I’m shocked, flabbergasted, blown away when I read the resurrection stories and hear the Risen Christ tell his shell-shocked disciples, “Look at my hand and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see.” (Luke 24:39-40) They knew him by his scars!
It happened again when Thomas declared what other disciples were probably feeling but were afraid to say, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nail, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” Jesus showed up again, held out his hands, and told Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side.” (John 20:27) And he did! He knew Jesus by his scars.
Does it surprise you that the Risen Christ still bears the scars of his crucifixion?
Martha and I are participating in a small group that is using my Lenten study, Easter Earthquake: How Resurrection Shakes Our World. This week’s readings ask the tough question:
If God’s power could raise Jesus from the dead, couldn’t that same power have removed these repulsive reminders of the powers of evil, injustice, sin and death that nailed him to the cross?
We’re confronted with the same mystery that surprised the disciples. The scars are still there; the unmistakable sign of his suffering and death; the eternal symbol of the ghastly cost of the world’s salvation. And the Risen Christ still offers us the same invitation, “Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me!“
Looking at His Scars
Around 1510, the monks of St. Anthony asked Matthias Grünewald (ca. 1480–1528) to create an altarpiece for their chapel. The monastery hospital cared for victims of ergotism, a painful disease that resulted in skin rashes, gangrene and open sores. The Isenheim Altarpiece is a larger than life-size work that includes Grunewald’s shocking painting of the crucifixion.
Grunewald painted the same sores and lacerations that appeared on the bodies of the patients onto the body of Jesus, both nailed to the cross and laid in the tomb. Looking up at the cross, they saw their scars on the body of the one who, in the words of Isaiah, “has born our infirmities and carried our diseases.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)
They were — and they still are — our scars on the body of Jesus. We put them there.
In the book I identified the scars on the Jesus’ body as “the irrefutable evidence of the systemic evil that infects our human condition and the ubiquitous power of sin that contaminates our individual lives and the cultural, political, and religious systems of the world around us.
The season of Lent calls us to look more closely at the cross and to acknowledge both the deeply personal and the disturbingly systemic sins that continue infect our lives and our relationships. In these days, we are being confronted with the systemic sins of violence, injustice, and racism that leave their brutal scars on the life of our nation. Specifically, I’ve been challenged to look more honestly at the inherited scars of my white privilege, the sometimes unintentional sins and often unasked for benefits that have come my way and left their scars on others. (I highly recommend Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson.) As we move toward Good Friday, I’m seeing more painfully what theologian James H. Cone described as the inherent connection between The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
Scars can also be the reminder of the surgery that brought healing to our bodies. Like the patients who saw their scars on the body of Jesus, the hope of our healing is in Isaiah’s promise that “upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) I wrote of the patients who saw Grunewald’s painting: When they looked up at the cross, they saw Jesus taking their pain, suffering and death onto himself…The sign of their suffering became the sign of healing and hope.
Two centuries after Grunewald’s painting, Isaac Watts wrote the hymn that asks:
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
I’m shocked, flabbergasted, blown away when I see the scars on the hands and feet of the Risen Christ!
Grace and peace,