Service of Light in the Darkness

A sermon preached April 7, 2010

Calvary Baptist Church, Service of Light in the Darkness

John 20:19-31

Rev. Leah Grundset

Only a few days past Easter, we gather in this room as followers of Jesus Christ, admitting that the days are dark for us. We have gathered here, not for fear of authorities, but realizing fully that we carry heavy burdens of grief and pain. Easter has come and we have proclaimed that Christ is risen! And even within that reality, it does not change that there is pain. But what we proclaim is that there is peace and hope. We must hold death and grief together even under the power of resurrection.

Our experiences with pain have scarred us, but not in a way that does not enable healing. Our scars are here with us for the rest of our lives and they do not go away. But they can change from pain to peace.

I was scanning the New York Times a few months ago, as I am prone to do obsessively. As I was reading through the Times, I came across an article by Dana Jennings. The headline of his piece was, “Our Scars Tell the Stories of Our Lives.”

Like most of us, Jennings has a host of physical scars on his body. I know we each have at least one physical scar we can think of—a surgical scar perhaps from your c-section or a scar from when you were little and hit your head on the coffee table?

My sister has this great scar on her eyebrow where one of our pet cats scratched her right across her eyebrow. Her eyebrow still doesn’t grow in that little section. I have a scar on my knee from a monkey bar escapade turned “rock in the knee adventure.” It still looks like there is a rock in there, but the doctor assured me it’s just the way it healed. But I know that it feels different from the rest of my skin and it reminds me of a certain time in my life. It no longer hurts me, but I still remember the meaning behind the scar.

Jennings went on to share all about his scars. He’s had more surgeries than most of us—knee surgery, which left a scar tracking its way down his leg, scars on his abdomen from colon surgery and most recently, scars from his prostate surgeries.

He says that every time he touches one his scars he remembers that he is branded and marked from the pain he has traveled through. “For all the potential tales of woe that they suggest,” he says, “scars are also signposts of optimism. If your body is game enough to knit itself back together after a hard physical lesson, to make scar tissue, that means you’re still alive, which means you’re still on the path toward healing.”[1] Jennings talks about all kinds of scars- scars of loss, scars of grief, scars of hopes dashed and scars of unrealized goals. They are all there on us. He talks about scars because he believes that if we don’t, they can become a place of shame or an all-encapsulating place of isolation.

There is something about touching and remembering our scars that remind us that we are uniquely human. It is quite amazing to believe, as Jennings says, that if we are alive, we are still moving toward healing.

When we enter the story in the Gospel of John tonight, the disciples have certain scars seared in their minds- the wounds of Jesus, their grief. They had just witnessed a most horrific death and they did not understand how his wounds would move them toward healing. I have to wonder what the disciples were feeling that first night, Easter night, when they huddled in a room. They were scared. They were full of grief as they wept over the friend they missed so dearly.

There were ten of them present- we read that Thomas was not there and we know that Judas was not there. So, ten disciples who have been through hell and back are gathered in a small room, huddled together in fear and grief. I can imagine is that the air in the room was heavy.

So, there they are on the first Easter evening: the ten disciples who have just heard from Mary that Jesus has risen from the dead. Mary encountered Jesus in the garden and ran to tell the disciples what she heard. With this news, you would think they would be celebrating- but no, we find them locked in a room. All of a sudden, they look up through tear-filled eyes and Jesus is standing in their midst. They must have rubbed their eyes with some force and shook their heads.

Even they knew that grief can make you do crazy things. But no, it was Jesus standing there with a scar on his side and wounded hands and feet. His greeting to them must have hung in the thick air of that room.

He said, “Peace be with you.” He knew they were afraid. He knew their hearts where heavy with grief. So he met them with a wish of peace. Jesus said peace be with you and he stood in their midst. After he said that, he showed them his hands and his side.

This passage is so fleshy, it almost makes us modern uncomfortable. Jesus shows up somehow and stands among them. He stands among them in their humanity, in their grief. Do doesn’t tell them that he shouldn’t be crying or that they shouldn’t be sad. No, he just wishes them peace. He stands in their midst with a wounded side and wounded hands and feet.

And again he said, “Peace be with you.” Then he did something completely human and God-like all at the same time. He breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. His breath brought new life and comfort to the grieving disciples. His breath met their pain and their hurt.  His breath met their fear and grief and pierced through them with peace. I don’t know where Jesus went after that. And we don’t really know what the disciples were up to other than they reunited with the missing disciple, Thomas.

When Thomas reunited with the disciples, they had news for him.  They told him all about it—saying the same thing Mary said. They said, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas in his disappointment and grief replied, “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.”

Perhaps Thomas had just joined them when suddenly Jesus appeared again to them. He once again, for the third time said, “Peace be with you.” Then turning to Thomas, Jesus looked him right in the eyes and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.”

Thomas’ request had not gone unheard. Thomas wanted to see Jesus and feel his scars. Thomas knew what he had seen—he saw Jesus beaten, scourged and then hung on a cross. Thomas had seen flesh in pain and a spirit broken. Thomas wanted to touch him.. He wanted to see the resurrected One so that what he had heard was not just an idle tale.

Jesus knew that this whole resurrection thing must have thrown the disciples for a loop. I don’t blame Thomas for wanting to see Jesus in the flesh. He wasn’t satisfied just hearing about it. And I will confess that some days, I’m not satisfied with just hearing about the resurrected Lord either.

On the days when grief and pain weigh heavy on my heart, I don’t need to hear another story about how Jesus was raised from the dead and how we will be too. One those days, I need another person to walk beside me, to say “Peace be with You” and to meet me where my pain and grief exist.

Our scars need each other to heal. Whether we are locked in a room because of fear, crying because of great grief, rejoicing in life or huddled in brokenness, Jesus will come in to that place. He will come in, look us all in the eye and wish us peace. In our fear, our grief, our brokenness and our joy, this is our hope.

May you know the peace of the resurrected Jesus Christ. May he breathe peace on all of the rawest places in your life. And may you find him standing in your midst and wishing you peace. Amen.

[1] Dana Jennings, “Our Scars Tells the Stories of Our Lives,” New York Times (July 20, 2009).

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