When we receive a physical wound, a scar remains, however small or large. Healing does happen, over time, but the scars remain. In 1982 in the weeks before I went to work in India, a nail pierced the top of my right foot while some of us were removing an old structure near our YWAM base in Honolulu. As can happen in the islands, there was staph infection that spread in my bloodstream from that injury. It grew rapidly, infecting both of my legs and feet before antibiotics began to overwhelm it. At its worst point, the doctor was concerned that they might have to amputate my right foot. But thankfully, healing began to happen and by the time I got to India a few weeks later I was walking without crutches. But the scars remain, not so prominent anymore, but they are there.
What about when we receive emotional wounding? Or when the death of others close to us brings the grief of permanent loss, or at least in this life? Or when deep disappointment and the smashing of long held dreams wounds us at times seemingly beyond repair? Yet there is healing, at least to some degree. But with these inner wounds, scars also remain. As historian Robert Orisi writes in his book History and Presence, “The broken world is lived through and survived, but the brokenness is not forgotten. This suggests that religion is less about the making of meaning than about the creation of scar tissue.” Yes, healing happens in different ways for different people. For those that follow Christ, we believe that healing can come from even the worst experiences of pain and sorrow, but does that mean that the scar tissue is removed?
Orisi goes on to write about a survivor of sexual abuse, named Monica. He makes the point that for some survivors of these kinds of horrible pain, and perhaps it is true more broadly of grief as well, healing can be an elusive concept that must be very carefully talked about by those on the sidelines of the suffering. “Sometimes, survivors despise the word ‘healing’, feeling that others impose healing on them as an imperative to silence.” Have you ever had someone ask you how you are doing after an experience of sorrow or deep pain, almost with the sense that they think you should be ‘over it’? Do we ever get over the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a dream? Yes, healing can come in certain ways, but the scars remain.
For Monica, the person Orisi writes about, she found that the wounds Jesus received at the cross had special meaning. He quotes her saying, “When I look at the crucifix, I see the resurrected wounds of Jesus.” And then she says these powerful words, “I am that now, a resurrected wound.” In the painting image I’ve used with this post, the disciple of Jesus named Thomas is invited to put his finger into the wound of his Master’s resurrected body. This is one of my favorite paintings. It was done in 1603 by an Italian named Caravaggio, and is titled The Incredulity of Thomas. What does it mean that in the resurrected body of Jesus in the days after the crucifixion, and presumably forever after, the scars of the wound remain? Wounds and scars caused by His great love for us, to not leave us in our sin and shame, but to bring us into a freedom of healing in relationship resulting in new life.
There is often healing in this life, but sometimes only in the next. But perhaps either way, the scars remain. As Sarah Bessey writes in her book, Out of Sorts, “I am learning to lament, to mourn, to weep with those who weep, to take our shared sadness and bewilderment into my own soul too.” She goes on to write, “Sometimes the most holy work we can do is listen to each other’s stories and take their suffering into our hearts, carrying each other’s burdens and wounds to Christ together, in faith and in lament, together. I’ve learned that faith isn’t pretending the mountain isn’t there. It isn’t denial of the truth or the facts or the grief or the anger. It’s not the lie of speaking “peace, peace” when there is no peace. It’s faith because it is hope declared, it is living into those things that are not yet as they will be.”
I have physical scars on my body, on my feet and legs, on my neck from a surgery to remove a non-cancerous cyst. From falls and cuts, and even a slight mark still on my hand when a second grade classmate jammed a pencil into my skin. Some of you have far worse physical scars. But like you, I also have emotional scars. Places of great pain and disappointment in my life, that are no longer open wounds but scar tissue. Does the resurrected body of Jesus Christ still bear the scars of the wounds suffered for you and I? If so, does that not sanctify our humanity, and honor the very real scars we also receive as part of that humanity? Life is not about trying to remove those scars, or acting as if they don’t exist, but living into them more deeply, as it is those very wounds and resulting scars that can hold redemptive power for our lives and those around us.