Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The marks of the cross. . .
I doubt there is a parent alive today who has not feared what a doctor or hospital might think of all the bumps and bruises on your child. Will they think I abuse my child? Or will they chalk it all up to kids just being kids? We have all heard the crack of a head or looked at a wound thinking "That is going to leave a mark..." And it usually does. Life is a messy and dangerous business that leaves few folks unscathed.
The disciples did not know what to think of Jesus after the resurrection. If there is a resurrection and death is overcome, it is easy to presume that all the marks of the cross and the scars of His suffering would disappear. But they did not. Jesus wore the marks of His cross and the scars of His sufferings as the very badges of honor and medals of victory.
We often idealize the resurrection – no gray hair, no wrinkles, no weight problems, etc... We so often hope that we will wear perfect bodies, a utopian existence and an idealized life in which all the men are handsome, the women beautiful, and the children above average. Better even than Lake Woebegone. But there is Jesus with the marks of the nails and the spear.
Our Lord is in His glory, wearing the glorious flesh of Easter and the resurrection from the dead, but the scars are part of that glory. They do not detract from the glory of Easter – the marks of the cross and of His suffering are part of Easter's glory. Our Lord is not ashamed of them but shows them for what they are – the wounds of His victory and our redemption. Indeed He shows them off.
Thomas comes with his doubts and fears, having been absent from the rest of the twelve when Jesus first showed Himself to them. Thomas rightly gets condemned on this Sunday but he got one thing right. The only Jesus he knew was the one who wore the scars of His suffering and the marks of His cross. The only Jesus he wants to see is the Jesus whose marks of the nails and scars of the spear he can see and touch. For this is how He knows it is Jesus.
Our Lord does not scold Thomas or condemn him though He could have. Instead our Lord holds out His hands and lifts the fabric to show His side. The marks of the cross are not hidden nor are they untouchable. The marks of the cross do not fade away into memory but are the scars of His triumph by whom He is know and His victory is assured. Jesus will be known only by His cross, by the scars of that suffering that won our salvation and the marks He bore in payment for our sins. He is risen from the dead but He is the crucified One who is risen.
As Jesus wears the marks of the cross, so do you and I wear them. Ours are not the scars of life’s disappointments or marks of the nails but the marks of suffering for belonging to Christ, the scars of testifying to Jesus in a world unfriendly to the cross. Living the Easter faith is not simplistic nor is it easy. Life under the cross leaves marks. Nowhere does Jesus promise us immunity from persecution for the faith or from the hard choices of faithfulness.
Jesus promises that those who bear His cross will also wear its scars. There is no way out. These scars do not fade away. Jesus and those who follow Him wear the marks of the cross eternally. Because they are the marks of Christ’s victory for us and the marks of our redemption as the people of God who have been forgiven and reborn by the miracle of His death and resurrection.
The great temptation is to think that in order for us to witness to the world we need to live a perfect life, an idealized dream of life in which we are perfect and we have all we want. That is not our witness. When we stand before the world, we stand as the wounded who have been made whole, the sinners forgiven, and the dead given everlasting life. But the scars and wounds are still with us. We are not embarrassed by the marks of Christ and His cross upon us. We are not ashamed of the Gospel. In fact, like Jesus we gladly show off the marks of suffering we have endured for the Kingdom and the scars that mark us as the people of Christ, who, like Him, bear the cross.
Our wounds are not the reason we are saved but they do mark us as Christ's own. By His wounds we have healing yet we wear the wounds of the cross as the marks of our identity. We belong to Christ. Do not be ashamed of those marks. They are the consequence of following Jesus. Look at how the lessons frame this. Those in Acts who endured beating rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. St. Peter describes Christian life in which now for a little while we endure suffering, trials, and temptations which God uses to test the genuineness of our faith and to purify us in that faith and trust.
Every baptism leaves a mark, living in but no longer of the world. Every time we choose between faithfulness to Jesus and fitting into the world, it leaves a mark. Every time we open our mouths to speak the Gospel to an unfriendly world, it leaves a mark. Every time we practice godly self-control and do not give in to our desires, it leaves a mark. Every time someone judges us falsely on Christ's account, it leaves a mark. Every time we admit, confess, and repent of our sins, it leaves a mark. But we do not hide these scars. We wear the battle scars of our faith not with shame but with pride. They are also the marks of God’s Spirit working on us and in us.
Do not fear the marks of the cross upon your life. They are not your shame, they are your glory. Just as our Lord wore the marks of His own suffering as His glory, we wear the marks of the cross on our lives as the glorious marks of the people of God, redeemed in Christ, forgiven of their sins, and prepared for life everlasting.
The worst thing we can try to do is to sell the Gospel to the world by saying it is easy, it will cost you nothing, it does not hurt. Every kid in a doctor's office knows that lie when they hear it. Christ’s wounds won us salvation. We who are saved in Christ wear the wounds of faithfulness in a world that chooses easy before good, the whim of the moment before self-denial, the current lie in fashion over the hard but honest truth, and the myth of utopia and perfection over the pain of being made into the people God has already declared us to be.
At least Thomas was honest. Let me see the wounds before I believe... Let me touch them before I wear them. Thomas at least knew that there was no Jesus worth knowing except the one who bore the marks of His suffering and death for us. Thomas also knew that if he was to follow Jesus, he must wear the marks of His cross in the high calling of his daily life in faith and faithfulness. Come, my people. You have the gifts of Christ paid for with His own body in suffering and His blood shed. Come, wear the marks of Christ. For this pain of the moment is forgotten in eternity. I will not deceive you. Faithfulness is not easy but it is the only path to eternity. The marks we wear for Christ are not our shame but His glory and they prove the genuineness of our faith as we struggle to remain faithful in a faithless world. Amen.