destroyed death. We see those scars, those marks, and we celebrate because Jesus Christ has triumphed over death. Though he underwent tremendous pain, suffering, and humiliation for our sake, it had a purpose. It had a meaning. Jesus is not ashamed of those scars, he wears them proudly. Because those scars are signs of victory.
In 2010, I went to Petersburg, to that battlefield, and I saw the Crater. That giant hole in the ground, that scar that is a reminder of the suffering, the horror, of our Civil War. But what was once a horrible battlefield is now a pleasant field of grass and a gentle pine forest. I stood there, I pondered that Crater, I prayed for all those souls who were scarred - emotionally and physically - in that place. And I ask you to do the same. Visit those old battlefields of your souls, and gaze upon the scars that you carry. Don’t run from those memories, but embrace them. Give thanks to God that God has carried you through even those times of suffering and horror. And trust, trust that God can and will do the same again. Finally, reach out your hand, touch the scars that Jesus carries and rejoice. For the Lord God knows pain and somehow, some way, will turn our suffering into comfort; God will turn our wounds into scars; God will turn our death into life.