The Rector’s sermon for April 28, 2019   


Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31


Scars are a fact of life, aren’t they.  Just about everyone has a scar of some kind.  When we were children there were scars on our knees from learning to ride our bike or tripping on the sidewalk. As adults there may be scars from various surgeries.  There are scars from accidents, from war, from simply doing foolish things.  There are so many different ways to get scars that the list is almost endless.


And those are just the physical scars.  The emotional and psychological scars we have are another story. While physical scars reflect the things that have attacked our bodies, the emotional and psychological scars can be much more destructive to our physical, emotional and spiritual health.  


Most of us intentionally hide our scars.  We say, “I’m fine.”  We can’t always see the pain someone with scars might feel.  People with physical scars hide them with clothing; those with emotional scars hide them with a smile or a laugh.  And I’m sure you’ve heard the statement: “Because of what happened to me, I’m scarred for life…”


No one wants scars of any kind, but strange as it may seem, Jesus…the Son of God...had and was meant to have scars. His resurrected body had scars.  And the fact that he would have scars was prophesied long before Jesus came to earth.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “…He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his wounds…[His scars] we are healed.”   Because the gospels give much detail about the gruesome sufferings of Jesus, there is no doubt, the he was wounded and scarred… all for us.


Our scripture today focuses on two of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Both appearances are to the disciples in a house where they were hiding, perhaps that same room where they had celebrated the Last Supper.  The doors are locked; they are afraid for their lives.   In Jesus’ first appearance, the disciple Thomas was not present, but the rest, minus Judas, were.  Scripture says: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” This is on the same day that Jesus arose from the dead—Sunday, the first day of the week.  The disciples had heard from Mary Magdalene around daybreak that she had seen the Lord, and she told them the things he had said to her when she was at the tomb early that morning.  We don’t know exactly how the disciples reacted to her claim that Jesus was alive, but judging by the fact that the doors were still locked and that fear is still alive and well among them, we can infer that they still didn’t believe.


Now, into this room full of fear and doubt, Jesus somehow appears!  He says, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus had said that to them just a few days earlier, although I’m sure it must have seemed like an eternity to the disciples.  On the day before He was betrayed, He had said to them, “Peace I leave with you ... Do not let your hearts be troubled;  don’t be afraid.”   Now here they are—three days from that event—stressed and fearful—and Jesus once again says:  “Peace be with you.”  He shows them his hands and his side, and the disciples must have taken a collective sigh of relief, that Jesus was standing before them.  And apparently nobody thought to ask, “The doors are locked!  How did you get in here?”  The sight of Jesus was all they needed!  He was alive! And surely, all of Jesus’ predictions began to come back to them.  All the things he had said would happen… did happen, and both Jesus and the disciples had come through it!   And while we give Thomas the “bad rap” of doubting, notice that Jesus doesn’t wait for the other apostles to express their doubt.  As soon as He says, “Peace be with you,” he immediately shows them His hands and His side.  They didn’t ask; he offered His scars to them as proof.  And just as Thomas would respond later, they saw, and then they believed.  And Jesus repeated his pronouncement of peace.  But this time he added to it: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Think about that for a minute.  Think about hearing that in the context of everything Jesus had just been through.  Would the disciples have heard this as good news?  Jesus, the Son of God, sent by His Father… denied, arrested, humiliated, beaten and crucified.  If the world could do that to the Son of God, what was in their future?   What was the world going to do to them? Surely Jesus knew the disciples’ thoughts, and so he says to them,  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Receive My Spirit.  You’re going to need it as you take the Gospel out into the world.”  Those words indicate what would happen on Pentecost Sunday.  But for this gospel writer, this event is John’s Pentecost.  John writes, “He breathed on them”…the breathe of the Spirit… These words of Jesus empowered them with the Holy Spirit, reminding them that as they are being sent, they would not go alone.  The Holy Spirit would always be with them. While the full power of the Holy Spirit is manifested at Pentecost, Jesus was assuring them that they were not, and they would never be, alone.


The second part of Jesus’ charge to them is not as clear:  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Some commentaries say that those who repent and believe in Jesus can be assured of forgiveness, and those who refuse to repent can be assured that their sins are not forgiven.  The Catholic and Orthodox tradition is that these words of Jesus are somewhat of an ordination ritual of the apostles dealing with what they refer to as the Sacrament of Confession.  Whatever the truth is, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sin is directly connected to faith in Jesus.


Now, the second part of the Gospel, is almost a repeat of the first, except it’s directed strictly to Thomas.  Thomas was not with the disciples at Jesus’ first appearance, and when they later tell him all that Jesus had said and the things that had taken place, he replies, “I don’t believe you!” And he goes into great detail of what it will take for him to believe.  He not only wants to see, but he wants to literally feel.  He says he wants to put his finger in the holes in Jesus’ hands and put his hand intoJesus’ side!  Unless he personally sees and feels…he won’t believe.  I often wonder if I would have believed my fellow apostles, or would I have responded like Thomas. 


A week later Jesus returns in the same way, this time with Thomas present.  Again Jesus greets them with, “Peace be with you.”  Then, speaking directly to Thomas, Jesus invites him to do exactly what Thomas had said he had to do in order to believe.  Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!” When Thomas sees Jesus’ scars, just as the other disciples had seen, he responds in faith.  In fact, his recognition of Jesus as Lord and God is remarkable.  Even so, Jesus said, “Have you believed, Thomas, because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”


Here we have ten apostles vs. one apostle.  They all experience the same visit.  Yet Thomas gets the bum rap of being called “Doubting Thomas.”  The truth is Thomas simply voiced what they all were thinking.  More of us are like Thomas than we might like to admit.  The last two sentences of today’s Gospel speak to the “Thomas” in all of us:  “Now Jesus did many more signs that are not written in this book, but these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing, you may have life in his name.”  


The gist of this passage is around the evidence of what Jesus did for us and our inability to believe we’re worth it, about understanding that the scars Jesus carries point to the salvation of all mankind.


And that brings us back to our scars.  The childhood scars, the adult scars, the emotional and psychological scars, and the spiritual scars all have one thing in common:  Jesus knows about them and wants to heal them.  There is no scar so deep or hidden that Jesus cannot touch it and bring healing.


Jesus, the Son of God, endured scars out of love for us.  “…He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”   His scars bring us life…eternal life!

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