“There’s been a problem with Meredith.”
That’s what my then five-year-old daughter’s Sunday School teacher told me. My heart stopped. I guess her teacher saw my panic, because then she said, “Oh, she’s alright. She just did something inappropriate in class.”
As it turns out the teacher had asked the children in the class to tell something important about themselves. Meredith enthusiastically said, “I had a hole in my heart. And then I had surgery to fix it.”
Then, she leaned over at the waist, grabbed the hem of her little jumper, and hoisted it above her head to expose her chest.
“And I’ve got a scar! Isn’t it beautiful!”
The look of relief on my face probably puzzled Meredith’s teacher. I suppose she expected me to be appalled or apologetic or even defensive. But I was relieved.
I had initially thought that Meredith had been injured or that someone had been mean to her or that she had gotten sick. Hearing that Meredith was still in one piece and still keeping down her breakfast eased my mind, but relief came from an older, deeper place.
Meredith had been almost a year and half old when she had had open heart surgery to close a hole in the wall separating the upper chambers of her heart. The prospect of the surgery itself rattled my wife Joy and me right down to our toes. We worried about whether or not Meredith would pull through.
And as trivial as it may sound, we had also worried about what life would be like for her after open heart surgery. Meredith would have a scar on her chest for the rest of her life. The surgeon was going to use a cosmetic surgery technique to close the incision, but we wondered if Meredith would feel disfigured, unattractive. Would she be forever self-conscious about her appearance?
You’ve probably guessed the source of my relief. Meredith’s show-and-tell performance that morning assured me that Meredith knows how beautiful she is. In fact, she had even then a firmer grasp on what makes her beautiful—and what makes other people beautiful—than most of us have.
Joy and I had fretted that her scar would be disfiguring. By contrast, Meredith knew instinctively that it marked her forever as a healed person.
She had been born wounded. The hole in her heart had formed while she was still in her mother’s womb. The mark on her chest is a sign that she had once been wounded but now was made whole. And that is what makes her—and what makes you and me—beautiful. We are healed persons.
We parents make the mistake of thinking that babies come into this world perfect and that our parental mission is to keep them from being screwed up. The truth is that we will all struggle, our sons and daughters included. They will get banged up and weathered and even sorely cracked just as we have been.
Our role is to love them. Love, you see, is the only power that transforms a wounded person into a healed person. There is no such thing as a completely unscathed person. We are either wounded and diminished, or we are healed.
There is one catch, however. The love that heals comes only from a power greater than any of us. We can choose to let that power flow through us. But we don’t have it to give from our own resources.
And that is just what Jesus is getting at when he visits his friends on the night following his resurrection. Jesus is inviting us to join God in God’s mission. Not just to our own children. But to the whole world.
Jesus shows us the Way of God’s love. He is the Way of God’s love. That Way is not so much a path that we can walk on our own as it is the style with which God is carrying out his mission. In Jesus God is reconnecting us to him and to one another.
In other words, God is doing what still seems to an awful lot of people a kind of un-God-like thing. God is getting really involved in our lives. Oh, I don’t mean that he’s moving us about like chess pieces or whispering little thoughts in our mind just to get us to follow some big plan he’s got for us.
God is making himself embarrassingly vulnerable to us. It’s positively undignified. No matter how self-absorbed or pigheaded or misguided or mean-spirited or unkempt or indifferent we are, God just opens his arms to us. No defenses. No prior demands. God leans in. All the way.
And just in case you haven’t noticed, vulnerability hurts. But I bet you have noticed. Loving somebody always means getting wounded. Sure, they might betray you or reject you, and Jesus certainly got plenty of that.
But even at it’s best, loving the way God loves is going to leave a mark. That’s because in Jesus God is compassion without reserve. No holds barred. God embraces every ounce of sorrow and hatred and loneliness and hunger and degradation and exclusion and oppression and suffering and disappointment and rejection we have ever or will ever experience.
Like I said, that’s going to leave a mark. In the case of Jesus, it leaves a mark in his hands and his feet and his side. And those marks just point to the mark that all of this has left on his heart.
But Jesus shows his friends the marks in his body to tell them what they could not have guessed. He is healed. He has endured the worst that the world has to offer and he is healed.
They would have had no problem believing that he endured the worst and that he was wounded, disfigured, and forever disabled. What he showed them instead was that he was healed and newly empowered to love in an even more earth-shaking way.
And what is that earth-shaking way that Jesus is going to keep loving? And keep being vulnerable? And keep being wounded? And keep being healed? He’s going to do it through his friends. Through you and me.
Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21)
Jesus’ love heals our wounds. Jesus’ love is not merely something we receive. It’s a way of living that we inhabit.
And yet, Jesus doesn’t heal us so that we are forever free, once and for all, from being wounded. On the contrary, Jesus heals us so that we are free to love. Free to be vulnerable. Free to be wounded again in the assurance that the love we are sharing is the love that heals the one we love and the love that heals us again and again.
We heal by loving with Christ’s love. We are healed by loving with that love.
This is why Thomas balked.
Thomas said that he wouldn’t believe until he saw the healed wounds. He didn’t mean that he refused to give intellectual assent to the idea that Jesus is risen. He knew that Jesus and his friends were talking about walking a Way, about engaging God’s mission in the world with their whole heart.
Serving the poor simply because they are poor.
Forgiving even the unrepentant.
Building bridges to dedicated bridge burners.
Visiting the lonely despite their “No Trespassing” signs.
Sitting with the outcasts, kissing lepers, and rubbing elbows with the disreputable.
Before giving his life completely to the wounds that unguarded compassion would bring, Thomas wanted to see for himself that it was truly the Way of healing, not the way of pointless suffering.
And who can blame him?
So I suppose that’s why Jesus showed up not only once but twice and again and again to his wary and fragile friends. He knows that he’s asking us to take a big leap. To let ourselves get swept up in what he’s doing, even though it looks pretty crazy.
That’s why Jesus showed up that night and said, “I’ve got a scar! Isn’t it beautiful!”
This sermon was preached in Bossier City, Louisiana.